The Complexion Chronicles: The Real Meaning of Meghan
By TaRessa Stovall
I’d never seen or been aware of Meghan Markle until she became engaged to Prince Harry.
Never watched “Suits.”
Found her to be a pretty, very light-skinned, ethnically-ambiguous-looking Biracial American actress who found love with a British royal.
And nothing more.
Between the engagement and the May 19, 2018 wedding, I saw a growing number of articles, opinion pieces, and social media questions and pontifications about Meghan’s racial identity (which, when you are a first-gen Black/White Biracial, always ultimately boils down to “what side are you on?”). I chalked it up to the America’s and the world’s ongoing obsession with Mixed-race identity which, frankly, alternately fires me up and wears me out.
Meghan mania quickly came close to wearing me out.
Confession: I have never found the British (or any other) royal family the least bit interesting or relatable. I wasn’t “into” Princess Diana, beyond feeling sorry for her from the time of her marriage until her death. I never felt any sense of connection with the Queen of England or anything about that royal life.
Clearly many people are into the “princess” concept or fantasy but I wasn’t a little girl who had that luxury growing up. So, I couldn’t relate at all, ever, in any way.
In the endless flood of Megan coverage, I was most intrigued and impressed by the story of how, as an adolescent, she had been frustrated by a school form pressuring her to “choose” a race box. And her father, a White man, encouraged her to “make your own box. That piqued my interest in her identity dynamics.
Later, I saw a story of how Meghan was featured on the television show Nick News for writing to Proctor and Gamble in her childhood to complain about their commercial specifying that Ivory dish soap was for women who did the dishes. They responded to young Meghan’s letter by changing the wording of the commercial to “people.”
Color me impressed.
I had no plans to watch the wedding. Then a longtime friend texted me about the Black gospel choir and Bishop and I figured, “Oh, what the heck. I’ll take a peek.”
I wasn’t the least bit surprised that Meghan, Harry and William (who are said to have planned these details together) brought this color and flavor to a typically stodgy, whiter-than-white event. And I was amused by the tsunami of social media raves about how “blackety Black” the wedding was—with many Black people pronouncing their newfound approval of Meghan’s identity.
Then there were a few Black men calling some Black women hypocrites for being excited about this relationship but complaining about entertainer Donald Glover having a White baby mama while creating Black content such as the hit TV series “Atlanta,” and the recent musical milestone, “This is America.”
Add a flurry of opinions about what impact the new Duchess of Sussex might have on royal politics, and how this didn’t make up for the centuries of colonization and oppression, and how the wedding took place on the birthday of Black Queen Sophia Charlotte…along with endless pieces about the impact this union might have on the ability of children and adults of color to imagine themselves princesses or some form of royalty. For some, this seemed to provide an expanded sense of personal possibility.
But for me, and I imagine for other Mixed people, the real meaning of Meghan, princess, duchess, global celebrity and instant icon, is that she will continue to be a screen for everyone’s projections, predictions, prejudices and pontifications about her racial identity.
This is something that other Mixed-race people understand all too well.
No matter what Meghan does or doesn’t do, whatever impact she will or won’t have, wherever this life path takes her, that will be the defining feature of her presence.
As Sarah E. Gaither, a Black/White Biracial woman, wrote about Meghan in “Biracial Representation is Sorely Needed in a Country with A Fraught Relationship with Mixed-Race People,” for Box.com, “racial identity is not and should not be a zero-sum game. It is clear that everyone needs positive representation, especially racial and ethnic minorities and women. But the either/or system that so much of our society uses simply doesn’t work when a biracially identified person is involved.”
The identity police might not realize that yet. But Meghan’s presence just might help to highlight the futility of their ways.
The meaning of Meghan is that she presents one of the strongest, healthiest images of a Black/White Biracial contemporary person that I have seen. She clearly knows and is comfortable with herself. She seems unfazed by all of the opinionating about her identity, and very, very solid in representing herself on her own terms. I grew up without any such role models, and I am happy that we finally have a public figure representing this rare and essential dynamic.
Folks are always going to identity police Meghan and all of us—that is simply the nature of the beast of racism. What Meghan’s most significant, lasting meaning is that she gives the world a fresh example of a Black/White Biracial woman who is grounded, confident and proud. Her love story seems enchanting and the pomp and ritual that go with joining the royal family might be entertaining. But those are just interesting accessories. The value of her living in the spotlight is that she gives us something we haven’t had enough of, with the possibility of inspiring others to stand in their own complicated truths without compromising any parts of who they are.
I look forward to this aspect of the Meghan-effect, and hope that it spreads far and wide.