During Oprah’s Interview, Meghan Markle Shared The Moment She Realized Whiteness Wouldn’t Protect Her

Photo: Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/CBS.
There were gasps on gasps. Bombshell after bombshell. Enough explosive comments to keep the world rapt and Twitter ablaze for two straight hours. And yet, after all the incendiary revelations, it was a moment near the end of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s sit down with Oprah Winfrey that hit me hardest. 
As she wrapped things up, Winfrey asked the couple if they have any regrets. 
“My regret is believing them when they said I would be protected,” Markle replied gravely. “I regret believing that because I think had I really seen that that wasn't happening, I would have been able to do more. But I think I wasn't supposed to see it; I wasn’t supposed to know.” 
And there it is. There’s a lot to unpack here, but first, let’s state the obvious: Markle is right that she wasn’t supposed to be aware of “The Firm” or the royal family’s alleged reluctance to support her like she was one of their own. An institution built on colonialism and racism that publicly prides itself on decency and decorum not only thrives on their bigotry being wielded in secret —  it depends on it. 
Based on everything we know about this institution, I’m sure they were banking on Markle’s blind trust in the monarchy. I’m sure they were expecting that they could use her, hang her out to dry in the press, leave her unprotected and that despite it all, she would lower her head and stay silent, like a good servant. But the counter to that, of course, is how Markle herself could have been so oblivious to the long history and the precedent proving that a divorced Black American woman marrying into this family would not be warmly embraced? How could she not know? And how could she have believed them? 
It’s easy to critique Markle as someone who would have ignorantly upheld an archaic and notedly racist establishment if they had just been nicer to her, but that fails to acknowledge how many Black people (especially ones who look like Markle) cling to whiteness and hold onto faith in institutions that have historically harmed us right up until the inevitable moment they let us down. 

Markle’s proximity to whiteness couldn’t save her from the royal family’s commitment to anti-Blackness

For many, that moment comes early: when a teacher assumes the worst in you for no other reason than you’re Black; the first time you’re pulled over by police; or when a parent lays out the structural and damaging ways in which whiteness works. For Markle, it sounds like that moment of realization came in her thirties, when she decided to marry a prince. Call it naïveté or willful ignorance — you can also call it generations of conditioning to not only revere, but expect more from these white institutions. Throughout the Oprah interview, it became clear to me that the past few years have likely been the first time Markle has been faced up close with the reality that white supremacy is the foundation of certain systems, and that whether you call yourself “biracial” instead of “Black” or say and do the “right” things, speak the “right” way, or have “good hair,” you are not immune to its oppression. Yes, Meghan Markle is light-skinned. She is the most palatable kind of Black woman — a fact that might even be related to why she was deemed desirable enough to date by Prince Harry — and still, even Markle’s proximity to whiteness couldn’t save her from the royal family’s commitment to anti-Blackness. What got her into the family (her “acceptable” Blackness and beauty) is also the reason she was forced out of it. 
In the exhaustive analysis of the Oprah/Meghan/Harry interview that is sure to come in the following weeks, I would bet that we’re going to hear about Markle’s plights as they relate to All Black Women. Some of those connections will be a stretch. Some of them will rest on a tired surface-level “representation matters” refrain (one that Markle herself reinforced when she talked about visiting little girls in the Commonwealth) that does not apply when the representation is in a collective that literally colonized a bunch of Black countries. For dark-skinned Black women, the Meghan Markle discourse may even be eye-roll inducing because, no, Markle’s experience with racism by the UK tabloids and by members of the royal staff and family are not the same as the reality of all Black women, who exist without her power, privilege and light skin. But Markle’s experience, as she told Oprah, just reinforces the notion that the imperialism of the British royalty is strong and unafraid to invoke pain and suffering on people of colour, specifically Black people, and specifically dark-skinned Black people, around the world as they see fit. Markle’s experience is not the same as so many Black women who don’t have to imagine what would have happened if she were darker because we live in that truth every day. But the specifics of her story are still all-too familiar. 

Black women don’t have to imagine what would have happened if Markle were darker because we live that truth every day. But the specifics of her story are still all-too familiar.

When Markle spoke of the “turning point” in her relationship with the family —  an incident where she says her sister-in-law Kate Middleton made her cry, and which was then spun by the press into stories about Markle wreaking havoc on Middleton eliciting her purported tears—  I was reminded of every instance I’ve had in a workplace where a white woman weaponized her feelings against me. Markle’s alleged interactions with the Duchess of Cambridge weren’t shocking to me because I’ve seen them play out in real time. I’ve watched the innocent white girl get the benefit of the doubt, while her feelings are validated and coddled, and on the other end, there is the Black villain, a bitch by birth. As Markle defended her sister-in-law as a “good person,” she  also chastised the press’s depiction of them as rivals. “If you love her, you don't need to hate me,” she said. But that’s exactly how the narrative has played out, and will continue to, in the press. Markle served up this delicious piece of gossip that could be dismissed as a simple spat between sisters-in-law over bridesmaids dresses at a wedding, but it’s actually an alleged example of how the world protects white women and allows them to be “bullies” without repercussions, while the same grace is not afforded to women of colour. 
Markle admitted to Oprah that she entered into the royal family “naively.” Early into the jaw-dropping interview, Markle explained that she didn’t know she had to curtsy in front of the Queen of England in private and that she had to furiously Google the lyrics of the British national anthem. (Maybe she should have Googled “the royal family’s history of colonialism” instead.) She spoke of etiquette cues she missed because of her cultural differences as an American. But her wide-eyed inexperience isn’t just about deep curtsies or bungled royal protocol, it’s also about her son Archie and his future sister. In the moment that left Oprah speechless and gave us a “What?” gif that will live in infamy, Markle says members of the royal family were “concerned” about how dark Archie’s skin would be. (This was also the moment I was ready to roll up on Buckingham Palace and throw hands myself). Later, Prince Harry corroborated the account but refused to name who dared to say this horrendously racist thing about an infant. 
The anecdote about Archie’s skin is heinously and undoubtedly racist, but it’s still not surprising. There’s a difference. Gayle King asked Oprah on CBS This Morning in a debrief of the interview whether she was shocked that the racist incident happened, or whether she was surprised that Harry and Meghan shared the moment with her. Oprah said it was the latter. After all, Oprah is a Black woman in America. Anti-Black racism isn’t shocking anymore, but it is still disappointing. And though it may be naive to remain optimistic about white institutions and how they will treat us, we do it every day when we go to work, or go to the polls, or when we hold onto the belief that protection is something Black women deserve too. But as Oprah always says, quoting the late  Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

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