It took a lot not to smile when I heard the news that Prince Harry was to marry his long-term girlfriend, Meghan Markle.
In this country, with our confused sense of how one is to express their “patriotism,” to not smile at anything related to the Royal Family, especially if you are a person of colour, is the equivalent of outing yourself as an anarchist and scrawling “DEPORT ME” on your forehead.
Also, it’s only polite. I am British, after all.
And yes, whilst the world continues to turn, I am happy for them- even if I am slightly peeved we don’t get a day off for the pleasure.
Markle, unlike some of the past and present girlfriends and wives of the Royal Family, did not exactly spring from nowhere. She’s a successful actress and campaigner for women’s rights who was in the public eye long before she met Harry. She’s not the ideal character for a rags-to-riches story, which is why the media seems to be clutching at straws just to stick an adjective in front of a sub-heading that describes her as “different,” “controversial,” or, my personal favourite “revolutionary.”
This pictorals however, are offered purely based on the fact that she is mixed-race.
If, God forbid, this was America, where the so-called “one-drop rule” still reigns supreme, being mixed-race would translate to meaning “non-white,” translating to “black.” See “First Black President Barack Obama” for further reference.
Here, in the land of hope, glory and political correctness, “mixed-race” is a buzzword used synonymously with “diversity,” “multiculturalism” and “tolerance.” Much of the media coverage surrounding the engagement focused on how the royal coupling was a true reflection of Britain’s multicultural society, and how “far” we’ve come as a nation.
The BBC did a suspiciously hastily put-together feature on interracial couples reacting to the royal engagement, whilst a clearly bored and uninspired freelancer for the Metro wrote what can only be described as a God-awful piece titled: “It’s a great day for interracial relationships and mixed-raced girls everywhere” (I can tell you with complete confidence that I’ve had better days).
The problem with these articles wasn’t the choice of topic, exactly- I’m a strong advocate for seeing more issues surrounding British mixed-raced individuals in the mainstream media- it’s the narrowness of their perspective.
The hype around Markle’s mixed-race heritage unapologetically feeds into stereotypes about biracial individuals. Arguably, Markle conforms to what former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman called the “perfect type of mixed-race,” with fair skin and straightened hair. Many women of black and white heritage, myself included, have darker skin and curly, afro hair which, thanks to our Eurocentric standards of beauty, are seen as less desirable. Efforts to paint Markle as a patron for this imaginary mixed-race community, therefore, excludes many of us who do not have this “beauty privilege,” which is a common assumption.
“Markle serves as a chilling reminder that no matter how great our accomplishments, our ghost of ‘incompleteness’ will continue to haunt us.”
There is also the issue that Markle’s biraciality only became of paramount importance when attached to the value of marrying into the Royal Family, arguably the epitome of white imperialism.
Markle said she was “disheartened” that media coverage focused on her ethnicity. In that moment, I did not relate to Markle as a mixed-raced woman per say, but as a woman of colour who just gets it. Speaking about growing up biracial in an interview, she remembers not knowing whether to tick ‘black’ or ‘white’ when filling out a form, so she left it blank. This sense of uncertainty followed her into her acting career, being too “black” for white roles and too “white” for black ones. What Markle does do, if we are insistent on depicting her as symbolic of the mixed-race experience, is serve as a chilling reminder to mixed-race people that no matter how great our accomplishments, our ghost of “incompleteness” will continue to haunt us.
“Markle’s biraciality was only deemed worthy when attached to the Royal Family, the epitome of white imperialism.”
I suppose one of the key questions is why mixed-raced people are spoken about as an emblem of advancement when black Britons are hardly ever spoken about in the same manner. If we’re so tolerant as a nation, then why are our institutions (the media, government and education included) still using black people as symbols of crime and deprivation and those from South Asian or Arab backgrounds as depictions of terrorism and backwardness?
Then again, perhaps I’m just another millennial snowflake being overly sensitive- after all, it seems as if every other advert on TV now features a mixed-race family. These adverts are not intended to represent multicultural consumers, but rather serve as a tool to meet a diversity quota that tells them mulit-culturalism sells. As we’ve seen from many botched diversity promoting advertising campaigns such as Dove’s PR disaster, the decision to represent ethnic minorities isn’t a genuine one, in fact it’s a resentful one- a means to an end to get publicity praising their liberal values, which we gobble up and flock to buy their products.
What these commercials do, like the press’s incessant race-focused coverage of the royal engagement, is sell us an ideal of a multicultural Britain. What’s more, it placates us into believing that our nation is a tolerant one, a principle which many BAME individuals would disagree with. From the rise in hate crime, the fact that BAME children account for 60% of child arrests and the day-to-day micro-aggressions that slice through our skin like a razor even though we’re made to believe we’re crazy because the scars are never visible.
Nevertheless, I like to believe that for a pessimist, I’m rather optimistic. Whilst I will be glued to my television when the Royal wedding does take place, I think it’s important that we see it for what it is- a celebration of love and commitment between two individuals. Forcing a multicultural symbolism on top of it is just too complex and heavy a burden to bear, and on quite the contrary, proves how far we still have to go as a nation in understanding racial identity.