On 10th December, 1936, King Edward VIII had to abdicate the British throne because he married Wallis Simpson, a divorced American woman into the Royal British Family. The fact that Simpson was still technically married to her husband, when she started the relationship with Edward, scandalized Britain. The marriage lasted only for 6 months.
However, such scandal is absent here. Meghan Markle was divorced before starting the courtship with Prince Harry. Markle, whose mother, Doria Radlan, is black and father, Tom Markle, is white, was vocal about her ethnic identity long before being Harry's significant other. In 2015, the actress essayed her views in for ‘Elle UK’ about her biracial heritage and being a "a strong, confident mixed-race woman." She also talked about her grandfather's horrid experience of living under racial segregation in the U.S.
But, black girls, popular folklore suggests, do not grow up to be princesses. From fictional to real, princesses are supposed to have snow-white skin - be it Cinderella, be it Lady Diana. That is why, this engagement put #blackprincess to gain mojo on twitter. The conceptual black womanhood of Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire being antithetical to a princess, the term, ‘black princess’ has become an oxymoron and this only validates widespread racism.
The history of the European racism has never been as vehement as the history of the American racism. While, the sub thematic identity of race became inclusionary myth and exclusionary practice of democracy in the USA, Europe bracketed specific stories of racism only as a subtheme in the history of totalitarianism. Modern racism arose in the 18th century around the political economy of population, regulating modes of sexual conduct by which population could be controlled. The hygienic necessity of cleansing and invigorating the social body in such forms justified statist racism and this became the anchorage point for the different varieties of racism of the 19th and 20th century.
Discriminations based on color divided black slaves from the poor whites in the American south in the 1600s. In Spain, the ‘criollos’ and the ‘half-breeds’ had to face ‘undisputed contempt’ from the peninsular Spaniards. Distinctions of colour joined with those of religion and culture distinguished the rulers from the ruled. In the 19th century, race became the organising grammar of an imperial order in which modernity, the civilising mission and the ‘measure of man’ were framed. But, things took a different turn in the 1980s with the rise of ‘new-racism,’ which was the result of the immigration problem of England, Germany, Holland and France. The ‘rootless’ foreigners became internal aliens back home. The difference of culture got assigned to more specific political work. Not only it marked a difference, but it rationalized the hierarchies of privilege and profit, consolidated the labour regime of expanding capitalism and provided the ‘psychological scaffolding’ for the colonial rule. As Benedict Anderson stated in ‘Imagined Communities,’ racism not only manifested across national boundaries but within them. ‘Blue-blood aristocracy’ was not the sole indicator of racism, ‘dynamic racism,’ as described by Michel Foucault in his ‘The History of Sexuality,’ became the basis of colonial racism of aristocratic or pseudo-aristocratic derivation. This became a political tool for the sovereign state.
But the marriage scenario of racism is quite different. As reported in the New York Times, some families in Europe have already broadened the idea of spouse, said Archduke Franz Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen, whose great-great-great-grandfather was Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, king of Hungary. His wife, Archduchess Lei von Habsburg-Lothringen, is an African-American lawyer who grew up in the traditionally black New York City neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant and in Columbia, S.C. Mr. von Habsburg is of the opinion, “the importance of who your wife is more about whom you have fallen in love with than how they fit in the aristocratic family.” But they are not the only mixed-race couple. Mr. von Habsburg’s brother got himself married to a South Sudanese, and other royals with black spouses include Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein, whose wife, Angela Gisela Brown, is an Afro-Panamanian from New York City, and Chrisitan Louis of Monaco, who married a Guadeloupian. Some also theorize that Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, was a Portuguese of African ancestry.
Afua Hirsch of ‘The Guardian,’ has narrated an incident where nearly two decades back, unruly Kate Gavron made a suggestion to Prince Charles to marry someone black. She valued this having hefty symbolic significance. But, Meghan Markle is not Kate Middleton, who kept a low public profile while dating and slid into the public role expected of the woman who will be Britain’s next queen.
The lurid coverage of his ‘commoner-royal courtship’ led Prince Harry to issue an official statement in November 2016, four months after they began dating, condemning the “wave of abuse and harassment” his girlfriend had endured.
“Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her,” the statement said.
The attacks were both racist and sexist in tone, for instance, ‘the Daily Star Online’ reported that Harry “could marry into gangster royalty — his new love is from a crime ridden Los Angeles neighborhood.”
Markle, for her part, wasn’t the shy and retiring type. In the Vanity Fair, she said the media interest she faces because of her relationship with Harry “has its challenges, and it comes in waves — some days it can feel more challenging than others.”
It is true that diversity stands as an antithesis to the Royal family, but this marriage of ‘American Princess Fantasy’ seems not to have the so-called effect on the populace. Minutes after the royal engagement was announced, the Daily Mail, in a tone of reassurance, instantly reminded the nation that Markle will not join the line of succession. “Marrying into royalty does not earn you a right to the throne”, tweeted the establishment. ‘The Spectator’ blatantly remarked: “Obviously, 70 years ago, Meghan Markle would have been the kind of woman the Prince would have had for a mistress, not a wife.” As a mixed-race woman, the narrative around Markle has extra layers of complexity, points out Hirsch. She is fair-skinned and conforms to Eurocentric ideas of beauty, even the symbolic impact of her presence is not that expansive. Meanwhile white commentators continue to feed into the idea that mixed-race people are a kind of desirable variety of black – Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman for example recently suggesting that there is a ‘perfect type of mixed race,’ something to which no doubt Markle would also conform.
It is understandable how the masses live under racist aggression. If this is the case, does this probable marriage deserve to be treated as a milestone on the terra firma of racism or just be celebrated as just another royal marriage? Nobody wins the race, because this is not a race with race at all.
Image Courtesy: US Weekly
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