A Black friend on the East Coast texted me two hours before Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry came on Monday night. Because of the time difference, he had just finished watching it.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he wrote. “They didn’t want her son to be a prince because of him being mixed-race.”
My whole body clenched as I felt the meaning of his words sink into my chest cavity. I tried to flex against it, to protect myself, but I could not. After witnessing decades of Black men and women dying at the hands of the police and others, I was ready for some good news. I wanted something to ease the pain of the exhaustive barrage of hate, prejudice and harm that my people and I experience on a daily basis. I’m so tired of defending my Blackness and the Blackness of others.
And even though I knew better, there was a small corner of me that dared to hope that Meghan’s marriage to Harry, and the baby that followed, might be that good news. Not just for people who look like me, but for all people.
Harry and Meghan’s son has not broken the invisible wall and collapsed the British royal family’s long-standing caste system as so many of us had hoped. Baby Archie’s role is not to heal the wounds caused by years of Britain’s racism and colonization, but rather to expose how powerful those things still are today.
The year that Meghan married Harry, I watched a news story about how a local girl was marrying a prince (Meghan hails from Los Angeles, where I live). They showed a 1995 video clip of a 14-year-old Meghan standing at the all-girls Immaculate Heart Middle School podium, delivering a zealous graduation speech to her peers.
Next, they interviewed several current Immaculate Heart students. Giddy young white girls with ponytails in polo shirts, waxing poetic about how fairy tales really do come true.
“If it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone,” said a blond girl with dimples and braces. “Meghan is one of us.”
Correction, little girl, I thought as I changed channels. Meghan is one of us.
Meghan Markle is a beautiful woman, actor, activist, philanthropist. But for the 15% of female Americans who check the box next to Black, she has one other identifier that is just as important: Meghan is a sister, y’all, and we are claiming her.
And while the world watched as she moved to London and prepared to become the first Black, mixed-race woman to be a British royal and to break barriers at Buckingham Palace, Black American women held silent prayer vigils for Meghan’s emotional and physical safety.
We were afraid because we know better. We know that despite the many beautiful and powerful attributes this woman possesses, there are people who will never see past her race. And while for most of us, Black is a wonderous and desirable thing to be, some people still see Blackness as something to overcome or to rise above.
My boyfriend Scott and I watched the interview Monday night, and I got teary as Meghan described the horrors that she had endured. The racist headlines, the press’s frequent attacks and the utter lack of protection. The emotional welling-up I felt was not just for her but also for me.
Because I know the feeling of being alone in a place with no support, with no one to validate your experience or give that nod of affinity. I also know the fear of being Black and arriving in a foreign place, hoping to meet and impress the family of your beloved. A family that has a long-standing history on the wrong side of racism.
Scott and I had been dating for less than a year when a stroke paralyzed the left side of his father’s body and took away his ability to speak. Scott had reluctantly told me stories of his dad’s racism and listed it among the reasons why he left home as soon as he could. After spending a week with his dad in the ICU, Scott asked me if I would fly to Richmond, Virginia, the former seat of the Confederacy, to be with him and meet his father.
I was in full-blown paranoia by the time I arrived at the hospital. In my mind, all of the white people I saw in the lobby, sitting at desks and on the elevator were just a pickup truck ride away from a cross burning and lynching. At that moment, walking into the ICU to meet a white man on his deathbed felt like both the stupidest and the bravest thing I’d ever done.
As I entered, I held my breath, afraid of offending, afraid of being offended. Scott’s father was lying under a thin blanket, several tubes stringing from his arms to a machine. His eyes locked on mine immediately, and I found myself walking over to his “good side” to greet him.
He kept looking back and forth from Scott to me, his gaze landing on our hands, which were tightly clasped together. After a few moments, his right hand, which still had some mobility, reached for my free one. Once he had it, he held it up to Scott and mouthed the word, “Beautiful.”
The way Scott and I see it, his dad made a conscious choice to see me and not just my Blackness when I walked into that room. He knew he was dying, but he could see that his son was happy. For him, I think the love that he witnessed between us was enough.
But apparently, Harry’s love for Meghan is not enough, not for the British press, not for certain palace residents, and not for The Firm. Harry spoke of not understanding what it meant to be Black before he met Meghan, not knowing how difficult it would be for her because of the bubble in which he was raised, the protections he has always received.
I was actually encouraged by his naive statements about not grasping the impact that her Blackness would have on their lives together. Here was a prince who, despite his world travels, hadn’t given any real thought to what it was like to be something else, anything else than white. By marrying Meghan, he was able to see and understand his own privilege for the first time.
I’m glad about that. For there can be no more pretending that there is equity or justice among the members of the house of Windsor. Because Harry loves Meghan, the racism that exists in one of the world’s most celebrated institutions has been exposed ― and we’re all taking a good, hard look at it.
So, maybe there is good news here after all. And not just for people who look like me, but for all of us.