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OPINION

No, the royal wedding isn’t particularly meaningful to black British women

Don’t believe the reports that the marriage of a member of the royal family to a mixed-race woman is “offering hope” to us, says Yomi Adegoke

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By Yomi Adegoke on

It is a tradition as British as a Sunday roast, an orderly queue or a complimentary extra wing from “bossman” at the chicken shop: the closer a royal wedding gets, the more bizarre the media coverage and commentary around it must become.

So, unsurprisingly, the conversation surrounding Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s looming nuptials has somehow devolved into its apparent status as this year’s “woke wedding”, acknowledged by absolutely no one else but the fevered and increasingly frantic British and American press.

Their interracial, undeniably adorable union has been continually offered up as a salve to the scars of Britain's racist past and present, and also a balm to Britain’s black women, whose atonement for the country’s crimes against them apparently comes in the form of a wedding that isn’t even theirs.

The crowning of a “black princess” into the country’s most elite, exclusionary and white of institutions will, according to various reports, invisibly aid black women in the UK in a host of intangible ways. It has been said to offer “hope” to us, the opportunity for us to “see someone who looks like us” in the royal family, as if the monarchy, an institution that has flourished at large because of its denigration of people who look like us, is where we hope to see ourselves reflected in the first place.

In reality, most black women are well aware their lives remain unaffected by their marriage beyond banter in the group chat about a potential Harry and Meghan “swirl” (interracial couple) YouTube channel. And it continues to boggle our minds en masse why we are expected to believe that the introduction of a white-passing, mixed-raced American woman should change our everyday realities in any way at all.  

Meghan marrying into the royal family is a biggie, sure, simply because of how racist Britain is. The irony of the most quintessentially British of things being partly “blacked up” because of Harry’s great taste is truly something to behold. That said, the prince’s choice of spouse doesn’t say anything about Buckingham Palace as an institution at all – I would be far more convinced of their apparently newly adopted anti-racism if they returned the goods looted during colonial rule to their countries of origin, as opposed to them “allowing” Harry to marry a beautiful and accomplished woman who happens to have a black mother.  

And while I have no doubt Meghan is absolutely lovely, a swooping archangel to allegedly downtrodden black British women she is not – nor has she ever asked to be. Black British women, who pay taxes here and are still told to “go home” whenever we criticise our place of birth, cannot find solace in her presence in a distant literal and figurative ivory tower. Black British women, who are encouraged to represent this country in the Olympics, yet still have their Britishness questioned at every opportunity, are not given hope by the romcom that is an ethnically ambiguous actor marrying an actual Prince Charming. Black British women, who just weeks ago had their family members threatened with deportation despite British citizenship during the Windrush scandal, don’t see themselves reflected in this wedding – and why should we? 

We’re mainly excited at how flawless she’ll look in her dress, not the prospect of her ushering in a post-racial utopia

To many of us, it’s simply another celebrity coupling, with the added entertainment of mouth-frothing from racists. We’re mainly excited at how flawless she’ll look in her dress, not the prospect of her ushering in a post-racial utopia. And we're under no illusions that her fairytale and their "happy ever after" will now be weaponised whenever we attempt to air our grievances about racism in the UK. "Racism? In Britain? We even have a bloody black princess!"

The narrative that black women in particular should care is even more perplexing given that Meghan isn’t a black woman, by her own definition. It is well-known that she identifies as a “strong, confident mixed-race woman” as she penned in an essay for Elle magazine in 2015. And while our peers in the States are perhaps more keen to suggest they know her ethnicity better than she does, in the UK we are less likely to correct a mixed-race person about their own identity.

In America, the “one drop rule” (that stipulated that having “just one drop” of “black blood” made you black), means that biracial is often a synonym for black. The landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson case ruled that the plaintiff was considered black because he had “seven eighths Caucasian and one eighth African blood,” – a black grandparent.

Here, no one is contesting that Meghan is a woman of mixed heritage. There is no doubt that she is on the receiving end of racism and anti-blackness, of course. But her white heritage, as well as the fact that it is visible in the fact that she’s ethnically ambiguous, makes her far more palatable to the British public than if Harry had brought home Grace Jones. One argument (that many Americans are fond of) is that Meghan must identify as black because she is treated as though she’s black due to the racism she faces. But Meghan can be subject to bigotry that is tailored to her as a mixed-raced woman of black heritage, too, just as any minority faces specific types of racism. It is her positioning that makes her victim to an constant onslaught of bigotry but also welcomed into the royal family in a way that a dark-skinned, broad-nosed, kinky-haired black woman would not be. The importance of the public having a white parent to fixate on (despite what they may make of him) cannot be underestimated.  

Proximity to whiteness is relevant, despite it not being as sexy as an article angle positing Meghan as the black Disney princess next in line to Tiana. It has historically provided access and opportunities, as well as its own unique set of challenges. It’s why several historic “firsts” for the black community were achieved by biracial individuals – the first black president, the first black Miss America, the first black Vogue cover girl, the first black woman to win a Best Actress Oscar. It’s why mixed-raced individuals are overwhelmingly overrepresented in black Hollywood. The reality is, white people (and black people alike) often see mixed-raced people as either a standard of “ideal blackness” or, at the very least, a begrudging alternative to what they consider “black-black”.

As well as flattening out privileges that white proximity affords, erasing mixed-raced identity also renders struggles specific to the mixed-raced community invisible, too. In Britain, the fact that mixed-raced pupils often underperform in comparison to both their white and black peers is ignored in a bid to categorise them as “one or the other”. Accounts of struggling to find a cohesive and coherent identity, feeling as though they must “pick a side”, is something that is often written off and belittled because it’s something neither white nor black people experience. Meghan’s experiences are valid and complex – and they are not necessarily our own. In fact, the only way her induction is affecting us in any meaningful way is the need to constantly eye-roll at the barrage of commentary suggesting that it will.

@yomiadegoke

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