On Monday morning, news notifications about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement lit up social feeds and sent group chats into a frenzy.
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But one group celebrated and debated and engaged more than others: black women. Alysha woke her dad up at 5 a.m. on the west coast to tell him the news. (He thought it was an emergency. Sorry, Dad.) Meghan Markle will be the first black woman ever to marry into the royal family. (There is some debate among historians as to whether Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III was black.)
Is this a step forward in representation? A black princess that brown and black faces can see themselves in and look up to? Or does Markle’s new position reinforce harmful stereotypes around beauty and colorism—that lighter skin is more desirable.
We, two black women, initially celebrated the engagement because it felt like a victory. In an age where marriage rates are dropping for black women, and a standing U.S. president spews racist, divisive vitriol daily, we were excited to see representation from a familiar face in such a prominent place.
Of course, it’s more complex than that. For starters, marriage is not necessarily an accomplishment to be celebrated, even if it is to a prince—sorry, Disney. And there’s a deeper and necessary conversation to be had around colorism and colonialism.
Ahead, we looked to fellow black women in our communities for their reactions and responses.
I’m always excited when a black woman is successful in finding a partner of any kind, a lifelong partner at that. Number one, it dispels the narrative that was built about the chronically single black woman. Meghan is 36 and divorced and I love that she doesn’t fall under the cookie cutter example of what a princess should be or could be.
In Hollywood, certain actresses and actors who may have mixed race are not always written as mixed race. I read in an interview where she explicitly said: “I’m black and I’m white, and I want that shown on the show.”
She is a black woman who is clear about her background and who she is. In Hollywood it can be easier to deny that path and play white characters all the time. I think there is something really cool about being unapologetic about who you are, and being proud of that. She’s a feminist. She’s a black woman. She’s not 26, she’s 36. I’m really excited about it. We need good news with everything going on in the world. – Zerlina Maxwell, Director of Progressive Programming for SiriusXM, former Director of Progressive Media for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
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Vanessa Ngozi Anyanso
When I woke up [Monday] morning and did my usual checking of social media and news apps, I was bracing myself for another outrageous tweet by Donald Trump or another sexual assault related headline. Instead, I was greeted with the wonderful news that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry got engaged. I’ve been overinvested in the lives of British Royalty for years now so my subsequent social media freak out was nothing new or unexpected. Then, a few hours later Meghan and Prince Harry made their first appearance as an engaged couple in the Kensington Palace gardens. The look of complete adoration that graced Prince Harry’s face as he looked at Meghan caused me to tear up for a multitude of reasons.
One of those reasons was definitely because Meghan is a (half) black girl. I often joke about the fact that “nobody likes black girls” to explain my perpetual singleness to people. We aren’t portrayed in the best light in the media, there are too many twitter threads talking about how black women are the worst to date, and the constant barrage of Eurocentric beauty standards have combined in a way that makes me, a black girl with 4c hair, feel undesired. On top of that, I’m a black girl with high career ambitions and I’m acutely aware of the fact that some people might view that as threatening. But, as I watched Harry’s face melt into joy every time he looked at Meghan, a beautiful, educated, and highly accomplished black girl, I regained a bit of hope that I might experience the same happiness someday. – Vanessa Ngozi Anyanso, Clinical Research Coordinator at U Penn
I am beyond thrilled that Meghan Markle is marrying Prince Harry not only because they seem madly in love with each other but also because she’s a modern day biracial black American royal. Seeing black women become First Ladies and royals is awesome, for lack of a better word. And I also love the fact that Meghan is in her mid to late 30s. It is an encouragement to women of color and women in general that just because you’re 25, 30, or 35, there is still hope. There is always hope. – Morgan Jerkins, Writer
I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t really know who she was until this story started popping up on my Snapchat feed a month ago. But anyway, YES QUEEN (actually kinda). I see a lot of myself in Meghan—having grown up in LA, being mixed, and being in an interracial relationship, so I’m more than excited to have her in living in the royal palace.
Think about what this means for little girls of color to be able to grow up with a woman that looks like them in one of the most influential positions in the world. That is beautiful and powerful. I think Princess Di would be so so happy. – Aisha Lewis, Director of Partnerships at American Underground
Forward thinking people live in a world where racial identity is in the eye of the beholder, this is despite the oppressive and negative constructs race has been built from. While this is a space I like to occupy, Markle doesn’t identify as a Black woman, so we are different. As a human who cannot and does not choose which race to belong (it’s ascribed to me by white supremacy), my happiness for her and Prince Harry goes as far as it would for strangers I may pass in the street on their wedding day. A warm smile for two people who have found and committed to each other is not beyond me and actually a reflex feeling. However, the crushing reality, that this wedding, their lives and the offensive (read racist and classist) press coverage of her, her background and her family will be continual and consistent, and we will not be allowed to forget.
We’re told these are the things we should care about, but I’m wondering how a country with a shrinking economy, huge cuts to public services (which particularly adversely impact women of colour), an “emperor’s new clothes” attitude to triggering Brexit, and the lingering and persistent unequal treatment of British people of colour, will fare under this new carpet of cognitive dissonance that no doubt will be called: ‘post-racial Britain’. This all due to us now having a Black woman in the royal family through marriage. She’s not the first and we can now guarantee, she won’t be the last, she’ll also be entering through the front door.
I wish their union well but I cannot class it as a win for a fairer, more progressive British society when a generous amount of British tax revenue generated largely by those less fortunate than the couple, will pay for their wedding, lifestyle and family activities until they are no more. I believe love conquers all but that doesn’t mean it happens in a fair place. – Simone Bresi-Ando, Founder of Non-Profit, I’mPOSSIBLE -Contributor for the BBC, The Guardian
While it’s amazing that they’ve found each other and found love, I honestly don’t care about the monarchy and furthermore think it kind of sucks that she’s now been reduced to headlines that describe her as the Suits actress who is 36 years old and snagged a man, instead of the feminist biracial woman who is going to use her mind and platform to change the world. — Nikki Ogunnaike, Fashion Director, ELLE.com
Soraya Nadia McDonald
I would say on Monday I was really genuinely excited even though, because it’s my job, I’ve known this was coming for weeks. We all have been sort of expecting it so it was a matter of when. I’m genuinely happy for Meghan for just finding someone who clearly loves and adores her. I think that’s great, no matter who it might have been, although it’s nice he’s not a schmuck.
There is part of me that is very concerned for her, just because monarchies aren’t very friendly with women, especially those who aren’t born into it, she’s basically considered a commoner. That comes with its own baggage which I don’t think is going to lift because it’s 2017. It’s only been recently that the rules have changed in terms of succession to view women as people. I feel a great degree of worry for her because I don’t want her to end up miserable in the way Diana was or Sarah Ferguson was. The way so many women who marry into royal families find themselves, like in this gilded cage. It looks really pretty, but it’s still a cage.
We are attracted to fantasy we want to believe you can wear a big poofy dress and live a fantasy, but it’s the icing that obscures a very ugly cake in a way. I want her to be happy but I’m not sure after that initial shine wears off how much will be left. — Soraya Nadia McDonald, Culture critic, The Undefeated
What does their engagement announcement mean to me? That there is hope. That there is unity. That there is a sense of togetherness despite and because of our differences. That diversity makes us stronger. That little black and biracial girls everywhere have their very own princess, who knows what it’s like to be in their shoes, to admire and aspire to be like. The feeling that as long as you are kind, advocate for those who can’t use their voices, work hard, and try to find your own place in this world, your very own Prince Charming will present himself when you are ready and he won’t ask you “What are you?” because it won’t matter. –Neneh Koroma, Medial Student
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Honestly, I’ve never followed royal relationships as closely as this one. When they announced the engagement [Monday] morning, I had the same feelings I did as when Obama won the election, like history was happening. This moment, when I was also alive, will be read about in children’s history books.
It’s amazing to think that not too long ago people would never have believed this could happen. In times like these I think of my great-grandmother, who lived to be 96, and told me about how her predecessors were slaves. Now I look toward my future just excited to see what’s next for us.– Maya Earls, News Associate at the Associated Press
When most people think of a fairytale ending—they think of Cinderella and the traditional image of Cinderella, which is a white (often blonde) female falling in love with her handsome, white prince. Today, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are not only the modern take on the fairytale romance, but Meghan also serves as the emblem for a new fairytale with the unconventional image of a black female marrying her prince. Not only will Meghan make history as the first American to successfully marry into the British royal family, but she will also be the first African American to enter the monarchy. We’re talking ever.
The union of Meghan and Harry is truly a history-making moment for African Americans everywhere and I am very excited to be apart of this history as an African American female. Meghan is legit the new definition of #BlackGirlMagic. I also cannot wait to see Meghan’s mother, who is black, sitting in the royal carriage with Queen Elizabeth II. That in itself will be a monumental moment in history. – Morgan Evans, Associate Web Editor, Fox News Entertainment
I’m delighted. Obviously I’d have to be, I’m a black woman and I have a book coming out in two months that’s about long distance romance between a black woman and a white man (though neither of them is royalty). But even aside from my professional interest in romance, I find their relationship to be pocket of joy in this mostly terrible year. I love how self-sufficient and independent Meghan is, I love how she brought her black mom to the Invictus Games and made sure she was pictured with Prince Harry, I love how obviously smitten Harry is with her, and I really love that we’re going to have a Black American princess (yes, yes, duchess will technically be her title, ask me if I care). And I really cannot wait until we get a picture with Harry and Meghan alongside his good friends Barack and Michelle Obama. – Jasmine Guillory, Author
I was bursting with joy as soon as I learned the news. It makes my heart swell to think of the significance of this moment for children of color, who now live in a world where both a U.S. President and a British Duchess can be black. I’ve followed Meghan’s career before she started dating Prince Harry (including her time on Suits) and she seems proud of her biracial heritage and the lineage of her mother, a beautiful black woman with locs.
I remember growing up and marveling at my Aunts, mother, and grandmother only to learn that the world often stereotypes black women as unattractive and undesirable. Both Michelle Obama and Meghan Markle disrupt those stereotypes indefinitely. They are shining examples of our grace, class, strength, and our diverse beauty. They’re powerful, smart and accomplished women in their own right—and with their unions, they prove that black women are just as worthy and deserving of love as everyone else. I hope Meghan will use her platform to uplift people of color in Britain and around the world. – Jessica Andrews, Digital Fashion Editor, teenVOGUE
In a post-Brexit, post-Trump era where the nefarious impact of imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy plague us everyday, I’m delighted to celebrate Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement.
Although it alone doesn’t solve systemic social problems, representation matters. Pop culture and what we see and hear in the media shapes how we understand our place and potential in the world–and how we comprehend and hold compassion for each other.
While their union won’t conquer the social ills the empire contributed to and helped perpetuate, children from mixed families will now see themselves reflected in one of the most powerful and influential families in the world.
In addition to celebrating Meghan Markle’s joy in a world that constantly treats women of color as if we are disposable, replaceable, and expendable, I’m thrilled that a woman of color who is a self-identified feminist is in an elevated position to inspire next-generation women leaders through her speeches, charitable work, and other actions that will accompany her increased visibility on the world’s stage. – Jamia Wilson, Writer, Commentator, and Feminist Activist
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I think Women of Color generally and specifically Black Women (this specificity is very important) have received the invalid message both overtly and more subtly that they are undesirable: both as marriage partners and as love interests. Dating websites proclaim that Black Women are least selected both by other races and their own. Mainstream films feature women love interests who are white or ambiguously raced (this landscape has its ebbs and flows e.g. anomalies like She’s Gotta Have It, Insecure, etc.) Such messages of undesirability are insidious, resulting in some Black Women internalizing the message that they are unworthy of a suitable partner—and worse yet, unworthy of love.
The aforementioned variables are some of the reasons why a lot of Black Women have projected their imagery, maybe naively, onto Meghan Markle as an emblem of desirability—because if a Prince wants to wife you, you have to be valuable, right? Though I’m interested in the dialogue that can happen as a result of having a biracial woman marry into the lily white Royal family, I’m more intrigued by what Meghan represents in a country that has unearthed the ravenous monster of its oft-ignored racist roots. Many Black Women are projecting Blackness onto a bi-racial and phenotypically ethnically ambiguous woman who, if we’re being honest, has a physical proximity closer to “whiteness”—thus making her the most palatable variation of “Blackness” that can be ushered into the royal family.
To ignore the nuance of her self-proclamation of mixed identity is to ignore the complicated stratified nature of what it has meant historically and what it means contemporaneously to be Black in an America that no longer need abide by the “one drop rule.” Meghan Markle’s very presence can help us begin to navigate these grey areas as they relate to social constructs of race. – Nikyatu, Filmmaker
It’s an exciting time for any couple who are in love and looking towards a future together no matter what race, religion, etc. Love and shared values are what’s important and it seems that Prince Harry and Meghan share that. My mom is Italian and my dad is Dominican, and when they first got married years ago, it was harder then to be in a bi-racial relationship. But they were in love and shared the same values. Two years ago, I married my husband who’s Irish and luckily my parents paved the way for me to love whomever I wanted no matter the race—as long as we shared the same values and were in love that conquered everything. So I’m happy for the newly engaged couple! – Cristina Gordon, President & Founder of C Bee PR
Harry always seemed like the more, er, unconventional of the princes, so my primary reaction to the news was, “Ha! Knew he’d end up with a black woman.” I’m sure the ancestors of the monarchy—one that has had a hand in countless imperialist campaigns back in the day—are rolling over in their graves. Good. I enjoyed the funny memes and tweets about black folks finessing their way into the wedding by claiming to be Meghan’s family, Meghan introducing the royal family to seasoned food, etc. I have a sense of humor about it! But things got a little cringe when I saw the way some people were projecting onto Meghan, putting a whole lot of meaning into this engagement; as if Meghan’s upcoming title as Duchess is a win and inspiration for black women everywhere. Eh, I’m a little more cynical than that. I don’t see this as some kind of act of black liberation at all. We’re not gettin’ free because Meghan is marrying a prince. A biracial woman in the monarchy—an antiquated system that seems especially absurd from an American point of view—isn’t advancing black women. It’s not really advancing anyone. And you know what? That’s okay! She doesn’t have to be some symbol. She can just be a woman who decided to marry into royalty.
I’m at a crossroads of mild amusement, dislike of the monarchy and its awful, racist, sexist history, and a soft spot for weddings and seeing people in love. Not going to lie, the way Harry and Meghan looked at each other during all those post-engagement interviews—on top of the fact that a couple of the diamonds in Meghan’s ring belonged to Diana!—made me feel so gushy for them. So I guess my feelings are complicated, but I do know that if I see one more corny tweet about how important this is to black women I’m going to roll my eyes so far in the back of my head that they may never return. – Ashley Reese, Writer