Editor’s Note: Sophia A. Nelson is a journalist and author of the book “Be the One You Need: 21 Life Lessons I Learned Taking Care of Everyone but Me.” The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
Meghan Markle needs sisters.
By sisters, I mean in the African-American vernacular, women who will be part of her tribe – who will watch her back, love her, laugh with her and be there for her as she confronts the most invidious challenges that anti-Black racism can throw her way.
If Markle didn’t know before taking up with Prince Harry that those kinds of challenges would be coming, she surely knows that now.
The past few years – during which the couple announced that they were stepping down as senior royals and left Great Britain – will have been an education for the Duchess of Sussex and erstwhile star of the cable television show “Suits.”
Markle and Harry endured a barrage of criticism after the move, but the scrutiny and criticism of Meghan began long before that. And Harry made it clear from early days that negative press coverage was a reflection of racism toward the biracial Duchess, whose father is White and mother is Black.
Over the last few years, when it comes to weaponizing the media, the Sussexes have shown that they can give as good as they get, lashing out at their critics first in a sit-down with celebrity interviewer Oprah Winfrey, then with a multi-part Netflix special. They delivered the coup de grace with a blockbuster, tell-all book penned by the prince.
So, after years of wall-to-wall media coverage, what’s left to say about Meghan and Harry? Plenty, if you’re African American.
Black women like me, who sat back and watched the media onslaught against Meghan Markle have been nodding knowingly over the past few years. We have seen it all before. We live it every day in the form of microaggressions and outright racism.
African Americans were taken aback – but not too many of us were truly surprised – when she faced the wrath of a British tabloid press and more subtle disapproval by some members of royal family itself.
Many people of color celebrated Markle’s marriage to Harry as a sign of racial progress. But as we watched the treatment received by Markle, Black America summoned its collective indignation, as it does when one of us is unjustly slighted.
Few of us consort with royalty, but many of us have found ourselves in situations where it’s been suggested none too subtly that we’re not quite up to standard. In those moments, we’ve had to deftly show the doubters who belittle us and who hope to make us feel small – colleagues, classmates, bosses, sometimes even underlings – that they have greatly underestimated us. And so, in the Black community, there has been no small amount of umbrage taken on Meghan’s behalf.
The interesting thing is, Meghan only relatively recently had been introduced to harsh realities of racial animus. In an episode of her Archetypes podcast, where she frequently delves into discussions about racial identity, she revealed that it was only after she started dating Prince Harry that she “started to understand what it was like to be treated like a Black woman. Because up until then, I had been treated like a mixed woman. And things really shifted.”
And did they ever. Markle has endured overt media abuse for being Black at an industrial strength level that most of us, mercifully, have not had to face. With a few minor hiccups here and there, she has proven to be amazingly resilient on the world stage.
It always struck me as something of an irony that Markle was deemed too Black for Britain’s elite. As one writer put it, at the time of Harry and Meghan’s engagement, “no Black or Brown person had ever held a great office of state in the UK. In fact, to this very day, thanks to Meghan, Britain has had more Black princesses than the BBC has ever had Black controllers.”
In the United States meanwhile, if you passed her on the sidewalk, you might be forgiven for not realizing that she has Black ancestry and isn’t just another sun-kissed Californian, or one who has a passing acquaintance with a tanning bed. In the genetic grab bag that determines what we all look like, half-Black Meghan ended up with a complexion much more like that of her White father.
Growing up, it appears that even with her Black mom, race seems not to have been much of a topic of conversation. Markle’s mother Doria Ragland acknowledged in the Netflix Harry & Meghan Documentary released in late 2022, that helping her daughter forge a Black identity while growing up was not something she focused on much. And she says it’s a decision she now regrets.