Meghan Markle Reflections: Privilege, Colorism, and the In-Laws from Hell

by Paige Kendrick

I’ve been thinking about “The Meghan Markle and Harry Interview” for days now, because my thoughts surrounding the topic seem to be a complex jumble. I’ve been thinking about colorism and those who benefit from it. Thinking about wanting acceptance into a family, and the plight of biracial people who are often pressured to “pick a side” all the while never being fully accepted into either camp. I’ve been thinking about the exhaustion that comes with surviving white supremacy. Overall, my mind has been racing thinking about all the colored girls who have quite literally considered suicide when “the rainbow is enuf“.  

 

Editor’s Note: Before continuing this article, we must advise a trigger warning for those sensitive to the subjects of suicide and racism.

 

For those who haven’t seen the interview, let’s recap.

 

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex and former actress, sat down with her friend, Oprah. She unpacks all the hate she has received by the British press and royal family since marrying into the House of Windsor. In her interview, she talked about initially being welcomed into the royal family, but that tide eventually turned. Behind closed doors, she was barred from going outside for several months at a time. She was intentionally cut off from her family and friends. Furthermore, she was victimized by both the British press and members of the royal family.

They ultimately gaslit her into thinking they were protecting her. 

In actuality, they were her greatest threat. After many months of enduring an unending series of lies and daily character assassinations, Meghan found herself having calculated suicidal thoughts. She says, “Look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry especially, because I know how much loss he has suffered, but I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” The suicidal thoughts were so real that she told her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex that she cannot be left alone. All the while, she pled with members of the royal family and their staff to allow her to see a therapist or otherwise seek psychiatric help.

Unsurprisingly, her requests were refused, and she was told to just “lay low” and deal with it. (As mentioned, she later learned that these very individuals were those feeding lies to the press.) The British press, which is overwhelmingly white, was all too happy to spin racist, colonialist tales about the “monster” they said is causing great discord in the royal family. Yet, according to Meghan, all she wanted was to have a normal, positive relationship with her new in-laws and to be treated kindly. 

(Official Royal Family Wedding Portait, photographed by Alexi Lubomirski

It begs the question, “Was Meghan naive?”

Imagine…a family line responsible for infecting, enslaving, torturing, and exploiting more than half the world’s population would be welcoming, and not racist? Absolutely. And she said as much. She admitted she was naive to think that this family and this institution (aptly nicknamed “The Firm”) would protect her, despite their promises to her. But the question comes – why? Why did Meghan Markle expect to be embraced, loved, protected by this family? I see it two ways.

On one hand, she expected to be embraced because everyone should expect to be treated kindly, lovingly, and with grace. This should be the barometer for how humans treat one another and we should all expect – nay, demand – that that treatment. But, as us darker skinned folks now, that is often not reality. So many of us navigate life – shopping in stores, dining at restaurants, going out for job interviews, and countless other experiences hoping we won’t experience racism and prejudice…but unfortunately, we do.

The reality is, none of us are exempt from racism.

I have had white people ask if they could “buy me” (coincidentally, at a royal polo match). There are the instances where white people have nearly knocked me into train tracks and pretend they don’t hear me when I say “excuse me”. I have had white people demand I make animal noises for their entertainment, and obsessively follow me throughout stores. In fact, the first time a white person called the police on me, I was roughly six years old. The white, female store manager of a Gap store on Long Island called the police to have me and my sister arrested for what she claimed was “shoplifting”. We were merely admiring a decorative Christmas tree. I doubt Meghan has had those experiences, which brings me to my second point.

Meghan Markle is a white skinned, biracial Black woman who undoubtedly has been fetishized for her beauty by both white and black people alike.

I’m sure she has experienced the praise Black people tend to give to lighter skinned people for having skin and hair closer to the white supremacist ideal. At the same time, I’m sure she’s used to being fetishized by white people for having a “drop” of Black features, as all too often, Black features are loved on everyone but identifiably Black women. This was even referenced by her character Rachel Zane, on the hit show Suits. I can only but assume this expectation of favor may subconsciously factor in when she assumes how she will be treated.

Eventually in the interview, Meghan recounts that events took a truly dark turn when she became pregnant. When the pregnancy became known, the royal family sought to change well-established royal doctrines. Essentially, they broke from the precedent in order to deny Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle’s son: royal lineage, a royal title, and royal protection. Furthermore, she recalls conversations relayed by her husband of the family expressing concern over how “dark” her baby would be. Is this not a notion absolutely comical to any Black or Brown person? Why? Because, Meghan is as light as a half Black person can be, marrying a white man. Her child will be, for all extents and purposes, white. The royal family’s concern is not about color, but about blood purity.

(Family portrait photographed by Misan Harriman, friend of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) 

 

They simply don’t want Black blood in their bloodline. 

At this point in the interview, Meghan’s husband Prince Harry joined and begins chronicling how, in an effort to save his wife’s life, he sought help from his family. Said help is routinely denied. This prompted the two to move out of the United Kingdom, much to the displeasure of the British press and royal family. They did choose however, to stay in the British commonwealth. At this time, they also asked to step back as senior members (aka prominent, highly visible members) of the royal family. Ultimately, they desired instead to assume a more minor role as most British royals already enjoy. This request too was denied.

In retaliation, “senior members” (alluding to Harry’s own father or brother) of the royal family decided to cut him off from royal funding which is his birthright. At the same time, with no advance notice, the royal family decides to remove Harry’s royal protection and guards, and reveal the couple’s location to the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail then spread their home address to the entire British commonwealth. This is the same commonwealth they had driven to hate Meghan and Harry with their vicious lies. From here, this seems like a direct attempt on their lives. 

 

Cue Black Women to the Rescue

At this low and scary point in her life, where did Meghan turn? To her Black friends. Specifically, she turned to Oprah. In good fashion, as we Black women always do, Oprah saves them. Isn’t this true of the Black sisterhood? Black women are always the ones turned to for help.

To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that Meghan only turned to Black people in times of need. From where I stand, she proudly – and correctly – recognizes herself as a biracial person. When given the chance, she highlights her black culture, whether it be by having a Black gospel choir and Black violinist at her royal wedding (viewed by 2 billion people). Not to mention, by focusing her charitable relief efforts as a Duchess on Black communities. Amongst her closest friends are Black women. To this end, Oprah introduced the couple to Tyler Perry, a personal friend of hers. He would go on to provide the couple with a home, supplying as well, his own security team for their protection. 

 

Separately, I find it bothersome when people claim she “doesn’t embrace her Black side”.

I find I’m torn on this issue but my first reaction is to challenge this assertion. How does she not? What performative Black thing is she supposed to do or wear for her to be “Black enough”? Is she meant to speak in some form of Blaccent? Only wear cornrows and ankhs, and make sure she stays “dark” at all times to fit some stereotypical, one dimensional image of what a Black woman is supposed to look and act like? Well, I reject this notion. Black people are allowed to be, enjoy, and look like anything we want without having our “Blackness” questioned or challenged. 

Surely, as a biracial woman, she has struggled with both camps. Black and white people alike; telling her that she is not “enough” of one thing to claim either side. Being white passing certainly doesn’t help. But I think about how unnatural and unfair it is to make a person who is literally “both” to choose. The truth is, society picks a biracial person’s race for them. Race after all is a social construct backed by no real science. It is one where you are lumped with others according to how you look (your phenotype) and your cultural experiences.

Allow me to indulge you…

Barack Obama and Jordan Peele are both biracial men with white mothers. They “are Black” because they look “more Black” and culturally, relate to “Black things”. Rashida Jones, a biracial woman, is white because she not only looks like a white woman but carries herself as such. To this end, Keegan Michael Key and Bob Marley are Black for the same reasons as Halsey and Olivia Munn are white. Regardless of how any of these people identify, society pushed them into one box versus another. That’s the hard truth.

The only way to escape being pushed into a box you don’t want is loudly aligning yourself with one group. That’s likely why, for instance, Robin Thede – an American actress who could easily be white passing given her facial features and hair types – constantly wears traditionally Black hairstyles and literally created a show called Black Lady Sketch Show. She’s putting her stake in the ground loud and clear. But what of those who don’t want to have to pick? Do they not have that right?

 

Colorism is what let Meghan Markle into the royal family; anti-blackness is what pushed her out. 

 

To break away from that topic, another image continues to play through my mind; Meghan expressing her surprise at being so mistreated by the British royals. Partially I understand, because everyone deserves humane treatment. However, I am still suspicious of how Meghan claimed to not know anything about the world’s most famous royal family? I don’t buy it.

Meghan has never claimed to be “Mrs. Wokety-Woke”, so her surprise at experiencing racism? In my humble opinion, it can only be attributed to her white skin and sense of exceptionalism. Perhaps she thought she’d be white enough to pass? To blend comfortably into the family and thus escape racism’s nasty grip? Is that even what she wanted? If so, wouldn’t she be benefitting from and enjoying all of the spoils; the riches, racism, and the exploitative violence attached to the family lineage? Would that not make her just as bad and as accountable as they are? Further upholding those same systems of oppression? Would she be outspoken about race if she hadn’t been so badly mistreated by white in-laws and the British press? 

(Portrait of Meghan Markle by Illustrator, Tim O’Brien

 

I can’t help but wonder how she viewed herself in the context of whiteness and blending into it.

These are questions of course we may never know the answer, because none of us know Meghan Markle personally. All we can do is offer conjecture and speculation. My hope is that she and all lighter skinned people (regardless of race) benefitting from proximity to whiteness use this experience as a wake up call. Let it force us to examine the ways we have internalized white supremacist ideals. Let is remind us the ways we might uphold them. I hope it ignites within us all a long-lasting urge to eradicate these mentalities from our own collective psyches. Let us proactively stand as staunch allies using whatever privileges we may have to create equity and opportunity for our darker skinned siblings.

 

Leading Image photographed by Misan Harriman, friend of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

 

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