By Furqan Mohamed
Editor - Saif Khan
By now, you have probably heard about all the fallout from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's sit-down with Oprah Winfrey. Millions tuned in to watch, and many shared their reactions live on social media. It has been hard to escape the story for so many reasons. Black History Month is naturally followed by Women's History Month, and the March 7th interview seemingly confirmed what many Black women and women of colour seemed to know in their gut for years now. Meghan, one of the most talked-about Black women globally, was treated horribly by the media and not protected by the institution she signed up to represent.
Firstly, Oprah is very good at what she does. During the interview, she was the perfect substitute for all of us watching at home. Her palpable shock is our palpable shock. Her confusion is our confusion. She is a talented interviewer, and the programming was a masterclass in questioning. But there is one thing that is difficult to overlook as we watched Meghan and Harry spill their guts to one of the most talented orators in American television history. We watched a well-connected billionaire sit down with two other wealthy and well-connected people at a picturesque estate, discuss mental health and safety during a pandemic where many have slipped below the poverty line. We watched two people essentially discuss their experience fleeing a toxic work environment during a time where workers worldwide are struggling to unionize— workers who cannot phone Tyler Perry to borrow his mansion if they leave their jobs.
Since representation has become a popular metric for people's politics, any sympathy for Meghan is regarded as sympathy for all Black women. It is praxis by proxy and an expression of social justice without any serious consideration for the context in which Meghan exists: as a member of a colonial institution. Using her as a tool to explain or even defend Black womanhood without first conceding this fact is not only ignorant, it's harmful. Yes, on some level, representation matters, but what kind?
In the second half of the interview, the Prince refers to Meghan as a potential "asset" to the Royals. Several took to Twitter to remark the same thing: Meghan could have been a great gift to this institution, and they dropped the ball by treating her poorly. Since the Monarchy is technically a job (a strange fact that is worth addressing separately), it makes perfect sense that people would point out how qualified she is to tour the Commonwealth and serve as a charity patron. She is a well-spoken woman who had a career and passions of her own before her high-profile marriage. But it's important to note that what many are referring to when they express that Meghan could have helped the Monarchy is not her professional qualifications but with Blackness. As it currently stands, the Royal Family is a more aesthetically pleasing shell of a violent institution that once ruled over the world, destroying and pillaging the African and Asian continent and utilizing slavery for resources like sugar and diamonds. Members of the Royal Family still parade around former British colonies, being received by large crowds of Black and brown people, Indigenous ceremonies, and world leaders. It's an entirely romantic and ahistorical affair. You could never guess that these people, with their beautiful clothes and charitable smiles, are the descendants and successors of an imperial force. The wealth the institution of the Monarchy enjoys could have been multiplied ten-fold if its newest member, who resembles the colonized more than the colonizers, was welcomed and given the same degree of pageantry.
Meghan's status as a person of colour is a bonus for the Royal Family because it supposedly signals "progress" and revitalizes an increasingly irrelevant institution. Many businesses today use the language of diversity and inclusion while damaging the environment. Some universities tout their equity training while ignoring actionable steps that could help students and staff. Even weapons contractors cannot wait to tell you that their board members are female while bombing other countries into the stone-age. The politics of more female war-lords and more Black-owned prions! So why should one of the oldest institutions in the world miss out on the magic of the neoliberal age? Why commit to reparations or abolish oppressive systems when one could just fill them up with racialized bodies and demand that people celebrate how far they have come? For those who cannot possibly imagine a world beyond empires and colonial regimes, having a Black president, princess, or even a Black police chief not only marks progress but is fulfilling.
Meghan Markle is a biracial African American woman who often introduces herself as a person of colour. Not too long ago, there was something called a "one-drop rule," which in the American south meant that "a single drop of "black blood" makes a person a black." For the bigoted British tabloids and newspapers, this was enough, seemingly warranting comments about her son's skin colour, too. But here is the kicker: Meghan is a thin, conventionally attractive woman who wears her hair straight and is at most a Fenty 230. She has endured many of the stereotyping Black women face, from being designated "ghetto" to being called "bossy" and "threatening." Yet, the abuse maintained solely for dark-skinned Black and brown women in popular culture does not hit her as a very light-skinned woman. These things are true at the same time. As many Black writers have pointed out, you cannot talk about how Meghan was treated without talking about colourism, which, just like the “one-drop rule,” has its roots in white supremacy. We must reckon with the most uncomfortable aspect of this entire fiasco, the quiet part that many know deep down. Meghan Markle is the most socially acceptable version of a Black woman. Even so, she was not good enough for the horrific institution known as the Crown and the media that aids in its reproduction.
The problem is not in discussing Meghan or her plights, but lies in the ways we discuss her and them. Public conversations about the intersections of sexism and racism are incredibly important. However, it feels as though much of the popular conversations around her, and the questions that have been raised, are very shallow. It seems we are avoiding the much more complex conversations about the value of having "Black faces in high places," or if there is even any value at all. We live in a culture that adores love stories, strong female leads, and the glamour of wealth and Meghan's story contains all of these elements. But her story is a singular one, now intimately intertwined with millions of people who have suffered at the hands of the British Empire, and who continue to live in the shadow of colonialism and its effects. Their lives can never be honoured by having someone who looks like them share a title with those who tried to erase them.
No one should downplay the couple's experience or the racism and microaggressions Meghan has continued to face. In fact, we can observe how Meghan was hurt and apply what we have learned to organize against harm faced by Black women regarding employment, housing, and the police. Our commitments should be to pursue more holistic and liberating systems rather than reproduce more violent ones and the "representation as liberation" ideology in hopes that it will cure centuries-old traumas. Several essays can be written about the lessons to be drawn from this small piece of history, each requiring time and nuance. For now, perhaps the task is to examine if what Meghan Markle represents improves the lives of the disenfranchised or is simply doing PR for a billion-dollar family business that has ravaged and robbed more countries than you could count on one hand.