My father is black, and my mother is Puerto Rican. As a biracial woman, I'm very familiar with questions like "What are you?" "But what do you consider yourself?" and insinuations of "But is she really black?" And as much as I wish I could say this type of thinking was unique to my childhood or some less-progressive era long ago, it's something I still deal with today. Yup, in 2018. For some people, regardless of their race (and sometimes even my own friends and family), it's apparently very difficult to understand the concept that a person can proudly embrace and claim two cultures and races with open arms. But obviously, I love both of my parents equally. How could I ever be expected to choose one side or the other? How can anyone expect a person of mixed descent to simply pick — or try to dictate what their identity is for them?
Meghan Markle is not a stranger to this narrative. The daughter of a white father and a black mother, she has spoken and even written about the complications that have come with her racial ambiguity. In a poignant essay for Elle in 2015 (a year before she began dating Prince Harry), she wrote: "Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating." Her race has also been at the centre of the conversation surrounding her entry into the royal family, to the point where Prince Harry had to release a statement asking the media to back off. Even in her engagement interview with the BBC — which should have been about nothing but her newfound happiness — Markle had to address the attention on her race, calling it "disheartening" and "a shame."
So on the day of her wedding, Markle could have washed her hands of all the drama, controversy and speculation surrounding her identity. After all, Markle is very light-skinned, and many viewers of her work on Suits often assumed that she was white until the show included her character’s black father in a storyline. Because of her physical appearance, she could have had a wedding where race was not at all a factor, a by-the-book royal wedding that stuck to tradition and history. Instead, she made sure her blackness was front and centre. She and Prince Harry brought in Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, the black man who is the head of the Episcopal church, to deliver a passionate sermon. And then a black gospel choir brought the house down with a powerful rendition of "Stand By Me” and a performance by 19-year-old black cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. As one of those royal-obsessed Americans with a strange fascination with the British monarchy, I can say with absolute certainty that the royals had never seen anything like that. Thanks to Meghan Markle, the royal wedding was unapologetically black. And I'm so proud of her for making that happen.
In his moving sermon, Curry — who came to London from Chicago for the occasion — did not miss the opportunity to mark how historic it was that a black bishop was delivering the message at the wedding of the first black royal. (Well, the first black royalty of contemporary times. More on that here.) While many wedding guests looked on in a mix of wonder and awe (and yes, some confusion, I think, which I found hilarious), Curry quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world," he quoted. "Love is the only way. There's power in love. Don't underestimate it. Don't even over-sentimentalise it. There's power, power in love."
And then came the Kingdom Choir, a UK-based group of powerhouse vocalists, many of whom were women donning natural hair and locs with their Sunday best. That alone was enough to bring me to tears; black women have never been present at this type of event, much less asked to perform at one. And honey, those ladies came to sang. The only thing that moved me more than their goosebump-raising vocals in that gorgeous church was watching Markle's black mother look on emotionally with pride — while rocking locs and a nose ring, a look I also know has never made its way into a space like St. George's Chapel.
The level of inclusivity at the wedding shouldn't be surprising, however, when we consider Markle's passion for activism and change-making. During that same engagement interview with the BBC last year, Markle also took the opportunity to point out that she doesn't feel she's giving anything up by ending her acting career. Quite the opposite, in fact, she said: "Once you have access or a voice that people are going to listen to, with that comes a lot of responsibility, which I take seriously." And in 2015, she revealed at the UN Women's Conference that as an 11-year-old, she wrote letters to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, journalist Linda Ellerbee, and attorney Gloria Allred about a liquid dish soap commercial with the tagline: "Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans." Markle received encouraging letters back from Clinton and crew, and a month later Procter & Gamble had changed the message in the commercial. In her speech at the UN about that early lesson, Markle said: "It was at that moment that I realised the magnitude of my actions."
Yesterday, black women, biracial women, marginalised women, and women who are simply other went from outsiders to having a seat at the royal table — in front of millions of people.
I've talked a lot about why it's meaningful not just to me but to popular culture that Markle is black, both in stories and in conversations. Many people have asked why, if we want race to no longer be a factor in spaces like the palace, I choose to talk so much about Markle's race, especially when she's gotten so much flak for it. Shouldn't we just call her a princess? Why does she have to be a black princess? But before this royal wedding, girls like me — and Markle's mother, and the women in the Kingdom Choir — had never been included in fairytale visions of royalty. Yesterday, however, black women, biracial women, marginalised women, and women who are simply other went from outsiders to having a seat at the royal table — in front of millions of people.
So yes, Meghan Markle's mere existence in the royal family is revolutionary. But as both a black woman, a biracial woman, and a woman, period, I am bursting with pride at the way she is indeed realising the magnitude of her actions and using her overwhelmingly large new platform to create change. Including not just a black bishop, but a gospel choir at the royal wedding felt like a very deliberate nod from Prince Harry, yes, but particularly from Markle to the rest of the world. To me, it felt like Markle was sending a very powerful and very personal message to girls like us. It felt as though she were saying: No one can define our identities for us. No one can force us to choose one side or the other. No one can say that we don't belong, or that we don't deserve fairytale moments.
And that is exactly why she is the black princess the world needs.