By Katie Maningas
On Monday morning, the world rejoiced over the engagement of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle. News outlets from around the world reported on the happy couples’ engagement and the exciting years to come for the two of them. But, unsurprisingly enough, their union was also met with opposition.
When the couple came out publicly last fall, British tabloids and right-wing media attacked Markle for her American citizenship, her previous marriage, and her identity as a mixed-race woman. Following their engagement announcement, The Daily Mail promptly tweeted “marrying into royalty does not earn you a right to the throne,” and The Spectator thought it appropriate to mention “Obviously, 70 years ago, Meghan Markle would have been the kind of woman the Prince would have had for a mistress, not a wife.” Though Prince Harry issued a public statement denouncing these remarks, it still goes to show that racism in Great Britain has always been prevalent, and if anything, may even been on the rise.
After Brexit in 2016, incidents of racial abuse noticeably increased with reports of over 100 crimes just three days after the vote to leave. Leaflets littered the streets that said “no more Polish vermin,” individuals harassed Muslim strangers on the streets and in front of schools, and other disturbing acts of racial abuse were reported all over social media, to the point where the Muslim Council of Britain filed a complaint with Home Security to provide extra protection for minority groups.
Britain’s tension with race is also reflected within the royal family. Markle will be the first woman of color to be given the title of Her Royal Highness (HRH), a feat that even twenty years ago would never have been considered possible. In 2000 Lady Kate Gavron, a British baroness, suggested in a report that Prince Harry’s father, Prince Charles, should have married a black woman as a movement towards promoting racial integration and acceptance. Although she hoped for a wave of support, she was met with complete with a wall of opposition. Opposers claimed that giving the title of HRH to a black woman would “dilute” the royalty pool and would revert the royal family to the “loveless, strategic marriages” that Great Britain was once so famous for, which also insinuates that marrying for love and marrying a black woman are mutually exclusive. And this attitude was reflected in the public as well. Writer Afua Hirsch describes her experiences growing up as a British woman of color under this dynamic: “I struggled growing up with the feeling that the monarchy were fundamental to Britishness, but that the Britishness they represented was one that excluded me. This exclusion mattered. It made other people perceive being truly British, and being black, as incompatible identities.”
Gone are the days where royalties married for political gain (hopefully), but nonetheless, this bond is highly symbolic for both the royal family and for its peoples. It suggests a change; a movement towards more genuine acceptance of other people's’ identities that differ from your own. Though only time will tell if Markle will step-up as an advocate for not only bi-racial British citizens, but other individuals of color, (click here for an extensive analysis on the relationship between Markle, blackness, and royalty) the engagement nonetheless is an opportunity to drive conversation surrounding race and a chance for more genuine integration of all cultures in Britain.