Meghan Markle and the problem with policing the identity of mixed-race people

Meghan Markle and the problem with policing the identity of mixed-race people

The royal engagement continues to be scrutinized through the lens of white racism and black prejudice

he recent engagement of Britain’s Prince Harry to biracial American actress Meghan Markle garnered mixed public reaction. Members of the black American community either lauded their union as an achievement, or refused to claim Markle as black — citing her half white background.

The product of an African American mother and a Dutch-Irish father, Markle identifies as mixed-race. In an essay for Elle (and in this interview with Allure) Markle addressed what it means to be biracial and work in Hollywood.

In her own words, she is “a strong, confident mixed-race woman.” Yet, her personal description of her racial identity was dismissed and labeled problematic.

The royal engagement continues to be scrutinized through the lens of white racism and black prejudice.

Racist articles in The Daily Mail delved deep into Markle, describing her as a descendant of slaves who grew up in “the tougher neighborhoods of L.A.”, diminishing her career as a Hollywood actress and misrepresenting her actual roots.

Dozens of think pieces have emerged as the American media tries to deconstruct her racial identity enough to determine whether she can be referred to as black.

While The Guardian went to work tracing the mixed race history of the aristocracy, Vogue published a peculiar essay revealing the author’s own issues with colorism while describing why Markle should not be celebrated as a “black princess”.

Everyone has an issue with Markle’s racial identity — except Markle.

While she is analyzed, vilified and fetishized by the masses, the unnatural focus on her mixed-race origin is disturbing to the parents of multiracial children.

Though many black Americans are multiracial, they do not know their genealogy or prefer not to identify as mixed-race. My family’s mixed-race ancestry has always been openly acknowledged. A Creole from New Orleans, my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother — a Crow Indian from Arkansas — while traveling. Eventually, they settled in Seagraves, Tex., to start a new life.

Their interracial love story deviates from the American slave rape narrative that dominates the mainstream discussion of multiracialism in America.

Intermarriage has also blessed me with relatives of Mexican, Turkish and Indian descent. My family of origin is as ethnically diverse as the family I built with my partner, who is white and Vietnamese. As the mother of mixed-race children, I am often frustrated with America’s unhealthy occupation with race and inability to resolve racial bias.

Navigating the Internet as the mother of multiracial children of African descent feels especially volatile. When bestselling author Zadie Smith penned an essay for the 2017 July issue of Harper’s on “Get Out” and the ownership of black pain, she was instantly criticized for her thoughts on American racism and owning her blackness as a self-identified biracial mom raising multiracial children.

Born to a Jamaican mother and a British father, some black critics went so far as to say biracial people like Smith should take a backseat in the movement for racial equality, though the fight for civil rights has historically included multiracial activists at the forefront. Rosa Parks, a mother of the civil rights movement, was African American, Irish and Cherokee Creek Indian.

Like Markle, Smith’s interpretation of race and racism was readily contradicted by those who identify as black — not multiracial — and are likely to have a different worldview.

Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of the iconic Motown singer Diana Ross and Jewish music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein, made an inspiring speech encouraging women to make life choices independent of societal expectations that recently went viral. But in less than a month, the public has gone from championing the perspective of one biracial star to policing the life choices of another.

In this latest wave of mixed-race backlash, Meghan Markle is the target. Despite speaking out about racism and colorism in the entertainment industry, writing about her parents interracial relationship and attending public events with her mother, Markle is falsely being pegged as a woman who rejects her African American lineage in order to assimilate into high society.

Her light skin and willingness to acknowledge both sides of her family ensure Markle will always face resentment by individuals that promote colorism and cling to racist ideology like the one-drop rule.

Even in the absence of fair skin, other physical features can separate one from blackness. No matter how you identify, there are many different ways to be othered. For decades, naturally curly long hair and keen eyes earned me the distinction of being called exotic. I was often told “you can’t just be black.” Strangers assumed I was from Cuba, Brazil or Trinidad. Saying I was African American and born in North Carolina would never suffice. “What else are you?” demanded one woman who followed me down a grocery store aisle to determine whether I was wearing a weave.

Just as I refused to discuss my genealogy with complete strangers, I learned to protect my children the same way.

Curiosity does not entitle anyone to an explanation about who they are and how they came to be in this world.

I cannot predict how my children will identify, but I know it is their choice. My job is to teach them about their rich cultural history, while preparing them for the possibility society may not embrace the totality of who they are.

Markle is the perfect example of the cultural blend that characterizes American culture and multiracial families nationwide are observing your treatment of her.

For my part, I will teach my children to own their mixed-race identity unapologetically, that claiming blackness and recognizing their multiracial identity does not need to be mutually exclusive and no one has the right to police how they move in the world and who they can love.