When Meghan Markle‘s engagement to Prince Harry was announced by his father’s office last week, the world rejoiced. But a louder chorus, coming in a harmonized fashion from American black women, sang louder.
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Twitter hashtags such as #blackgirlmagic and #blackprincess — although royal experts have said Markle’s official title will likely be duchess — began trending almost immediately. Markle, 36, was called a real-life Princess Tiana, the fictional Disney princess of African-American heritage, and other tweets compared the former “Suits” star to fictional future queen Lisa McDowell of “Coming to America.”
“Social media gives us the medium to celebrate any win collectively,” Kimberly Foster, the founding editor of For Harriett, an online community centered on black women, told ABC News.
“By seeing Meghan Markle…and just seeing that she already had a great career,” she added, “it means a lot to us because it means that there’s hope for us in our personal lives.”
Danielle Belton, managing editor of The Root, an online magazine dedicated to black culture, agreed. To her, Markle’s engagement makes fairy tales seem attainable for black women.
“It’s a fantasy where even though you didn’t get Prince Harry, part of you thinks maybe I could’ve … maybe he was available,” she said.
“He’s not available now,” Belton added, laughing. “Meghan has that on lock.”
But beyond the fanciful achievement, Markle’s moment also points to a dearth of positive examples when it comes to black women on the world’s stage. And many black women feel that the former actress, who identifies as biracial, fills in the gap.
“We’ve not had someone to represent us in the media recently, and it’s just good to see something good happening to a woman, a black woman specifically, amidst all of the challenging news that we’ve been faced with this last few weeks,” she added.
Still, cultural experts express caution when looking at Markle’s achievement as one black women can hold exclusively — especially since Markle doesn’t identify as either black or white.
In a poignant essay written for Elle magazine, Markle wrote that while growing up in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, she was often met with this question: “What are you?”
Markle said she watched as her African-American mother was asked by neighbors if she was the nanny and witnessed her mother being called the N-word over a parking spot. Her father, she wrote, is white.
And in one seemingly defining moment, when Markle said she was mandated to take a census in school, forced with the limiting scenario of choosing either white or black, Markle opted out.
Every time we see a woman flourishing and happy and loved and loving, that matters.
“You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other — and one half of myself over the other,” she wrote.
When her teacher suggested she choose white ‘because that’s how you look, Meghan,” the future television actress put her pen down in “confusion,” she wrote.
“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,” she continued. “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 life, Markle would grow into a “strong, confident mixed-race woman,” she said.
And choosing that identifier matters amid black women’s excitement, cultural experts say.
“Meghan Markle is claiming this experience … and it kind of separates herself from some of these narratives about black women and black womanhood that make us feel affinity for her,” Foster said. “There’s a certain fluidity that she had that we don’t have access to and that matters.”
But Foster was quick to note that Markle isn’t immune to “anti-blackness in her life,” pointing to how Kensington Palace condemned in an unprecedented statement the discriminatory “racial undertones” in some early coverage of Markle after she started dating Prince Harry.
Markle is also aware how her biracial identity doesn’t preclude her from her own blackness.
In her Elle magazine essay, Markle wrote about Rodney King and the racially charged unrests in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, along with her enslaved ancestors and the first taste of freedom they’d eventually attain in 1865. She described the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in America, “so shatteringly recent.”
Identity politics aside, many black women are still claiming Markle and her engagement as a win.
“Every time we see a woman flourishing and happy and loved and loving, that matters,” Foster said.
Editor’s Note: The story headline has been updated. The original headline misrepresented the intention of the story, which was to report on the excitement among some black women about Meghan Markle’s joining the British royal family.
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