One of the most intriguing questions still lingering from Meghan Markle’s and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey is who in the royal family was concerned about whether the couple might have a dark-skinned baby.
Markle dropped the bombshell Sunday night in a broad-ranging interview, during which she also disclosed that the royal family chose not to give her son the title of prince, though exceptions to protocol were made for the queen’s other great-grandchildren.
“In the months when I was pregnant … we have in tandem the conversation of he won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title, and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born,” Markle said.
It is unlikely the thought ever crossed Harry or Markle’s mind. Archie would simply be their son, but to someone in the royal family, he would be their Black son.
Seemingly, Markle always tried to exist as if she were colorless. In an essay published in Elle magazine in 2015, she said she dreaded the inevitable question she was always asked, “What are you?”
“My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half Black and half white,” she would answer.
She knew they wanted her to be more specific, but she could never bring herself to declare a race, which in her mind, would be like choosing between her parents. She liked being “ethnically ambiguous.” She enjoyed living in a “gray area.”
In reality, that gray area only existed in her mind. When she became a royal, the world forced her to declare her Blackness.
She wasn’t just the Duchess of Sussex. She was the Black duchess. That’s how the royal family saw her and how the world defined her.
It was no surprise that some of her in-laws worried about how Black her son would appear.
Off camera, Harry clarified that it was not his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, or his grandfather, Prince Philip, who raised those concerns. But at least one family member, whom he refused to identify, did.
For many interracial couples, the white family’s concern about a baby’s skin tone isn’t new. While some relatives are fine with a dark-skinned baby, those who aren’t entirely comfortable with the interracial union to begin with tend to worry more about having a grandchild or a niece or nephew who doesn’t look like the rest of the family.
The palace issued a statement Tuesday on behalf of the queen, saying “the issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”
None of this should come as a surprise to the royal family. They sat by and watched silently as the racism escalated to the point that it forced the couple to leave the country.
As much as the royals try to portray themselves as racially tolerant and open to diversity, they are not. They never have been. It is impossible to fully understand the significant role race plays in society when you live inside a bubble.
In that regard, Buckingham Palace is no different from any segregated neighborhood in the United States where everyone looks the same. People who rarely, if ever, come into contact with others who are racially, ethnically or culturally different cannot be expected to fully understand race or racism.
Inviting Barack Obama, America’s first African American president, to Buckingham Palace was a nice gesture. But it’s like inviting your one Black friend to join your family for Thanksgiving dinner once a year.
It does not replace the experience of having frequent interactions with people of color whose lives are far different than yours. It does not raise your awareness about what it means to be Black, nor does it make you more sensitive to racial inequities.
Harry was honest enough to acknowledge that he had no idea what he was getting into when he married a biracial woman. Of course, like most people, he had heard about racism, but there was no reason to believe it applied to anyone in his family.
“I hadn’t really thought about the mixed-race piece,” he told Winfrey. “But … my upbringing in the system in which I was brought up with, and what I’ve been exposed to, I wasn’t aware of it to start with.
“But my God, it doesn’t take very long to suddenly become aware of it. It takes living in (Markle’s) shoes … for a day or those first eight days to see where it was going to go and how far it would go.”
Perhaps it was a new experience for Markle as well. She wrote about seeing her mother cry after someone called her the N-word. She said she felt her mother’s pain. But that was secondary pain. The racism Markle experienced in Britain was aimed directly at her.
Perhaps she never really understood what it was like to be the target of racism. Maybe she didn’t fully understand what it meant to be African American, either.
It isn’t that she denied her Blackness. Her light skin and straight hair allowed her to drift in and out of both worlds.
The character she played on the television show, “Suits,” was not a Black woman or a white woman. She was just a woman, whose life was untouched by race.
In real life, such racial ambiguity does not exist. Maybe she understands that now.
Harry’s eyes have been opened to the truth as well. He has come to understand how his privilege robbed him of an opportunity to broaden his understanding of how the world operates and how race plays a role in determining everyone’s station.
Marrying a biracial woman exposed him to a culture far different from anything he knew. And having a biracial son, and soon a biracial daughter, should broaden his perception of how Black people move through society.
Harry and Markle saw racism up close. No one should have to endure that, but sometimes the best life lessons come out of pain.
Maybe the couple is better equipped to raise two biracial children in a world that someday will force them to acknowledge their Blackness, whether they want to or not.
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