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Dear Kids & Race,
I was at a Royal Wedding watch party this weekend and another guest made the comment that “Meghan Markle isn’t Black because she doesn’t look Black.” This response made me feel uncomfortable. What should I have said?
This is a juicy question! I called up Kids & Race’s executive director, Jasen Frelot, for his perspective. “There is not a quick answer to this question, unfortunately,” Jasen said. The definitions of Blackness and Whiteness have shifted throughout America’s history and continue to do so. Jasen reminded me that the label of "Black" is something that has historically been defined by White people.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the “one drop rule” stated that an individual could have one drop of "African blood" and still be considered Black, receiving all the political and financial disadvantages that came with it. Over the years, the definition of Whiteness has expanded to include groups like the Irish and Jewish people, who were originally excluded.
But back to the question.
“Meghan Markle’s physical appearance is an interesting thing,” Jasen said. “She doesn’t code as Black as, say, her mother does. Because of the differences in how they look, they’re going to have different experiences. If the person who made this comment was a Black person, what they probably meant is not that she’s not Black, they mean that because of the way she appears, she’s going to have a different experience.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have released three official photographs from their Wedding day.— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) May 21, 2018
These photographs were taken by photographer Alexi Lubomirski at Windsor Castle, following the carriage procession. #RoyalWedding pic.twitter.com/WBim9EkI4D
So, is Meghan Markle Black? Jasen thinks so. “Not only is her family Black, but she clearly is culturally Black. Take a look at her wedding, it was Blacker than my wedding!” He joked.
For biracial people, figuring out an identity is not always easy. Meghan Markle wrote about this in an excellent essay for Elle. At one point she talks about having to fill out a bubble for “Race” on a standardized test.
“My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. 'Because that's how you look, Meghan,' she said. I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn't bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out. So, I didn't tick a box. I left my identity blank —a question mark, an absolute incomplete—much like how I felt.”
Later in the essay, Meghan Markle identifies herself as both Black and White.
If your friend’s comment made you uncomfortable, you can always ask “Why do you think that?” See what the reasoning is behind their comment.
Good job paying attention to and wrestling with these issues.
—Katharine Strange & Jasen Frelot