With mere weeks to go before the royal wedding of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle, the media frenzy surrounding Markle’s background is still going full force. When it was announced that the couple was dating, Markle’s race brought forth problematic trolls and journalists who found it scandalous that the person fifth in line for the throne (now sixth) was dating a Black woman. When the couple announced their engagement, questions about her past began to emerge. The picture that was painted for the public thanks to tabloid digging was not pretty. On the mild end of the spectrum were assumptions about her relationships with different family members that suggested Markle was coming into royalty from a family full of drama. At worst, headlines ran that implied Markle was once a stripper. Whether or not any of these allegations is true is less important than the fact that they shouldn’t matter anyway.
To get the most obvious point out of the way, it’s varying degrees of sexist to suggest that Markle needs to be vetted before she can marry Prince Harry. Honing in on her previous sexual experiences, including those onscreen, as evidence of her character flaws is textbook slut-shaming. Prince Harry himself has been at the center of several scandals that would have had a much deeper impact on his legacy had he been a woman. There is clearly a double standard at play here. Women are expected to maintain moral superiority, sexual purity, and responsibility where men are not. Men get to dick through life and show up at the altar with nothing more than good intentions and a nice suit.
Markle’s race compounds this, as some of the headlines that have emerged since their relationship went public prove that Western culture still hasn’t moved beyond equating Black people with crime and animals. Black women are constantly fighting against the idea that they are the least desirable among women, that they are too strong to be suitable partners to men, and that they lack the proper decorum to be considered “wifey material.” That Markle wasn’t groomed throughout her life to be a high-society wife, or any kind of wife, works against her in this situation. That she is also a Black woman means that Markle hardly stood a chance in the court of public opinion.
Some of the fascination with Markle is to be expected. Where they lack in political power, the royal family makes up for it in their ability to inhabit popular culture and imagination. The family has lived under a relatively strict code of conduct and the microscope of public interest for generations. Thanks to the methodical movements of the royals, and the fact that their bloodline is so damn white, they’re also a little bland. We know who they are and what to expect. Just last month, hundreds stood outside to catch a first glimpse of a swaddled Prince Louis, the third child of Prince William and Princess Kate. Thousands more will crowd the streets to catch a glimpse of Markle before she officially becomes a Duchess/Princess. It’s all par for the course when you inhabit a title that is the stuff fairy tales are made of.
Regardless, Markle’s past — “shady” or otherwise — need not be a factor in this process. There is a popular idea about relationships that is still rooted in a fantasy of its own: that men and women aren’t full human beings before they enter marriage, and can only do so if they complete a checklist of measurable goals. Under this rhetoric, all of the years spent prior to the relationship were done in service of it, sacrificing, training, and grooming ourselves to be the partner of this other person who we may or may not have even known. This line of thinking unfairly impacts women and people of colour the most, as we’ve seen with Markle, and it rules out the possibility that compatibility is also about the right time and the right place.
Meghan Markle is the woman Prince Harry fell in love with because of her 36 years of worldly existence, not in spite of it. The same thing goes for Markle's love for Harry. Let’s celebrate that for now — it seems to be enough for the both of them.