Pushing Meghan Markle: Internal and External Racist Forces

The contemporaneous lived experiences of people self-identifying as biracial, multiracial, or mixed-race accentuate the fact that in both the UK and the USA racial identities are socially, not biologically, constructed. In their study of the meaning of racial identity for multiracial people in contemporary society, Kerry Ann Rockquemore and David Brunsma document the extensive assortment of racial identities utilized and encountered by individuals with one black and one white parent. The young people interviewed, most of whom have a black and a white parent, usually do not choose one racial identity. Rather, like Markle, they accentuate a gray or biracial (black-and-white) identity, irrespective of how other people label them. Significantly, however, the identity imposed on them by white outsiders—especially those with power—was black. The researchers also found that even being classified as in-between black and white on the US racial continuum does not translate into equality of rights and privileges.92

In research on white racial framing during the 2008 US presidential election, Adia Harvey Wingfield and Joe R. Feagin remarked on how biracial Americans inevitably face racial discrimination. Studying the white framing of Barack Obama, who like the Duchess of Sussex dabbled in colorblind-speak and has a white mother and black father, they write:

As young biracial Americans grow older and move beyond their more supportive friendship groups and home environments into the larger society, especially white-dominated employment, political, and housing settings, most learn hard societal lessons, including that many whites impose a racial identity and target them for discrimination no matter how assimilated to whiteness they may be. Discrimination often prevents them from achieving their life goals and pushes them and their identities ever more in the direction of personally and fully identifying as black American.93

As Markle has moved from television actress to senior royal, from mixed-race bride of a prince to mixed-race wife and mother of a son in line to the British throne, and now to a non-working member of the royal family, she has learned hard societal lessons, including that whites impose a racial identity and target her for discrimination no matter what she prefers or how assimilated to whiteness she may appear to be. The white framing and discrimination she has faced—including the racist tone of British newspaper pieces and the “outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments”—always had the potential to prevent her from achieving her goals as a senior royal.94 That chronic discrimination stood in the way of her family’s happiness, so much so that she, Harry, and Archie soon moved to the United States of America.

Whether Markle would have found supportive friendship groups and a supportive home environment in the royal spaces she seemed destined to occupy is now a moot point. Her tearful comments captured in the 2019 television documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, in which she admitted that few people ask if she is alright in light of the media scrutiny she receives, were a harbinger of things to come. She admitted she felt especially vulnerable while pregnant and that the external criticism made her feel even more stressed.95 “It’s not enough just to survive something, right? That’s not the point of life,” she told the documentarian, revealing that she even tried to “adopt the British stiff upper lip.” “{WJhat that does internally is probably really damaging,” she added.96

On this tour, when the couple visited The Justice Desk initiative in South Africa, Markle gave a memorable speech to a women’s group, assertively relating to them across both gender and racial lines. She remarked: “On one personal note, may I just say that while I am here with my husband as a member of the Royal Family, I want you to know that for me, I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of color, and as your sister. I am here with you, and I am here for you.”97 At an earlier event celebrating a cookbook by women affected by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire (see Chapter 2), for which she wrote the foreword, Markle similarly related to the women, most of whom were women of color. Assembled at a communal

Post-Racial Duchess or Trophy Wife I 115 cooking space at the Al Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in West London, she told the women she “felt so immediately embraced” by them when she moved to London. “{T]o see in this one small room how multicultural it was,” she explained, “I feel so proud to live in a city that can have so much diversity.” Referring to the “twelve countries represented in this one group of women,” she added it is “pretty outstanding.”98 Her comments suggest that Markle may think and behave differently in mostly non-white settings. Through her gendered-racist experiences in the white spaces that British royals generally occupy, she may have been pushed beyond the racial and ethnic ambiguousness that a smaller film stage or television studio had earlier allowed her to secure.

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