It has only been six days since 29 million viewers around the world witnessed the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. When the wedding date was announced a few months ago, I dutifully saved the date to my Google Calendar. My mom always made special occasions out of royal goings-on, and I planned to follow suit.
The night before the big event, my sister stayed over so that we could wake up the next morning at an ungodly hour to eat an English breakfast and sip mimosas in front of the TV. Even though I’d watched Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance, the surprisingly illuminating Lifetime recreation of their love story, a few nights before the wedding, I didn’t expect to be as moved by the ceremony as I was, and I certainly didn’t expect to see myself in it at all.
Six years ago, 45 years after the legalization of interracial marriage in the United States, I was married in an Austin courthouse by a judge who spent half of the time bad-mouthing Houston even though my half of our wedding party were Houstonians. There were no horse-drawn carriages at my wedding, but I was very proud of the Chevy Tahoe I’d recently purchased. Stella McCartney did not make my wedding dress, but I picked the most pleasant-looking white dress I could find in Anthropologie a few days before. I was excited about marrying the love of my life, but I could never bring myself to get excited about my own ceremonies. I found cotillions exhausting and thought prom was overrated. And by the time my soon-to-be husband and I were ready to tie the knot, we just wanted to get it over with.
My partner is a white man whose Texas-sized gait and general presence always convince me he’s much taller than the 6 feet 2 inches he is. We graduated at the same time with the same degree. We were born on the same day, just a few hours apart. We share the same sarcastic sense of humor and both favor silence over small talk. But all the similarities in the world will never outrun the difference of our races, and the world has made sure we understand this.
Not long after we’d started dating, before we were old enough to rent a car, I remember asking a senior engineer at work about his experience with interracial dating. “I learned my lesson,” he said. “I don’t keep any pictures of her up at work.” He was a tall gentle giant with menacing features. His wife was black, and after too many stares and rude comments from his colleagues over the years, he’d decided displaying her picture wasn’t worth the trouble. After hearing this sad cautionary tale, I walked back to my cubicle and took note of the picture I’d chosen for my own desk: a bird I’d seen at the zoo my partner and I had visited one weekend. Before, I’d told myself that displaying this colorful bird instead of a picture of my partner was just part of my quirky personality, but now my stomach knotted as I admitted the obvious: Toucan Sam was easier to explain than a white partner.
Not long after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle started dating, the British press began printing racially charged stories about Meghan, inspiring Prince Harry to release an official statement calling for this “wave of abuse” with “racial undertones” to end. Such an honest and pointed gesture was unprecedented from the royal family. If Lifetime’s reenactment is to be believed, Prince Harry’s family was flabbergasted and Meghan felt infantilized. In my experience, this scene was a surprisingly accurate depiction of the moment two people realize that love alone won’t be enough. Suddenly, the white man accustomed to white privilege sees firsthand what it’s like to be a black woman. Their two worlds crash into each other like a high-speed, head-on collision.
I met my in-laws as the sun set on George W. Bush’s presidency. By the time Obama had been sworn in and had his beer summit, I was part of the family. They took me to all sorts of small town spots I’d never have ventured to on my own, seemingly unfazed by the fact that I was always the only black person in the room. One fourth of July, we went camping out on the lake and I didn’t see one person of color the entire time. Though I had no cell phone signal, I never felt particularly unsafe or unspoken for around his family.
And then Trayvon Martin was killed.
I’d always been aware of racism and prejudice, and by the time George Zimmerman posted bail, I had been in the adult world long enough to see racism up close and personal, no longer from behind the shirttails of my parents. I was already writing about the endless microaggressions I experienced at work, at the mall or anywhere outside my home, but the killing of Trayvon Martin awakened me to a new depth of horror in surviving in America as a black person.
As more black people turned up dead at the hands of law enforcement, I wrote more and more about my frustrations and dizzying disbelief that this is the racist society I’m expected to live in. My partner’s family respectfully but sternly disagreed with me, dissenting in comments and direct messages. I couldn’t understand how they could accept me into their family with open arms but refuse to acknowledge the injustice black Americans experience every day. Since my partner had an up-close understanding of my black experience, he tried to translate it in a way that his family might understand, but to no avail. The more outspoken I became, the more I felt like an adversary in the eyes of my partner’s family. And once again, my partner, a child of divorce, was stuck in the middle.
I don’t think anyone was expecting the kind of royal wedding we witnessed Saturday. There was Reverend Michael Curry, the first black bishop presiding over the Episcopal church. There was Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the black teenage cellist phenom who is part of an entire family of accomplished black classical musicians. Not to mention the black gospel choir and famous black entertainers in attendance, including Serena Williams and Oprah Winfrey. My sister and I momentarily forgot about our mimosas. I watched Meghan Markle watch her own ceremony. I recognized that specific determination in her eyes to transform the head-on collision of opposing worlds into a beautiful dance.
In 2015, just before our fourth wedding anniversary, my partner and I separated. I stayed in New York, where we’d moved together less than a year before, and he headed back to Texas. As any couple dealing with separation or divorce can attest, there’s rarely a single reason for two people to change their minds about “forever.” But if our separation is a pie, I’d say the race slice is a pretty hefty one. When word of our separation began to spread, one of my family members offered this catch-all advice: “Next time, find you a brotha instead.”
After watching the royal wedding unfold on TV and then the reactions unfold online, I found that my family member’s sentiment is in great company on Black Twitter. Why are we making a big deal about a sista marrying a colonizer? This same commentary was deployed when Serena Williams made her relationship with Alexis Ohanian public, or when Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child announced her relationship with Chad Johnson. Questioning interracial dating choices runs parallel to another Black Twitter debate that erupted after Childish Gambino released “This Is America.” The interracial marriage skeptics of Black Twitter posited: Can we support a brotha who claims to be woke but is married to a white woman? This happened after Jordan Peele accepted his Oscar for Get Out. It was as if Black Twitter had to do the mental math on whether it could truly celebrate a black person if he or she married a non-black person.
It’s easy to think of interracial relationships as proof that we’re making progress. It’s easy to assume that because interracial unions account for over 15 percent of all new marriages, we’re stamping out racism one interracial marriage at a time. Or as Pastor Curry might say, we like to believe that there’s power in love.
Regardless of the state of my own interracial marriage, I do believe there’s power in love. but you must be able to fight for it. Interracial marriage isn’t a panacea, and the fight against racism is far from over. I was reminded of this when I was scrolling through GoFugYourself’s thoroughly entertaining and informative coverage of the royal wedding and landed upon a still of the two sharing a kiss in their horse-drawn carriage. There Meghan Markle was, the child of an interracial union just like mine. For a moment, I was overjoyed. And then I clicked over to Twitter to find that a German bakery was forced to apologize for sharing a photo featuring Meghan Markle as a chocolate-covered marshmallow.
There’s a poignant scene in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance when Queen Elizabeth walks Meghan Markle over to the royal portraits and shows her Queen Sophie Charlotte, arguably the most well-known biracial royal family member. In the movie, Queen Elizabeth points out that artists have purposefully whitened her features over the years and that the portrait in the palace is the only one that shows her black features. At that moment, for the first time in my life, I cried (a little!) while watching a Lifetime movie. It was painful to be reminded of how long this struggle between love, race and identity has endured. It was exhausting, too, to think that long before the creation of Adobe Creative Suite, artists were photoshopping any features associated with blackness. But I also cried tears of joy, because Queen Elizabeth’s acceptance in that moment — fictionalized or not — reminded me of the acceptance my partner and I experienced with our own grandmothers. Oftentimes, we errantly assume that older adults cling to the racist and prejudice beliefs of their times, and yet our grandmothers — two women who lived on opposite sides of “For Colored Only” signs — were some of the biggest supporters of our interracial relationship from the very beginning. Perhaps they were already firm believers in the power in love.
It’s been six days since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, were officially married. And this week, as reports trickle in of them taking their first newlywed steps into the public light, all aglow, so do reports of white people continuing to call the cops on black people for simply existing. The world celebrating Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s love may have signaled a change in the wind, but to truly change this world’s racist tide, we’re going to need a lot more than a royal wedding.
Jennifer Epperson is a proud Texan living in New York. She has written for Lenny Letter, Estia Collective, and Blavity and writes sketch comedy for Magnet Theater. You can follow her on Twitter @comeonjennfoo.
Feature photo by Ben STANSALL – WPA Pool/Getty Images.