Like many, we here at The Root have been having somewhat heated (I don’t know who was typing in all caps) discussion about Meghan Markle, the 36-year-old actress currently betrothed to Prince Harry, fifth in line to the British throne.
And we got down to the real—like, if her engagement to Prince Harry is good for black people, who and what she represents, if she has any black friends and, frankly, if she identifies as black (or, is this girl passing?).
Well, we didn’t speak to Markle, but we did dig up a few receipts, in the form of a first-person essay she penned two years ago for British Elle, where she spoke about being biracial, her relationship to race and her disdain for being “othered.”
She began the essay with the question she said she was often asked: “What are you?” Her answer: “My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white.”
She then went a bit deeper, recounting very specific instances about being biracial in America—some sweet—like the time her parents jimmy-rigged two Barbie families so that the mom was black and the dad white. She also talked about some not-so-fun times, like the time she heard her mom called nigger:
I was home in LA on a college break when my mom was called the ‘N’ word. We were leaving a concert and she wasn’t pulling out of a parking space quickly enough for another driver. My skin rushed with heat as I looked to my mom. Her eyes welling with hateful tears, I could only breathe out a whisper of words, so hushed they were barely audible: ‘It’s OK, Mommy.’ I was trying to temper the rage-filled air permeating our small silver Volvo. Los Angeles had been plagued with the racially charged Rodney King and Reginald Denny cases just years before, when riots had flooded our streets, filling the sky with ash that flaked down like apocalyptic snow; I shared my mom’s heartache, but I wanted us to be safe. We drove home in deafening silence, her chocolate knuckles pale from gripping the wheel so tightly.
As an actress, Markle spoke of “morphing” into different ethnicities: Latina when she was dressed in red, African American when in mustard yellow: “my closet filled with fashionable frocks to make me look as racially varied as an Eighties Benetton poster. Sadly, it didn’t matter: I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job.”
Speaking of her time on-screen, Markle said she was surprised by the blowback when her character Rachel Zane on Suits “came out” as black:
At the end of season two, the producers went a step further and cast the role of Rachel’s father as a dark-skinned African-American man, played by the brilliant Wendell Pierce. I remember the tweets when that first episode of the Zane family aired, they ran the gamut from: ‘Why would they make her dad black? She’s not black’ to ‘Ew, she’s black? I used to think she was hot.’
She said the reaction “speaks of the undercurrent of racism that is so prevalent, especially within America. On the heels of the racial unrest in Ferguson[, Mo.,] and Baltimore, the tensions that have long been percolating under the surface in the US have boiled over in the most deeply saddening way.”
While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman. That when asked to choose my ethnicity in a questionnaire as in my seventh grade class, or these days to check ‘Other’, I simply say: ‘Sorry, world, this is not Lost and I am not one of The Others. I am enough exactly as I am.’