Meghan Markle's Engagement To Prince Harry Centers Black Women In The Fantasy Romantic Narrative
Though the news had been teased for months, the official announcement on Monday that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were engaged sent shockwaves through the internet — one corner in particular. Black Twitter is lit, happily celebrating a woman of color moving up in the world, particularly one with a black mother. Even though Markle identifies as a biracial woman, many black women, including myself, find the idea of a modern princess of African descent to be the ultimate wish fulfillment. And, honestly, there are a lot of valid reasons for us to feel that way, even if it doesn't seem that way at first.
First of all, it's worth noting that Rachel Meghan Markle isn't the first American woman of African descent to marry into a reigning European dynasty. Princess Angela of Lichtenstein was born Angela Brown and married Prince Maximilian of Lichtenstein in 2000 with the authorization of the monarch. Second of all, Markle wouldn't even technically be a princess; when Charles ascends the throne, Kate Middleton will become Princess Catherine, while Markle will most likely have the title of Duchess of Sussex, not princess of anywhere.
And, third of all, as many, many, many people have pointed out in the wake of the news, Markle doesn't identify as a black woman. But what's pointed out less is that that's because she identifies as both black and white — biracial, in short. In a 2015 guest column in ELLE UK, Markle wrote that, "Some households may never have had a black person in their house as a guest, or someone biracial. Well, now there are a lot of us on your TV." She also wrote that, "As a biracial woman, I watch in horror as both sides of a culture I define as my own become victims of spin in the media, perpetuating stereotypes and reminding us that the States has perhaps only placed bandages over the problems that have never healed at the root." So, while calling her a black woman isn't inaccurate, as she does not deny her black heritage, it isn't entirely accurate either because it does not solely define her heritage. She is both. She claims both.
However, for many like myself, the celebration of Markle's future as a "black princess" is less of a statement of absolute racial fact as it is a statement of hopes, dreams, and wishes come to fruition.
Hardly every woman dreams of becoming royalty — the media scrutiny alone is, perhaps ironically, the stuff of nightmares — but films like Julia Stiles' The Prince and Me and every Disney princess movie ever sure as hell made it look like a romantic and social ideal growing up. But those same films painted it as an impossible idea if you weren't white, the beauty ideal that Hollywood reinforces again and again as the group most worthy of success, awards, authority, and, of course, passionate romance. Even the one Disney movie to feature a black princess — The Princess and the Frog — not only made Tiana a commoner rather than a princess, but also showed her working her fingers to the bone and far too busy for romance during the part of the movie she spent as a visible black woman, not as a frog.
Essentially, it's rare in the media for women with some more melanin in their skin to be shown as the successful, romantic ideal, rather than to be seen as either sexless or sex object. We're shown this in things as trivial as Riverdale, where Archie Andrews' relationship with the black Valerie Brown was marginalized and then broken off in Season 1 so he could get together with the Latina Veronica Lodge only to then be implied to truly have feelings for the white Betty Cooper. We're shown this in things like Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" video, in which she appears nude swinging from the titular wrecking ball, winning Video of the Year at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, while Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda," which celebrates black bodies and curves, wasn't even nominated in the same category at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards.
Hell, we see that in real life, where Prince Harry literally had to release a statement condemning the racist comments being made about Markle after they were rumored to be dating, when Kate Middleton faced no such backlash about her looks and background. If you're a black or mixed race woman, you are automatically put in a box of being this successful and no more, this attractive and no more, this valid and no more — all things Markle touched on in her ELLE column.
But Markle's engagement shatters the glass ceiling for black women in one of the most romanticized areas of life. America's obsession with the royal family is so obvious that the New York Times did a whole panel on it in 2012, and, in fact, 23 million of the people who watched Prince William and Kate Middleton get married were Americans. There are books and movies and TV shows about meeting members of royal families and living out that Cinderella story. So, even if you didn't care about the royal family before or after this, the fact that a woman of color is living that romantic fantasy in real life, and that that woman of color is of African descent, is something that black women can't help but celebrate.
It's rare enough to be a huge deal just on a visibility and representation level. But it's also rare enough to be a huge deal in terms of validation: black women are desirable as romantic partners, black women can be princesses, black women can be in positions of societal power, black women can — and soon will — marry into the British royal family. It's another height that previously seemed insurmountable, and, in celebrating Markle's victory as representative of a victory for black women everywhere, we are not trying to fit her into a box and we are not denying her biracial identity. We are claiming a victory for one of the communities that she claims in a space from which we as a community have previously been excluded.
So, yes, there will be inevitable discussions about whether or not Markle should be considered a "black princess" and which community can or even should be claiming her as one of their own. But that does not have to overshadow the justified celebration that a woman of African descent has shown that this glass ceiling can be broken not once but twice. And that, thanks to Rachel Meghan Markle, the potential future Duchess of Sussex, the dream that many little black girls have of falling in love, becoming a princess, and having power and success is demonstrably valid, even in real life.