In case you hadn’t heard, the former playboy prince himself, Prince Harry, is engaged, y’all! I never really paid much attention to the Royals, and frankly, I find the whole fascination with them strange. So, I really could not have cared less when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement on November 27 after a year or so of dating. But all of that changed the moment the world (and I) learned that Meghan was not (gasp) white, is an actress, and a Catholic divorcee from the United States (double gasp).
Like I said, I didn’t even know who Meghan was until this engagement. However, once I started paying more attention to this news story, I just had to Google her. What I found was that Meghan has been using her personal experiences and life lessons to empower others. In particular, she has used her platform to get candid about being bi-racial (her mother is black and her father is white) and the importance of living as “our true selves.” To my surprise, Meghan’s life story hit so close to home for me.
Due to my own struggles with racial identity growing up, I instantly became intrigued by Meghan. I found myself wanting to know more about how she overcame battles in her early life and how she made her own success in spite of being trolled about her racially ambiguous look ever since rising to fame on the American television legal drama, Suits. Like Meghan, I also have a racially ambiguous look that inspires many to ask “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” For many of us who are mixed race, this sort of questioning is commonplace.
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, Meghan Markle has gone from being a relatively well-known television actress to one of the most famous women in the world. I think we can all agree that she is drop dead gorgeous. But, she’s not just a pretty face – she’s also pretty impressive as a person, too. She’s been a humanitarian activist promoting gender equality since the age of eleven. Take a look at how she talks about the concepts of self, vision, and taking action.
In addition to being an ambassador for World Vision and a UN Women’s Rights advocate, she has been very outspoken about her identity as a bi-racial woman. In fact, she penned a poignant essay for Elle Magazine about how being bi-racial affected her as a child as well as in Hollywood entitled, “I’m More Than An ‘Other’.” This is a sentiment multiracial people, including myself, can 100% relate to.
Meghan and I experienced very similar struggles as children in embracing our mixed race background, including the perplexities of checking a box to define us. Meghan writes in her essay for Elle Magazine about a time when she didn’t know which box to check on a mandated census for a 7th grade class. She writes:
“Here I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up, but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other. My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. ‘Because that’s how you look, Meghan,’ she said. I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out. So, I didn’t tick a box. I left my identity blank – a question mark, an absolute incomplete – much like how I felt.”
(Welcome to my childhood).
When Meghan went home that night, she told her dad what had happened, “He said the words that have always stayed with me: “If that happens again, you draw your own box.” 👏 👏🏿👏🏽
Growing up with a white mother and a black father (who was not present), I always felt pressured to identify as one race or the other. The feeling of being “othered” and being trapped between this duality with one foot on both sides made my journey to finding my racial identity complex. People don’t know the struggle of being bi-racial and having to conform to others’ standards and being placed into one box or the other – not being black enough or white enough.
It’s almost the end of 2017, and we are still as obsessed as ever about labeling others.
What I really admire about Meghan is her refusal to bend when it comes to embracing both sides of herself. She writes:
“While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman. That when asked to choose my ethnicity in a questionnaire as in my seventh grade class, or these days to check ‘Other’, I simply say: ‘Sorry, world, this is not Lost and I am not one of The Others. I am enough exactly as I am.”
When the world became abuzz with the news that the newest princess in the Royal family identifies herself as
black bi-racial, some folks were up in arms about this and assumed that Ms. Markle doesn’t have a good grasp on her identity (and secretly identifies as white) or that she has somehow forsaken her “blackness.” Some say that claiming to be bi-racial dismisses being black. Some simply believe that she can’t have it both ways. Newsflash: You don’t get to tell someone if they are black enough or not. Nobody owns the keys to blackness. Saying that we are bi-racial is not a denouncement of our blackness. It’s a very personal decision, and we should all agree that people should just leave us alone. All people of mixed races should be allowed to choose their identities without judgment. #MindYaBusiness
Meghan is embracing all aspects of herself, which I, personally, find empowering. Of course, society will continue to view her as black, and surely, the world and the British press will remind her of that every single day, regardless of how she feels. But Meghan has clearly acknowledged her black side, and at the same time, she also gets to acknowledge her white side. I never identified as either or, but as both, (and I will never be confined to one box), so I applaud her for not choosing one side over the other and standing firm in her identity. Meghan Markle is a human being at the end of the day. I’m so glad that she chose to draw her own box rather than being constrained by a society that tried to label her.
It’s almost the end of 2017, and we are still as obsessed as ever about labeling others. There is really no box that can ever define a human being. Trying to put us in a box with “Pick one” or “Choose one” limits who we truly are – embracing both races equally, for me, and obviously for Meghan, was the only way that we found our true selves. So, the hell with those boxes. Most of us don’t even fall into a box anymore. So, just be you, draw your own box, and carry on.
There is no wonder why Prince Harry has chosen to marry Meghan Markle. She will be the one who leaves a mark on many of us regardless of how she chooses to identify, her marital status, or citizenship. And though it’s not an achievement to be married into the Royal family, it is a breakthrough and a representation of social change – she will certainly be a breath of fresh air for that family, that’s for sure.
So, perhaps instead of harping on the racial identity of Meghan, the world should, first and foremost, accept the fact that Harry and Meghan are two people in love, and give them the time and space to continue building that love for one another. Because, at the end of the day, love is love. They will truly be a couple to be reckoned with. And as they say in the fairy tales, may they live happily ever after.