Even with a seat at the royal table, Black people have to maintain awareness within our double consciousness. The philosophy is taken from W.E.B. Dubois that we live in parallel worlds: One where we can be our natural Black selves and another where we have to put those “Black” things away and adhere to what is acceptable in white society.
No matter our shade in the Crayola box, every Black person experiences the phenomenon. It’s an education that we are never really taught, but we adapt nonetheless. However, that duality still does not negate the fact that Black people are always placed under harsher, hyper-focused critiques—all simply because of our lineage.
In her interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired Sunday night, Meghan Markle shed light on the British monarchy that was both shocking and, yet, not at all surprising about a 1,200-year-old institution. She shared her truly exhausting experiences of attempting to assimilate into royal life.
Meghan told us that a member of the royal household raised concerns over how dark a then-unborn Archie’s skin would be, and that this affected the level of security they would receive and whether Archie would be known as a prince. Racism in the family, and racism in the U.K., she and Harry told Oprah, helped drive them from the royal family. Meghan said she felt suicidal, that she had asked for help. She got nothing.
Instead, in Britain this morning, her tormentors (like Piers Morgan) regrouped, and said the interview was “race-baiting propaganda.” Black people watch this, and can only roll our eyes as old patterns stubbornly re-establish themselves. “This is racism,” we say. “Oh no, it isn’t,” white society replies, hands over ears, and gaslight at the ready.
“I realized that it was all happening just because I was breathing”
In her interview, Meghan noted how there was no handbook on how to become a Royal, and, instead, she had to learn the nature of the beast on her own.
The royals essentially dictate who is allowed in their inner circle of high-profile aristocrats. Knowing the role of the United Kingdom’s racist ventures in both slavery and colonialism, it’s hardly a shocker that the Royal family would still be wary of anyone who is not white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant joining their ranks.
However, their lack of addressing their unconscious biases and even their tendencies to create outcasts out of their own family members shows just how archaic and disconnected the monarchy is.
Meghan, who is biracial with a Black mother and white father, has encountered a number of hangups in regards to her race in the past. Before marrying into the Royal family, she worked as an actor and noted how her racial status affected her ability to get work.
“To describe something as being black and white means it is clearly defined,” she wrote in an essay for Elle magazine in 2015. “Yet when your ethnicity is Black and white, the dichotomy is not that clear. In fact, it creates a grey area. Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating.”
In the essay, she goes on to describe how she lost fans during her stint on the TV show Suits. When viewers realized that she was half Black, they were practically disgusted.
As a fair-skinned Black woman who has been compared to Meghan a million times (same skin tone, hair color, features, and we both have freckles), I, too, have dealt with this racial uncertainty since my childhood.
There were moments when I was not Black enough to fill the Black-quota, but I was still Black enough to be subject to racist interactions and oppressive experiences, for people to gaslight me and pass micro-aggressions that I’m “so articulate.”
Friends who would come to visit me when I was a kid would judge the dinners made by my mother—who is a soul food legend in her own right—and say the meals were not interesting enough and boring. Hell, I remember the moment when I first realized I was Black because a girl in kindergarten told me that my hands were dirty.
Throughout my life, white strangers have gone out of their way to question and touch my hair whether it was in its natural, curly state or styled in braids. As a beauty pageant contestant, I felt pressure from judges and coaches to do something with my hair, that it was too “kinky” to be worn down like other participants and it was part of the reason why I didn’t win.
After marrying Prince Harry and becoming the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan made clear to Oprah she felt she had been stripped of her identity. She revealed that she had given up her passport and keys for the sake of allowing the monarchy to fully engulf her in its control. Not long after her arrival, she became the target of racist smear campaigns in the British press.
Meghan did not get the same treatment that her white sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, received as the wife of Prince William. Instead, as the only person of color within the royal family, Meghan constantly tried to find a way to defend herself from racist jabs in the media.
“I realized that it was all happening just because I was breathing,” she told Oprah.
Unfortunately, the royal family never stood up for Meghan to reverse all of the hurtful allegations and racist remarks that were made about her in the press. I see this as a moment of passive bigotry, like when a white person sees or hears another white person do or say something racist but doesn’t correct it. Without the Royals intervening, they allowed racism to perpetuate on a global level.
Brits like to say that racism in the United Kingdom doesn’t operate like racism in the United States. People in the U.K. have been quick to criticize the States for our current race relations and publicized police brutality. But throughout this interview, we realize that racism in the U.S. and racism in her mother country are not all that different.
Meghan’s time with the British royalty led her to bouts of serious depression. She mentioned how her identity was stripped from her, and the situation became so dire that she no longer wanted to live. She was afraid of being left alone because she was unsure of what she would do to herself.
She asked the monarchy for help, that she wanted to see a professional in regards to her mental health. Meanwhile, the British royals were more concerned about the optics and how Meghan seeking a therapist would be a bad look for the monarchy.
The simple fact that Markle’s identity was practically erased is already troubling. That is seen as the standard for anyone who marries into the royal family.
However, that a Black woman from another country had to deal with this, made me immediately think of enslaved Africans after they disembarked from the Middle Passage. They were forced to lose any sense of self: Their language, religion, culture, customs were erased, and they were punished if they even showed a hint of trying to utilize them.
Mental health within the Black community is already complex, and Meghan’s experiences battling racism and then being ignored about her concerns is something Black people have endured over and over. It’s a never-ending cycle when we voice our frustrations but are told to just get over it or that the situation really is not that serious.
The difference here is that Meghan has the means and community outreach to receive that mental help or to even ask for it. Most Black people deal with overt and systemic racism that plagues our society and internalize it.
It affects everything within our being: mentally, emotionally, how we maneuver while we’re around other people, how we raise our children—if we choose to bring children into this world knowing the unjust dangers they could face.
“I’ve advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent.”
In her talk with Oprah, Meghan explained how she championed women’s independence.
“I’ve always worked,” she said. “I’ve always valued independence. I’ve always been outspoken, especially about women's rights. I mean, that’s the sad irony of the last four years is I’ve advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent.”
There’s a disturbing saying among Black people that we must “work twice as hard to get half as far.” Really, it speaks to the inequities that we face. No matter how experienced or educated we are, it still doesn’t match up to our white counterparts. We can have more credentials on our resumés and a better education, but white colleagues will still receive priority over us for a new job, better pay, or a title promotion.
The former Suits star had a life and career before she became the wife of Prince Harry. She was her own person and, yet—as a royal—she was subject to the orders and demands of people who appear not as eloquent, educated, or intellectually cultured as she was. Meghan had to dumb herself down to make, essentially, her white colleagues feel less intimidated and play the part.
She already addressed that she gave up so much in order to become the Duchess of Sussex, but I’m sure she had no idea the capacity to which change would insult her intelligence.
The “concern”—what an awful, malign word!—over how dark her son’s complexion would be after he was born remains one of the standout moments of the interview.
Though neither she nor Harry provided full details of who said the comments or what else was mentioned, it’s clearly implied that the baby’s lineage played a part in him not being considered royal to the rest of the family.
Historically, Black Americans who were fair enough made the choice whether or not they wanted to pass for white. Three of the children President Thomas Jefferson had with enslaved Sally Hemings obscured into whiteness after leaving Monticello. It was a choice Black people made in order to survive in a racist world that would have subjected them to discrimination if they had otherwise adopted their Black ethnicity.
Some people who passed would not have children out of fear that the child could take the skin color of an ancestor and reveal their secret.
The concept overall is unsettling considering that people had to lie about their lineage in order to be considered equals in a slave-holding or Jim Crow society. I have family members who did it well into the twentieth century, which goes to show that a lack of equity is still at play.
Each time her grandchildren were born, my paternal grandmother (who was probably only a quarter-Black) commented about how dark their skin would become over time or how “nappy” their hair would get. The level of self-hate she harnessed is heartbreaking, but it’s also understandable considering the world she came from.
In 2021, the monarchy claims that they’re progressive and welcoming, that race is not a deciding factor on how they treat people or who is allowed within their tight-knit circle. But for them to show any concern about the complexion of an unborn child is beyond abhorrent, disgusting, and an indicator that the child won’t receive the same privileges as his kin due to his skin color.
To me, it’s too reminiscent of a Southern plantation owner having children with the Black women he enslaved and denying his offspring.
“We become a social project for people to learn to be more compassionate.”
Harry eventually joined Meghan and Oprah during the interview, where he confirmed the racism Meghan said she had endured from Buckingham Palace. He said he understood that he had unconscious biases and tried to enlighten himself before having a relationship with Meghan.
However, he did not realize that there was more to the experience of being Black and surviving racism until after his marriage. And through it all, he understood how far-removed his family was from learning about other groups of people.
I do commend Harry for educating himself and his attempt to be anti-racist. But if it was not for Meghan, would he still be gaslighting other Black people? People are quick to ignore issues or brush them off until they are directly affected. In this case, racism was a distance away from Harry until he married a biracial woman and, together, they would raise a mixed-race family.
It’s truly bizarre, and a sign of a lack of personal and political evolution, that a major social issue is not an issue until it personally affects someone. Indeed, it seems selfish. At that point, the damage has already been done and a cleanup effort is being called in. It still cannot erase the feelings of inferiority that marginalized groups of people experience.
Having dated white men in the past, I felt that I had to scream at the top of my lungs for some of them to understand what it truly feels like to be oppressed. They would never fully grasp it, but maybe, just maybe I could paint them a picture that every day Black people are judged for how we dress, the way we talk, how we think, our history, even our DREAMS.
Our entire beings are diminished, like we become a social project for people to learn to be more compassionate, and if they don’t pass the test—no problem. It was just for extra credit anyway.
Listening to Meghan speak to the world on Sunday night was heartbreaking. I saw a Black woman at her core, battling to refind her natural strength. A powerful institution tried to mind-fuck her away from her foundation to remold her into the property that THEY wanted her to be.
I can’t help but give her respect for being an example. The fact that she survived a modern-day entrapment and was able to propel her story to an international stage is beyond-impressive. She has demanded change on a global level, and she is letting the world know its colonial past is still our present.
It’s obvious that it’s time for the British monarchy to dissolve—if not for the sake of its lack of popularity, then at least in order to acknowledge that there is no place for the institution in a developing world that demands racial justice. But Buckingham Palace is not unlike other holders of power; it’s just one branch on the tree of oppression. Thankfully, Meghan has been able to use her position to highlight a necessary need for social change.
Sometimes, revolutions don’t have to be marching in the streets. Sometimes, they need a more intimate setting where people can look within to discover how they're silencing others.