Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the documentary. Not because I’m not interested, and certainly not because I don’t care. Simply cos I’ve had a really busy week without a spare 2hours to spend listening to a story that, honestly, I feel that I could tell myself.
Meghan Markle was born just one year after me, and while officially we sit on the cusp between generations, when it comes to interracial relationships and the English, we frankly might as well still be boomers, cos at the end of the day it’s their generation, that of the parents and other influential family members of our prospective spouses, with whom we end up negotiating.
I would never have imagined having anything in common with a Hollywood actress, especially one as stunning and glamorous as Markle, but I don’t even need to close my eyes to sit, as she will have done, on the edge on the sofa, knees together, smiling painfully, heart pounding, as she looks into the eyes of her potential in-laws and feels right to the very core of her being that’s she’s been judged and found wanting before she’s even opened her mouth.
I wasn’t even going to bother writing this piece – why say what almost any Woman of Colour born before the mid-80s (and doubtless a few born after) who’s dated white men can say? Then bloody Prince William came out with his whole ‘very much not racist’ nonsense and I nearly choked on my beer. He might as well have said ‘some of my best friends are Black’. Who does he think he’s kidding? I am so happy that there really does seem to be a sense now, among younger people, of accepting love for itself, regardless of colour, sex or even class. But if you’re a Gen-Xer you will forever be stuck in that feedback loop of polite smiles, tolerant nods and sympathetic head-tilts, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that yes indeed, the hue of any potential progeny will indeed be the first thing discussed as soon as you leave the room. Because it’s fine if you’re friends, it’s good if you’re friends, it shatters any question of whether or not you’re racist – if you can count one or two People of Colour amongst your friends. But when it comes to being part of the family, breaching the white line demarcating the inner circle, well then it’s a whole other story. Because they might not say it out loud, but the first thought in their mind when they set eyes on you is how they don’t want to be the ones explaining to the neighbours why their little grandchild is a shade darker than everyone else’s. They might be prepared to fob it off with a shake of the head, oh you know what these young people today are like. But they’d rather they not bother. Easier to nip it in the bud, talk about slowing down, and tackle their discomfort at the source.
So you sit on the edge of the ugly upholstery in your least interesting outfit, lips thinned into a fixed grimace as you suck in every drop of judgement and disapproval, every loaded inference and undermining assumption. You swallow it down, along with the over-milked tea and slightly stale biscuits (these, at least, were better at the palace, one assumes). You go against every instinct in your being that tells you to stand up for yourself, to assert your strength and be proud of who you are and tell these awful ignorant people to get back in their racist little box. But you don’t. Because you tell yourself it’s okay, he’s worth it – you’re taking it for the team, he loves you, he doesn’t see you that way. He can’t help his family, what’s he supposed to do? You want to be together, don’t you? And you don’t want to antagonise them. He’s only got one family, it’s important that they like you. You can take it. You’ve been through worse. And you can go back to being yourself later. And you do. At first.
But every micro-aggression, every diminishing, belittling carp, every stare that lasts too long, they build up. Like tiny cuts, eventually you’re just losing too much blood. Each time, it becomes harder to pick yourself up, dust yourself down, reinhabit the real you. As if they are chipping away at you, piece by piece, with a view to re-moulding you in their image or destroying you completely – and they don’t really seem to care which. That’s the point at which you start to break. The point where even a lifetime of stubbornly facing down nasty little racists, not letting them hold you back, moving on from their grubby attempts to trip you up, stymie your progress, and shame you just for being alive – even all that preparation just isn’t enough to stop you breaking, to stop the gradual internalisation of their constant disapproval. That’s the moment you begin to doubt whether you should, in fact, be alive, as Meghan so clearly and honestly described. I feel her words to my very core.
Harry, by all accounts, got it right. He supported his wife, stuck to her side and he got her the fuck out of there. Full props to him. May god make all men as loving, loyal and smart. My many experiences with this type of family, unfortunately if predictably, all went the other way. No regrets here – Harry is a rare example of the apple actually falling far from the tree and any man brainwashed, ignorant or secretly racist enough to suck up the family was, retrospectively, so not worth my time. Because the English penchant for controlling ones children, always in their own best interests of course, is strong. So is their habit of demonising mental health issues. In my experience, the families were able to reign supreme by cleverly, subtly forcing me to breaking point, then using my desperation and despair to prove to their beloved son how obviously inappropriate and unworthy this unstable character was, and how obviously right they had been to protect him all along from these emotional dark-skinned women. Not that they were racist of course, but really, who wants someone with mental health problems in the family?
Harry, you really are a prince. You didn’t fall for the underhand gaslighting, the sneaky malevolent blindsiding that ‘very much not racist’ families have no moral issues resorting to, to keep the bloodline safe as milk. Meghan, you have the strength of Wonder Woman and Buffy rolled into one. You took on the toughest establishment in the world – the privileged white English family unit, and you won. You are a strong, proud Black, female David kicking the sad, outdated Goliath ‘firm’s ass for the whole world to see. My whole life, I wanted a way to show these people up for what they really are, call them out in public and make them accountable for their racism, their bullying and their deliberate, emotionally violent attacks on Women of Colour whose only crime is falling in love with their precious white son. And you did it – I love you. From now on, any family who pulls that shit will have to think twice. That’s not to say they won’t do it – I’m sure many will still have a pop. But in doing so, they will risk the much-deserved shame the royal family have brought on themselves. I’d like to think they will also risk losing their sons, that men will look at Harry and feel empowered and inspired to stand up for the women they love, instead of getting back in line and hanging them out to dry. Wishful thinking, yes. But on actually seeing the day when the racist chickens of the English establishment have finally come home to roost, I think I’m allowed a little bit of optimism.