Meghan Markle royal wedding prince harry
Is It Fair to Call Prince Harry’s Marriage to Meghan Markle “Progressive”?
05.14.18

In looking at royalty we are always looking at what is archaic, what is mysterious by its nature, and my feeling is that it will only ever half-reveal itself…Royal persons are both gods and beasts. They are persons but they are supra-personal, carriers of a blood line: at the most basic, they are breeding stock, collections of organs.
Hilary Mantel


On May 19th, Meghan Markle will become a princess. She’ll go by the very serious-sounding “Duchess of Sussex,” but she will technically be an actual, real-life princess.

My name is also Meghan, and on May 19th, I will also marry my very own prince (not in line for a throne, though he did once make me a grilled cheese at 11 p.m.), so I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s happening in Meghan’s beautiful noggin. She’s trying to get Harry to focus for literally just one second so she can figure out if his cousin can sit next to his grad school friend and if “vegan-ish” is really a dietary restriction and also should she lose a few pounds or is that just an empty gesture to a patriarchy that has never given her anything in return?

Also, an estimated 2.8 billion people watched the last British royal wedding, which is close to my headcount give or take a third of the world.

Today, the British monarchy is more an idea than anything else, but it is a very powerful — and very old — one. And while it’s possible someone fibbed on an application, Meghan is likely to be the first member of the British royal family who is divorced, American and biracial. (Edward VIII famously abdicated the throne in order to marry the American-born, twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.) Harry’s proposal didn’t come as a surprise given their public courtship, but was nevertheless seen as a dramatic gesture for an institution that does its best to avoid rocking the boat (even if it does not always succeed).

“Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement represents something genuinely different from everything that has gone before,” said Afua Hirsch in The Guardian. “Their marriage will bring into reality what the British establishment lacked the imagination to even conceive of as possible 17 years ago – that a senior royal can love, and marry, someone whose ethnic heritage is not just different to his own, but the heritage that has always been most othered in Britain – black and African.”

It’s a heavy tiara to wear: to represent, by virtue of the color of your skin, the hopes of generations of disenfranchised British citizens.

It’s a heavy tiara to wear: to represent, by virtue of the color of your skin, the hopes of generations of disenfranchised British citizens — especially within the royal tradition of locking women into a certain role. Meghan will leave the career she built to devote herself to a royal agenda and, one expects, to fulfill the biological imperative of making more royal babies, as did all the princesses who came before her.

“Meghan and Harry’s engagement is a sign of changing times, yes, but that is just one part of the story,” says modern British royal scholar and historian Arianne Chernock, PhD. The monarchy is representative of Britain as a whole, its moods and fixations. Chernock tells me that she sees Meghan’s inclusion as a nod to Elizabeth II’s vision of the Commonwealth, which includes a diverse, tolerant and egalitarian nation — the pastoral ideal of The Great British Bake Off, where people of all backgrounds come together under Union Jack bunting to bake a firm-bottomed, progressive tart. It’s a vision of Britain that was violently shattered by the xenophobic campaign leading up to Brexit (and some of the vile reactions to the engagement invoked those same attitudes, from the newspaper that proclaimed Meghan “(almost) straight outta Compton” to the racist brooch worn by Princess Michael of Kent to the engagement party). While the government is responsible for negotiating political policy, the monarchy is still seen as setting the tone for the nation. So Meghan and Harry, in that context, could represent a positive rebuttal to those who assert that Britain is incapable of social progress. It’s worth noting, however, that while Meghan will be close to the crown, she’s not in line to be the mother of the future monarchs of England (barring some preternatural disaster).

“I do wonder if we were talking about William and not Harry, how that might have changed the conversation,” Chernock says. “William is much more bound by tradition, and would likely have closed off the possibility [of marrying a woman of color].”

Chernock also notes that while Britain’s monarchy has historically been one of the more egalitarian, ever since Queen Mary I ascended the throne in 1553 (the rules of succession were officially altered in 2015 to abolish male-preference primogeniture), the women who marry into the royal family are still required to give up their professional lives in order to a) further the bloodline, and b) properly “represent the dignity” of the monarchy. Through that lens, a woman’s other qualities, however impressive they might be, don’t matter nearly as much as what her ovaries bring to the table. As Prince Phillip begrudgingly said of Diana and Charles’ engagement: “At least she will breed height into the line.”

“Yes, there is a traditional and biological understanding of the role women play in the royal family,” says Chernock. “They are there to reproduce, to fulfill these biological obligations — but they don’t have to be defined by that.” These women occupy a uniquely powerful place in the British imagination, one they can use to shape public opinion. “Diana was adamant about using the monarchy and the royal family as a platform for shining a light on things that were seen as taboo,” Chernock says. “That really did include some incredibly brave work around AIDS, around landmines. She used her soft power to make headway in terms of the public perception of these issues.”

And while Meghan is giving up her acting career, Chernock points out what she will gain “personally as well as professionally” by stepping into this role. “She’s a philanthropist,” Chernock notes, “and that’s one of the ways she and Harry bonded, over public service. She must realize that if that is a passion, this will be the ultimate platform for her.” Meghan herself has said that’s she’s excited to transition out of her acting career to focus on “the causes that have been very important to me.” As she (very diplomatically) put it: “I don’t see it as giving anything up. I just see it as a change.

Still, I’d posit that most women prefer not to be judged on the potential of their uterine lining — so what is it about the princess myth that beguiles us? The adoring fans and quiet power? The velvet curtains to block out the noise and little bells to ring when you want breakfast in bed? The wardrobe to end all wardrobes? It does seem quiet and sumptuous and like it involves a good amount of dozing prettily. And perhaps the rapturous fairytale of being plucked from a crowd of millions to wear the glass slipper still makes our hearts race, despite all we know about why it shouldn’t.

What do these women relinquish in return? For Diana, it was privacy, autonomy and love; for Kate, the freedom to sing off-key in public, to try out a pixie cut, to do ayahuasca on a girls’ backpacking trip to Peru. In being lifted out of her old life and thrust into the public imagination as Britain’s “first black princess,” Meghan, on top of everything else, will no doubt be expected to represent a world of underrepresented women, a likely impossible task.

“Black folks across the pond know full well that having a person of color at the top of the social ladder in a country steeped in racism and white supremacy won’t be enough to undo that legacy”

“For all the excitement about the precedent-breaking royal wedding,” writes Karen Attiah in The Washington Post, “black folks across the pond know full well that having a person of color at the top of the social ladder in a country steeped in racism and white supremacy won’t be enough to undo that legacy. Black people here in the United States know that having Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House for years did not usher our country into that much-hyped ‘post-racial era.’”

Many may hope Meghan’s induction into the royal family signals progress — or that she alone can hurl an archaic institution into the 21st century. But expecting her to save Britain from racial inequity is a bit like hoping a prince is on his way to break us out of our tower. The most we can hope for is that she might continue, by small measures, to bring incremental change to an institution that continues to hold so much sway.

“That’s the ultimate challenge for the modern monarchy: striking that right balance between tradition and innovation,” says Chernock. “They can’t be so bound by the past that they appear out of touch or closed-minded, but can’t be so innovative that what the public admires or embraces about the monarchy becomes foreign or unrecognizable. It is their very tradition that makes them distinct.”

Photo by Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images. 

 

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  • Mck

    Wallis* Simpson 🙂

    • Kiks

      Just about to say the same thing. I am obsessed with the name Wallis.

  • Renata

    The title of this article is moot because the fact that a parasitic monarchy still exists in Britain is a sign that no progress whatsoever has been made in that country, or in any other for that matter, for all the people in this country and others still fascinated with it and uncritical of it in any meaningful way

    • Chess

      I’m British, and there’s definitely a healthy criticism of the institution of the monarchy in the left wing press, and an awareness of the (symbolic and limited) role it plays in our state. Of course there is also loads of inane and invasive coverage from tabloids, but let them read crap if they want to, ya know?

  • Gentlywithoutnoise

    Meghan is culturally white. White friends, all of them. A white husband, white boyfriends, white fiance, and bowed down to some old white lady who was born into her position. It reeks of Meghan denying much of who she is. I don’t see how everyone is identifying with her being a black woman more than she identifies her own self. She is passing mixed raced woman For Christ sakes stop reaching before you pull a muscle.

    • Cate

      Meghan identifies as mixed race. If you are assigning her to a white identity, you are doing the same thing as the people who are making it out like she’s ushering in post-racial Britain singlehandedly. You’ve decided to dismiss half of who she is because it doesn’t fit with YOUR perception of what she should be.

      She is biracial. She identifies as both black and white. That is what she has said her identity is, and therefore, that is her identity. We can ABSOLUTELY talk about the privileges of being lighter skinned within that for sure, but saying her white friends and white fiance “reeks of Meghan denying much of who she is” is discrimination in and of itself.

      Mixed race people always deal with s*** with people telling them that they aren’t “[insert race here] enough.” Too black to be white, too white to be black. It’s effing exhausting to deal with this as a biracial person, so let’s allow her to define what her own identity is.

      • CambridgeCalling

        Cate – Meghan is bi-racial and yes, she proudly holds her mother up, but let’s keep it real. If she looked like Hallie Berry or Thandie Newton, who are both dropped dead gorgeous and stunning, we would simply say, she is black, end of! Meghan has stated that in her earlier acting jobs, she let people assume she was Italian or Greek or pretty much anything except black. If you are black and proud then shout it out! Thandie and Hallie do!
        So I am in agreement with Gentlywithoutnoise!

        • Gentlywithoutnoise

          Thank you that’s all I’m saying sis!

        • Julia

          Actually, Meghan does have Mediterranean roots! She is part Maltese (like me hehe). We are white people of Italian and Arabic descent who were colonised by Britain up until 1964. Fun fact for you there.

          • CambridgeCalling

            Julia -I don’t need a historical lesson on British Colonialism. Not being mean or rude, but you proved Gentlewithoutnoise’s point. You (for whatever reason) decided to negate 250 years of history, law, and ugly politics in the United States.

            Are you familiar with hypodescent (the practice of classifying a child of mixed race ancestry in the more socially subordinate parental race)? Black folks didn’t create that rule. White America did and they exported it.

            FUN FACT: In the US hypodescent is called the one-drop rule! A social and legal principle of racial classification that was historically prominent in the United States asserting that any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan-African ancestry (“one drop” of black blood) is considered black (Negro in historical terms). I could “pass” but the reality is I don’t get to classify myself – society does. I like, many bi-racial people choose, to honor both of my parents, but the reality is society likes to get cute about the race game and some people bi-racial folks play along, which is their right.

            Thanks for the “Fun Fact” but honestly, I am good. I don’t need you giving my a history lesson on British Colonialism or Hyperdescent or Hypodescent.

          • Jane

            Jane

          • CambridgeCalling

            Jane – “Hostile” means – unfriendly; antagonistic. You have the stones to call someone hostile after resorting to name calling? WTF.
            I stand by my comment to Julia. I was not attempting to be mean or rude, but you certainly where. Quick re-cap: 1, I don’t need a lesson from Julia on bi-racialism and colonial British History; and 2. I don’t need instructions on manners from the likes of you.

            Good for you that you failed Conflict Resolution and Policy Relations 101. So let me very clear and concise, you and only you are being impertinent rude antagonistic..yet, you selected to question my decency? Girl Bye.

          • Jane

            FUN FACT: prefacing a hostile response to a well-meaning and accurate factual statement with “not to be mean or rude” doesn’t mean that you’re not being mean or rude. Love that you got an A in History of Race Relations 101 Ms Cambridge but so much hostility targeted at Julia shows your grade on being a decent human could use some work.

          • CambridgeCalling

            Jane –
            When facts become “hostile” ( unfriendly; antagonistic), then perhaps you might want to look inward at your own house before vilifying others.

            You questioned my humanity and decency for stating the facts? What fact didn’t you like. I am bi-racial and thus, I am must be angry and hostile. How mighty Trumpian of you! It is of little surprise that you flunked Conflict Resolution 101!

            I have no personal animosity towards Julia. Moreover, I did not resort to name calling, which you did. So pause on giving out lesson on etiquette and work on your own anger management!

          • Julia

            Hey, I was not negating anything you said and was not being sarcastic at all. I was writing a piece of info about Meghan’s connection to my very small obscure country. You really didn’t have to jump on it like this.

          • CambridgeCalling

            Julia – I never alleged that you were being sarcastic nor negating what I wrote. I merely stated you were negating 250 years of history with your comment. In the US, people of color, rarely get to define or discuss their genotype. That is not a luxury that BIPOCS of mix-race origins have. I firmly believe that is absolutely acceptable to let people assume (your genotype based on phenotype) and I am not judging anyone who does.

            That aside, you jumped into a conversation about genotype/phenotype and what is means to be bi-racial. Your comment was directed to me and I responded to you. I never wrote Meghan stated she was Greek or Italian. I simply wrote: “she allowed people to assume,” which is her right. If you had written: “I can get why people would assume she is Greek or Italian. She is part-Maltese (like me) and being from Malta…I get that a ton.” I would never have responded back. However, you assumed (in accurately) that I had no idea where Malta was nor the nasty history of British Colonialism. Hell, you have no idea if I am part Maltese.

      • Gentlywithoutnoise

        I am not assigning her anything. I’m simply stating the obvious cate, a very light-skinned woman marrying into the Royal Family is not the end of racism. And please refrain from using that unrealistic crap to be condescending. “Too black to be white to white to black”… It sounds good to identify as a biracial when your life experience reflects the that you have chosen a side and are living your life experience as white woman. Not that having black friends makes you black, or a black husband etc etc but YOUR EXPERIENCE in this world has been as white woman passing. And I don’t see the point of glorifying her biracial identity when she is clearly living her life in the privileges from one of those side.

  • Catinka

    This is a woman who had a a job and a career, who is giving up all of her independence, just to marry a guy. From now on she is expected to deliver babies and to keep young and beautiful and always happy (looking).
    I really don’t understand why this should be called progressive – for any woman.

    • BK

      TY for nailing this so I didn’t have to

    • BarbieBush

      It definitely isn’t progressive but this move also makes “business sense”. She is way more famous now than before she dated him. She was c list at best?? and who actually watches suits??? She has more relevance as a duchess of whatever than she did on some shitty USA show.

      • TF Beauty

        So true. This is going to be her biggest role ever.

    • Rebar

      You’re assuming that her acting career was significantly more important to her than her philanthropic pursuits. She’s demonstrated that she would forego a career in acting for one of public service. It’s her choice and considering she’s a grown ass woman, she can decide how she wants to live her life. You’re also assuming she’s not honestly in love, which I think makes you an Ass.

      • Rebar

        I’d also like to add that she’s, what, 36? Plenty of people seek career changes. She’s committed to and achieved her dream of being a working actress which she presumably would have wanted since she was 11-16. That’s 20+ years of hard work. I think telling a woman to pick a lane and stick to it is decidedly dull. Also, some people value family, tradition and heteronormative lifestyles. Considering her age, it makes sense for her to shift gears. She’s said in an interview (I’m paraphrasing), I don’t see it as giving up, just a change.

    • TF Beauty

      And she better deliver them fast since she will be 37 in August. And although women are having babies later in life it still may not be as easy as Kate is doing. She is popping them out as fast as some of us eat M & Ms

  • Kristi

    Megan this is a question from a article you wrote about Prozac a wile back you said you had jumpy muscles and spasms did that eventually go away?? I’m having this issue with these meds and its frustrating you are the only one I have heard of having this problem can you please let me know if it eventually stopped thabk you so much! I’m feeling hopless about the med

  • Kristin

    Meh. I think that although it is progressive theoretically she really dresses pretty much exactly like Kate—same a line dresses and skirts and sensible heels, her hair is styled similarly. I wonder if she ever considered fighting to continue to work. That would be progressive (if she even wants to). I just feel mostly bored of this narrative, wherein the commoner marries the prince (and then is sentenced to dress a certain way forever)—like never can nips peek through a sheerish top, sexy shoes for bedroom only, and basically future career limited to procreation. I think it would have been more progressive for him to have fallen love with a prolific writer or an artist or a surgeon or even an actress passionate enough about her work to not want to give it up.

    • Joh

      How devastating for you that he didn’t fall in love with someone more progressive. A future career limited to procreation? How ignorant are you? Meghan has chosen – key and operative word here, no one has forced her – this path for herself not only for love, which is a noble pursuit in and of itself, but because it will give her the platform and ability to further her philanthropy. I feel bored of YOUR narrative.

      • Kristin

        Apologies for ignorance, boringness, and the use of the word narrative—which I immediately regretted as it is forever linked to T Swift and that whole incident
        That aside, I don’t feel devastated and I never meant to imply that she was “forced”. I just don’t feel there is anything particularly progressive or compelling about this love story (though I do find them to be a cute couple and a compelling story to the degree that all love stories are compelling)

      • TF Beauty

        Well said.

  • Chess

    Hilary Mantel wrote an amazing piece on the role of royal consorts about Kate which I highly recommend:
    https://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n04/hilary-mantel/royal-bodies.

    To echo other commentators: it’s great that black women have increased representation, but I don’t think we should be overly cheered by the fact that a minority is now locked into a very regressive public role.

  • Mariana R.

    Other people have already made the most important points about this topic in the comments below, so I just wanted to highlight how good this part is:
    “the pastoral ideal of The Great British Bake Off, where people of all backgrounds come together under Union Jack bunting to bake a firm-bottomed, progressive tartts”
    I MEAN I LAUGHED MY ASS OF!!! xD

  • BarbieBush

    Do you think wearing those boring outfits and shitty half-hats on your forehead is a part of the princess job description too?

  • Anna

    Last year the UK held an election and Conservative candidate Theresa May did not win, but was given permission by the queen, our head of state, to lead the country without a majority in parliament.

    Meghan is very pretty but the monarchy is terrible and I can’t wait to see it gone.

  • Anna

    Last year the UK held a general election and it was The Queen, our head of state, who had to give permission to conservative candidate Theresa May (who didn’t get a majority!) to lead the country. I don’t know how much choice the queen had in that situation, but it’s horrendous and allowed May to basically buy the support of 8 Northern Irish MPs who have nasty views of their own.

    Meghan is very pretty but there’s nothing progressive about the monarchy and I can’t wait to see them all gone.

  • Rebar

    In regards to people thinking she looses her independence:

    You’re assuming that her acting career was significantly more important to her than her philanthropic pursuits. She studied both theatre AND international relations at university and then worked with the US embassy. This is a demonstration of her values and interests. She’s now demonstrated that she would forego a career in acting for one of public service. It’s her choice and considering she’s a grown ass woman, she can decide how she wants to live her life. You’re also assuming she’s not honestly in love and that to pursue companionship is somehow weak.

    • Rebar

      I’d also like to add that she’s, what, 36? Plenty of people seek career changes. She’s committed to and achieved her dream of being a working actress which she presumably would have wanted since she was 11-16. That’s 20+ years of hard work. I think telling a woman to pick a lane and stick to it is decidedly dull. Also, some people value family, tradition and heteronormative lifestyles. Considering her age, it makes sense for her to shift gears. She’s said in an interview (I’m paraphrasing), I don’t see it as giving up, just a change.