May 26, 2020
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Meghan Markle proved being a princess isn’t what it’s cracked up to be — especially if you’re black

Jonathan Brady | AP
Jonathan Brady | AP
Meghan Markle smiles during her wedding ceremony to Britain's Prince Harry at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle in Windsor, near London, England, in this May 19, 2018, file photo.

The queen has spoken.

Harry and Meghan, she announced Monday (note how Her Majesty didn’t use the couple’s titles, Duke and Duchess of Sussex), can start their transition to life as part-time royals. The couple is now allowed to split their time between Britain and Canada and work on becoming financially independent.

So, Meghan and Harry are free.

And that’s a shame.

Why? Meghan, the first modern woman of color to marry a British royal, should, like all the princesses before her, be enjoying the perks of that princess life. In Buckingham Palace. Year-round. She should be shaking dignitaries’ hands while wearing Stella McCartney, kissing babies in Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy and lacing up Aquazzura nude pumps to attend the charity luncheons of her choosing. That’s what marrying a prince in contemporary society looks like.

Instead, Meghan decided that living in Canada, a country thousands of miles away, for half the year was a better way for her to live her best life.

Why is this happening?

Because racism is alive and well. The twinkle I had in my eye when I learned that Meghan and Harry were engaged in November 2017 has been snuffed out. Back then, I thought that perhaps the home of colonization and imperialism had moved past its racist history, that a woman who at one point would have had to enter the palace through the back door would be respected and loved and protected by the most powerful family in the land.

No such luck. The Brits treated Meghan worse than people here treated former first lady Michelle Obama. And that’s saying a lot.

From the moment the couple were married, the trolling started. The British press picked Meghan apart at every turn. Her sister-in-law Kate could do no wrong, and Meghan was a poor example of princesshood — like how the bridal bouquet Kate picked was lovely, but Meghan’s flowers could have killed Princess Charlotte. Harry broke protocol by lashing out at the British press, most recently in October when he announced the couple planned to sue Associated Newspapers, which owns the Mail on Sunday, for printing in early 2019 a private letter between Meghan and her dad. All of this while Meghan was pregnant.

Then Meghan had baby Archie. And after much speculation on what Archie’s complexion would be, some people, including one British journalist, referred to her child as a monkey.

Experience that a few times, and you would bounce, too. Especially if that powerful family of yours did nothing public to shield you from the onslaught. Tell me, would you stick around? What respectable woman would?

So here we are.

“They underestimated her,” said Kali Nicole Gross, the Martin Luther King Jr. professor of history at Rutgers University. “African-American women have had a long history of being in the most powerless positions and finding the courage, the fortitude and also the most effective way to fight against some of the most powerful, white supremacists … This is just another example of it.”

I give props to the couple for getting into the driver’s seat of their life. This is 2020, for crying out loud, and even a royal family has options. Maybe Meghan will even be able to act again. (She reportedly inked a deal to do voice work for a Disney project before Megxit was announced.)

And, sure, I believe that Harry is eager to keep his family safe after witnessing the horrific way his mother, Princess Diana, died. In the television special, “Harry & Meghan: An African Journey,” the prince revealed that every time he sees the flash of a camera, he remembers the pain.

But this should have been handled in the way of “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope: quietly, with both sides getting their way. Why didn’t the queen fight harder to keep Harry home? Why did this blowup have to happen on the watch of the first black princess?

I didn’t want to admit it until Gross said it, but fighting for what’s right is just what black women do. Meghan wasn’t having the disrespect. And now that her child was brought into the mix, Meghan did what Pope would do, Gross said. She handled it. Because when there is an injustice, black women aren’t the silent type. When we have had enough, we have had enough.

Especially in this era of #blackgirlmagic.

We are leading the fight against voter suppression.

We are leading the fight against gun violence in our neighborhoods.

We are leading the fight to end hair discrimination.

And that’s just a few examples.

“Meghan has accomplished this incredible feat of shaking up an institutional power,” Gross said. “She used her voice to bring the royal family to its heels.” And, she said, Meghan forced the family to confront racism. Because even if the queen isn’t talking about it, everyone else is.

And she proved to all of us — especially me — that being a princess doesn’t ensure a happy ever after.

Elizabeth Wellington is the lifestyle columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Inquirer.com.

 


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