Diehard fans of the USA series Suits have probably spent the past year rolling their eyes. Despite the fact that the show debuted its seventh season on August 30, one of its leading characters has been thrust into the spotlight in a whole new way. Meghan Markle, who plays Rachel Zane, is dating Prince Harry. Yes, that Prince Harry. Their new relationship caused a media storm in the U.K. and has heightened her profile stateside as well. She is the cover girl for the October issue of Vanity Fair — with a headline across the front that reads “She’s Just Wild About Harry!” — but there's more to Markle than being the girlfriend of a royal or even the star of Suits.
While most of the original quotes in Vanity Fair’s cover story are focused on Markle’s man, author Sam Kashner did well to mention her background as a biracial woman from Los Angeles. Her unique identity has worked in her favor at some points in her life, and against her in others — like the racist language used to describe her in the press after her relationship with Harry became public. Her life is a testament to convoluted Western racial politics and frankly, her engagement with them is more interesting and complicated than her relationship with a prince.
Markle’s father is white and her mother is Black. According to an essay she penned for Elle in 2015, her father would buy her both Black and white dolls to create a “customized” representation of who she was. And even though she found herself particularly pained by a census that only offered “white, black, Hispanic, or Asian” as options to define herself in seventh grade, Vanity Fair notes that she has not “made an issue of being bi-racial.” As such, a very “light-skinned” Markle has been able to audition for white and Latina roles. And her unique beauty served her well in the audition for Suits.
But despite being able to pass for white — and doing so — Markle also hints at being woke. She remembers the riots in South Central L.A. sparked by the not-guilty verdict in the case against the officers who beat up Rodney King in 1991. According to Vanity Fair, this is where her “social awareness” started.
There are plenty of layers to peel back on a figure like Markle. And to be fair, part of the media frenzy surrounding Markle’s relationship has been about fitting all of these identity politics into a familiar princess love story narrative that has been reserved for white women: common woman + wealthy prince = perfect fantasy. (It’s worth noting that Kate Middleton is also from a middle-class background and didn’t have to endure the same kind of scrutiny that Markle has.)
But dating someone above most people’s class station is the only social and cultural boundary that Markle has crossed. The reason that people are fascinated with her love story with Prince Harry is because of her identity, not the other way around. Two people falling in love is a pretty simple principle. But there’s levels to race, and Markle is versed in several of them.