Phillips: Blackness in royal wedding does not discount history

Ruby Phillips, Assistant Opinion Editor

The day of the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, my mom texted me how happy she was to see Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, sitting in the second row during the ceremony. I was proud too.

With Britain’s long history of imperialism and colonization, the fact that a single black mother sat and watched her daughter become a duchess felt unbelievable. Beyond that, the ceremony of the royal wedding felt more “black” than it ever has before — from the beautiful sermon by Chicago-born bishop Michael Curry to the all-black Kingdom Choir’s gospel rendition of “Stand By Me.” These aspects of the ceremony were not lost on several media outlets, who commented on the “bicultural blackness” of the wedding. Despite feeling pride about seeing a mixed-race black woman become a real-life duchess, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable about the use of blackness as instrumental to the spectacle of the wedding, particularly given Britain’s racist history.

Meghan Markle is a non-traditional princess in so many ways. From being half black, an actress, a divorcee and a former Protestant, she contradicts the traditional white idea of royalty. I am not expecting Markle to speak for the entire mixed-race community or single-handedly end racism in England, but with so many eyes on her, I worry some are putting too much weight on what Markle’s new status represents and how she will use her newfound privilege.

According to Elle, Markle doesn’t identify as just black, instead rejecting essentialist ideas of race. She views her multiracial identity in combination with all the other parts of who she is. I commend Markle for trying to identify outside the rigid lines of racial legibility, but, unfortunately, not everyone will respect this choice. Moreover, it could reinforce a post-racial liberal narrative that argues that people of color’s agency in how they identify will prevail over the ways society prescribes racial bias and social roles onto them. The many British media outlets, such as The Daily Mail, that have depicted Markle as a black woman in derogatory and stereotypical ways, underscore this reality.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, the black British author of “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race,” put it best on Twitter: “Markle is not Britain’s Obama moment and shouldn’t be covered as such.” Lodge isn’t the only black person to criticize the media’s depiction of Markle; several people have clapped back on coverage that highlights Markle as the first “black princess” by arguing that her mixed identity made her more palatable to white people than a darker-skinned woman would.

The performative uses of blackness in the wedding could even be seen as co-optive of a culture that Markle does not fully identify with. While it was definitely a historic cultural moment that is so empowering for black people, who got to see themselves in the royal wedding, these black bodies seemed like they were intended to improve the royal family’s image by depicting them as racially liberal and accepting of Markle, thus failing to acknowledge their own violent history with people of color.

I am not trying to undermine Markle’s blackness, whether she identifies this way or not, or her experiences. As a mixed black and white woman myself, I understand how difficult it can be to toe the line between being conscious of our proximity to whiteness and acknowledging our marginalization. I imagine all of that is so much harder in the public eye, but it is crucial that the royal wedding does not become a symbol of post racialism despite its cultural significance.

While Meghan Markle’s marriage to Prince Harry does not make feudalism or imperialism acceptable, it doesn’t mean she can’t be a proud, confident woman of color. People of color participating in larger problematic institutions might be empowering and beautiful, but it doesn’t diminish the issues within those institutions, whether they are prepared to claim that history or not.

Ruby Phillips is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.