I remember my grandmother waking my sister and me up in the wee hours of the morning to watch Princess Diana’s funeral. As a 10-year-old American, I thought Princess Diana’s death was certainly a terrible tragedy; still, I was confused about why we were made to view the funeral proceedings as if we were distantly connected to the fallen royal. Years later, I would learn that older Jamaicans, including my maternal grandmother, have an almost unhealthy obsession with “Mother England” and particularly the Royal Family. Blame it on colonialism. With a few exceptions, American Black folk don’t exactly get geeked about Queen Elizabeth and her heirs. In fact, she’s often regarded with quite a bit of skepticism and even intense disdain. Ask Paul Mooney.
But with the recent news of Prince Harry proposing to American actress Meghan Markle, Black folk have been almost ecstatic about the prospect of a Black woman openly occupying a space in the royal family. (There are several theories that there have been other Black royals but their racial identities weren’t widely discussed or acknowledged.)
There were tweets, memes, and gifs that featured Black folk and their desire to attend the #RoyalWedding. There were interracial couples who stepped forward to share their particular delight in the union, “It shows how diverse and modern the Royal Family are.” Girl Tyler on Twitter developed the catchphrase “We got us a Black princess, y’all” and started selling merchandise.
Midway through the second day of celebration, I started getting concerned. While I don’t doubt that Meghan and Prince Harry are in love; the collective investment into their story as if we’ve all won a prize because she was chosen, was alarming to me. Not to mention, her relationship with Prince Harry as one bi-racial Black woman doesn’t exactly represent a great leap for diversity in the royal family. I knew that my opinion was an unpopular one so I ran my thoughts by my sister to make sure I wasn’t being unreasonable.
“I’m trying to be happy for Meghan Markle but I feel like so much of the excitement around her engagement is centered around White validation…I mean, I’m happy for her but I’m…concerned about the reaction from Black people.”
My sister said that Black people were excited because Meghan Markle was effing up the hierarchy. There were plenty of people who already deemed her unworthy and her entrance into the royal family would be a personal insult to all of those racists.
I could see where she was coming from. But I still wanted to see what other people had to say so I conducted an Instagram poll. Aside from myself and two other women, (one of which said she could see both sides), most of the women who responded shared my sister’s sentiments. According to some, Meghan was not only going to challenge the image of the royal family, she was going to symbolize a different type of possibility for Black girls and women.
Vogue itself said that now little Black girls all over the world could see themselves in the soon-to-be princess.
Despite the arguments, the hoopla still made me uncomfortable. And just as I was about to accept defeat and admit that maybe I was making too much of this whole thing, my cousin DMed me a screenshot of this piece from Philly.com.
That was it. That was when I knew I wasn’t crazy. There is a special, undeniable type of excitement about Meghan Markle, that was directly attached to the man she was marrying. As if true happiness wasn’t and isn’t accessible to Black women who marry Black men, men who aren’t royalty. Furthermore, Meghan Markle is far from the first Black princess or Queen figure for us. There have been centuries of them in Africa, past and present. Yet, those women didn’t seem to mean as much. There have even been other Black women who’ve married into European, even the British royal family in one way or another. My friend wrote a whole slideshow featuring both of these Black women. Some of them you may have even heard of, so why did this particular marriage represent a new chance for happiness for us, Black women?
I think it goes back to that White validation. Despite the fact that the British empire has, for centuries, oppressed and continues to collect off the oppression of people of color all over the world, it’s still their cosign and approval that means the most to us. We still want to be accepted, invited, included in their systems. Never mind that these are the same systems that exploited our land, our resources, our culture, contributions and even our bodies, without recognition or reward.
Prince Harry might play a large role in Meghan Markle’s happiness. I think there’s a strong likelihood that he will be good to her and her to him. But I would never advise Black women, worldwide, to look at Meghan’s engagement as a larger symbol of our worth in the eyes of White people, the British empire or the world at large. That’s something we’re going to have to find on our own.