Life

How Revolutionary Is Meghan Markle, Really?

A skeptic and a romantic debate.

Photo illustration: two photos of Meghan Markle against a colorized background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images and Eddie Mulholland /AFP/Getty Images.

This conversation is adapted from this week’s episode of the podcast Represent.

Aisha Harris: Kristen, is it fair to say that you are obsessed with the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?

Kristen Meinzer: That’s right: American Hollywood star, divorcee, woman of color. She is marrying Prince Harry.

Harris: I know.

Meinzer: I just cannot tell you how excited I’ve been about this. And I’ve been a royal watcher my entire life. My mother was an anglophile, I was brought up to care very deeply about all of the stuff that happens in this family: the weddings, the affairs, the beheadings, all the inbreeding, all of the stuff. I am totally into the whole royal family. They’re like the longest-running reality show family ever.

Harris: I, meanwhile, do not care.

Meinzer: I know you don’t care.

Harris: But I do find our nation’s obsession with this fascinating, especially considering that fact that we fought to get away from the British people—

Meinzer: Even when George Washington first became president, Americans wanted him to be a king. And he’s like, “That’s not what things are about here, guys, that’s what we were fighting against. I’m not going to be a king.” Look at all the Disney movies. We love princesses, we love kings.

Harris: So even I have read a lot about this new princess a lot since I discovered she existed—

Meinzer: You’re talking about Meghan Markle.

Harris: Meghan Markle, yes. First of all, why do you care specifically about Meghan Markle? What makes her different, aside from the fact she is obviously a woman of color—what about her is so fascinating to you?

Meinzer: Can’t I make that the first on my list though? For centuries, the British royal family has conquered, or ruled, or taken over, or annexed places where the people have a complexion more like yours or mine. And yet they would never deign to marry those people. And now, finally all these places that had to wave flags and say “God save the queen” but were never actually represented in the royal family—Meghan Markle looks a little bit more like all those people. And that’s very meaningful to me. So, it’s not just like, “Oh, isn’t it great, there’s a black woman in there.” No, it’s that this family ruled over millions of people for centuries and none of those people ever got to be in the palace.

Harris: Yeah, I think Meghan is very smart and very aware of what all this means—she’s going into this very open-eyed as someone who is of mixed heritage. At the same time, the reason why this is all happening is just because she met and fell in love with someone. Which to me still feels sort of like an antiquated reason to make a heroine out of her.

Meinzer: Your idea that love can’t be revolutionary breaks my heart. Is there any romance in that heart of yours? Isn’t it truly revolutionary for a gay person to be able to say, as a gay man, I love this man? Isn’t it truly revolutionary for a white prince—when, for hundreds and hundreds of years, princes like him had to marry a certain kind of woman, regardless of whether or not they wanted to— for him to say, “no, this is the woman I love,” and have that be a revolutionary act? I don’t see it as antiquated.

Harris: Yeah, I mean, they’ve only been dating less than two years. I feel like placing so much significance on her for her romantic choices doesn’t feel empowering to me, in a way, if that’s the right word. And also, lionizing Harry for his bravery in “choosing” her rubs me the wrong way, too.

Meinzer: Yeah, they’re obviously not changing structural racism. They’re not changing the laws on the books. They’re not changing thousands of years of history and oppression.

Harris: I’ve seen a lot of my friends, black female friends, who see themselves in Meghan Markle and find this to be very exciting, and I wish I could feel that way. I wish and I don’t wish. But the royal family to me just smacks of everything that’s wrong with the general relationship between wealth and power—none of it is actually earned, it’s just handed down from person to person based completely on the act of procreation.

I do want to talk a little bit more about Meghan Markle’s acting career. In 2016, she wrote for the U.K. version of Elle about being a biracial person and what it’s meant for her to evolve and sort of embrace that and how it’s actually affected her career. I have to be honest again: When I first realized she existed and she was marrying Prince Harry, I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know she was black.” I think she says in this op-ed that she’s been deemed ethnically ambiguous. It’s interesting to me that in many of the movies she’s been in, her parents have been cast as both white.

Meinzer: Yeah, in the Hallmark movies. In that Elle article, I love how forthright she is about this stuff. I get the sense Hollywood frequently says: “Hey, just be marketable to everyone, don’t talk about this.” But she’s been honest about how racial ambiguity has affected her career. And on Suits, her character, Rachel, at one point says, I think it’s to her boyfriend on the show, “Well, hold on, you didn’t realize I was half black? Did you think I was just tan?”

Harris: In real life, her mother is black.

Meinzer: And her mother has dreadlocks and has been ruthlessly made fun of by some of the British tabloids. They’ve pretty much said that she’s a thug or a gangster without actually using those words. Straight Outta Compton, I think was one of the lines. When it’s like, actually no, she was working in Hollywood and Meghan’s dad is an Emmy award–winning lighting designer, and her mother is a licensed social worker and a yoga instructor and used to also work in Hollywood.

Harris: I did think Meghan’s article was smart and balanced. And those tabloid headlines are just flat-out racist, obviously. At the same time, the fact that in some cases, she can “pass” for white makes it feel less revolutionary to me that the royal family is embracing her. I will say: I read an interview with royal biographer Andrew Morgan in which he compared Harry and Meghan’s relationship to rebooting a show or a franchise, and he said, “If you were sitting in a script office in Hollywood and you said, give me a character that will make the Royal family relevant for the next 100 years, they would have said, okay, she’s racial, divorced, and an actor.” He was basically suggesting that this is the reason the queen is so happy about this. But that just seems to me, even my small little heart—

Meinzer: Even you find that questionable.

Harris: Even I think that frames the family’s acceptance of her as more insidious than it is. It’s not insidious! It’s just boring.

Meinzer: Listen, Harry’s a really sensitive guy. He’s talked about mental health, he’s been very open about needing help over the years and never properly or fully reckoning with the loss of his mother. According to a different royal biographer, Katie Nicholl, the family was just so overjoyed when they met Meghan because he had been lonely and they had never seen him so in love before. Prince Philip, in particular, really clicked with her and thought that she was just the most fantastic—I know, the look of shock on your face.

Harris: Philip?

Meinzer: That’s what I said when I read this, too. I’m like, “What?”

Harris: For those who don’t know, Philip is just the king of racial and misogynistic gaffes. He said many, many terrible things in public and they cannot all be discounted as just the ramblings of an old man. He’s kind of terrible.

Meinzer: But apparently, those two really, really clicked, and the whole family just was so overjoyed because they were worried about Harry. The family was incredibly happy when they saw how in love he was with Meghan and how much the adoration went both ways.

Harris: I am not impressed by Philip’s role in all this. But I guess I can find some compassion in my heart for Harry and Meghan’s romance. What time do we have to wake up to watch this?

Meinzer: Coverage starts at 4 a.m. EST.

Harris: I’ll let you catch me up on all the details at a godly hour.