From the Outside In: How the World Should View Meghan Markle 

By Camille Davis

 

At the end of 2017, a sense of elation was shared by many women in the African American community. There were hashtags such as #blackprincess, #blackroyalty and #princessmeghan floating all over social media to celebrate the royal engagement of England’s Prince Harry to American actress, Meghan Markle.

Although there may have been previous members of the royal family with African ancestry[1] and although Markle’s official title may be “Duchess” instead of “Princess”—as in the case with her future sister-in-law, Duchess Catherine Middleton—many in the  African American  community will continue to see Markle as the  “first black princess.”

Meghan Markle’s bi-racial identity is often referred to when discussing she and Harry’s courtship and subsequent engagement. In fact, when the couple’s relationship first became public in November 2016, the British Daily Mail infamously published a headline stating, “Harry’s Girl is (almost) Straight Outta Compton.”[2]  This and other derogatory remarks from the English press prompted Prince Harry to make a speech in defense of Markle and to publicly affirm his commitment to her.[3]

Ongoing Discussions of Markle’s Racial Identity

Criticism of Meghan Markle’s ethnicity came from across the Atlantic Ocean, as well. Ironically, the source of the criticism was from a black woman. Elaine Musiwa, “a Zimbabwean writer based out of New York City”[4] complained shortly after the royal engagement about African American women referring  to Markle as “black” since she is biracial. Musiwa began her article by recounting how hard it was for her to celebrate Meghan Markle as a “black” woman because of her biracial identity. The following are her words posted to Vogue magazine’s November 28th  online  edition:

“Meghan Markle  is half black. She is biracial, Her father is white, and her mother is black. I wrote it out and then hit send. This was my response to nearly all of the texts from friends about Prince Harry’s new black finance. With some  black  friends who I knew needed  this celebration  of  a black woman’s beauty being internationally recognized, I feigned joy: So cool! A dead giveaway of a lie—I  rarely ever use the word cool to  describe a cultural event other than modern art shows, and those will only be reduced to cool if they are hard to recognize as art…”[5]

Musiwa spent most of her article arguing that the challenges of being biracial are different than those of being “black.” She argues that “Meghan Markle is the type of  black that the majority of right-leaning white America wished we all could be, if there were to be blackness at all.”[6] In other words, Musiwa believes that main stream America’s history of preferring the appearance of some biracial blacks to the aesthetic of  blacks with more Sub-Saharan African features (dark skin, broad nose, coarse hair) makes biracial blacks not black.

Since the other Vogue  writers who have written about the royal engagement have been extraordinarily positive, it is clear that Musiwa’s views don’t reflect the general opinion of Vogue magazine. However, one ponders why Musiwa was allowed to post such an historically incorrect and professionally distasteful essay about Markle. Most people with a very rudimentary understanding of American history know that very few “black Americans” have only black/African ethnicity in their racial makeup. Additionally, Musiwa is ignoring the historical fact that since the time of slavery, blacks who have had any known percentage of black ethnicity within them were—and are—considered black. Even with the well-documented jealousies among African Americans regarding skin tone, there has been a coalescence within the  African  American community of shared identity and shared suffering– no matter the darkness or fairness of skin tone or the percentage of African or “other” blood. One wonders if Musiwa had similar troubles celebrating Barak Obama as the first black president, since he has a white mother and black father.

The Transition from the Outside to the Inside: Markle’s Character

Markle’s Second Royal Engagement with Prince Harry on January 9th

The reason women in the African American community are celebrating  Markle is because her inclusion in the royal family represents a historical turning point in Western history. Very rarely is a woman of African descent considered the ideal representation of beauty, nobility, or virtue in Western standards of positive aestheticism. Most depictions of femininity in its most ideal form are still very Euro-centric in the Western World. Women in the Western world who aren’t of pure  European descent are often seen as beautiful  and alluring in a type of sexualized or eroticized way.  They are exotic creatures to be gazed at, studied, and even conquered for sexual experimentation or exploitation. But very rarely is a black woman viewed as a woman with the whole package: beauty, brains, character, and ability. By choosing Markle,  Prince Harry is showing the whole world that an abundance of good qualities can come in unconventional packages.

The Rare Quality of Servanthood

Vanity Fair magazine placed  Meghan Markle  on the cover of its October 2017 issue. Instead of focusing on Markle’s race, they discussed her character. In the feature article of that month, journalist Sam Kashner, mentioned that “one of the strongest bonds Prince Harry and Markle share is their philanthropy.”[7] As a  strong advocate for veterans’ rights, Prince Harry began  his  Invictus games  in 2014 for “wounded, injured, and sick soldiers,”[8]  and he has recently become an advocate for mental health. Markle has been an advocate for the U.N.[9] and has brought awareness about issues such as poor water quality[10] and the  need for increased education  of women’s health  in developing countries. Arguably, this shared commitment to concern of  others’ welfare is what has  solidified their compatibility, and this will be what  makes both of them a credit to their country and to the rest of the world.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on World Aids Day, 2018.

The ability to look beyond one’s  own circumstances—whether those circumstances be pleasant or painful—is a rare quality for  any person of any race. This quality is so rare that history commemorates the few who have it.  A Mother Theresa, a Princess Diana, a Martin Luther King, Jr. come once in a lifetime, and their service and sacrifice to mankind is not ultimately remembered because of their ethnicity or nationality. They are remembered because they elevate humanity and pierce the darkness of this world  with light. Those who have a problem with Markel’s racial identity—with either the black or the white  part of it— do well to remember this.

As a woman who devoted her life  to service  before  she had  ever met Prince Harry, Meghan Markle challenged  herself to look beyond the comforts and the success of her acting career to become someone that very few people really want to be: a servant. In choosing  servanthood, she met someone who was like-minded.  This person was a prince who elevated her personal and professional status to that of royalty.

To be sure, Meghan Markle’s ethnicity should be celebrated. She will always be an example to the world of the excellence that often emanates from women of color. Most importantly, she exemplifies that entrée onto the great stages of life does not always come  from  narcissism,  calculation and/or self-promotion. (Remember: this is the area of “the selfie.”) Sometimes, the entrance onto the great stages of life comes the old-fashioned way. Martin Luther King, Jr. once explained the old-fashioned way when he quoted this principle  from  an ancient text “ He who would be great, must first be a servant.”[11]

A Servant. This is what the world should see when evaluating “Princess” Meghan Markle.

 

[1] Tatiana Walk-Morris, “Five Things to Know about Queen  Charlotte,” November 30, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews-arts-culture/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-queen-charlotte-180967373/.

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3896180/Prince-Harry-s-girlfriend-actress-Meghan-Markles.html.

[3] Zach Johnson, “Prince Harry Defends Girlfriend Meghan Markle From Sexism and Racism” on Social Media.” November 8, 2016. http://www.eonline.com/news/807834/prince-harry-defends-girlfriend-meghan-markle-from-sexism-and-racism-on-social-media.

[4] https://www.vogue.com/contributor/elaine-musiwa.

[5] Elaine Musiwa, “The Problem With Calling Meghan Markle the “First Black Princess.” November 28, 2017. https://www.vogue.com/article/meghan-markle-biracial-identity-politics-personal-essay.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sam Kashner, “Meghan Markle, Wild About Harry,” https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/09/meghan-markle-cover-story.

[8] Invictusgamesfoundation.org

[9] Amy Mackeldon, “6 Times Meghan Markle Used Her Celeb Status for Advocacy and Charity.” December 5, 2017. http://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a13945782/meghan-markle-charity-work-philanthropy/.

[10] Worldvision Press Release: “Event hosted by Suits star Meghan Markle brings clean water to children.” https://www.worldvision.ca/about-us/media-centre/meghan-markle-brings-clean-water-to-children.

[11] Martin  Luther  King, “The Drum Major Instinct,” February 4, 1968.

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One Response to From the Outside In: How the World Should View Meghan Markle 

  1. Kim D Owens says:

    Interesting article. I enjoyed reading it. Ms. Elaine Musiwa may have been the most prominent of critics, but there are much more critics out here, including white women. On numerous occasions on YouTube, I posted comments in response, defending Ms. Markle and her engagement to Prince Harry, to white women. who posted horrible comments against Ms. Markle, calling her “gold digger” and other disgusting descriptions, of a racial nature.

    In the same social media outlet, YouTube, I also read comments posted by fellow African-Americans, who viewed Ms. Markle’s achievement of being engaged to Prince Harry as personal achievement, that does not have any impact on the average African-American. In a number of their comments, Ms. Markle was viewed as white due to the fact that her father is white, her past husband and past boyfriends are white, and the fact that no one is aware of Ms. Markle having any relationship to the African-American community at large.

    In defense of Ms. Musiwa, there is a difference between those who identify as biracial vs. black. Plenty of studies show that biracials do better than blacks, economically and socially. In the NY times, on February 10th, there was an opinion piece by Anna Holmes, “Black with (Some) White Privilege”, that discussed how the most prominent black people in the USA are really, in effect, biracial. Ms. Holmes raises the issue that the success of these black people can attributed to them being biracial, due to their closeness in appearance and heritage to white people. Ms. Holmes’ opinion piece is just the latest in a long line of discussion concerning biracials vs. blacks. Recently, this debate surrounding biracials vs. blacks is in a book authored by Ms. Michelle Gordon Jackson, “Light, Bright, and Damn Near White: Black Leaders created by the One-Drop Rule”.

    The issue concerning Ms. Musiwa’s critique is that she used Vogue as a platform to discuss a real serious issue. Her critique may have been harsh, but she was telling the truth.

    Even among the mixed race population in the UK, this issue surrounding Ms. Markle’s biracial identity has been debated, specifically on the matter on those who looked visibly mixed race versus those who can pass as white. See Georgia Chambers’ article in The Guardian in December 4th, “If Meghan Markle represents the ‘mixed -race community’ what about me?

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