When Prince Harry announced his engagement to Meghan Markle it was clear she was going to be a very “different” kind of princess. Markle is a successful American actor and campaigner for women’s rights. But the many headlines that labelled her “unconventional” did so not because of her career or anything particularly striking about her personal life, but because of the fact that she is mixed-race.
It could have been a moment to open up a wider and much-needed conversation about the diversity of the mixed-race experience. Markle herself has spoken about growing up biracial, telling an interviewer that she remembers not knowing whether to tick “black” or “white” when filling out a diversity form, so she left it blank. She says how this sense of uncertainty followed her into her acting career, being too “black” for white roles and too “white” for black ones.
However, the media mostly responded by using Markle’s ethnicity to “prove” how far we’ve come as a nation in terms of embracing people from all races and cultures.
The truth is, if we insist on depicting her as symbolic of the mixed-race experience, Markle serves as a reminder that no matter what we achieve, our ghost of “incompleteness” will continue to haunt us.
The incredible scope of the mixed-race experience is continually glossed over. Former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman said there was a “perfect type of mixed race”, with fair skin and straightened hair, that Markle conforms to. However, many women of black and white heritage, myself included, have darker skin and curly, afro hair that, thanks to our Eurocentric standards of beauty, are seen as less desirable. The media’s effort to paint Markle as a patron for this imaginary mixed-race community therefore excludes many of us who do not have this commonly assumed “beauty privilege”.
Today, advertisers have hit on the idea of selling us the multicultural dream, using the mixed-race experience to symbolise modernness, diversity, and integration – though hardly ever treating it as a racial identity in its own right.
What’s more, it lulls us into believing that our nation is a tolerant one, a description that many ethnic minority individuals would disagree with: given the rise in hate crime, the fact that black and minority children account for 60% of child arrests, and the day-to-day micro-aggressions we face.
Nevertheless, I will be glued to my television when the royal wedding takes 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, and in reality proves how far we still have to go as a nation in understanding racial identity.
• Georgia Chambers is a freelance journalist and writer. Her blog, Breaking Tides, documents her experiences trying to navigate her mixed-race identity