‘Black princess’

Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry sparks nationwide discussion on race

Meghan Markle (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Amid the excitement over the announcement of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle’s engagement, a heated discussion of whether Markle’s biracial heritage might improve race relations in Great Britain has been steadily gaining steam. Speaking with Newsweek, however, two noted British scholars tempered expectations for those hoping that Markle’s entrance into Britain’s historically white royal family could mark a watershed moment for the country, where 87.1 percent of the population is white and just three percent is black.

“She won’t be allowed to be a black princess. The only way she can be accepted is to pass for white,” Kehinde Andrews, an associate professor of sociology at Birmingham City University who launched the first black studies degree in Europe, told Newsweek. “If there are people who are celebrating, it’s a bit naive, and they’ll be very disappointed.”

A year ago, Prince Harry released a statement condemning the media for outright “racism” in their coverage of his then-girlfriend Markle, whose father is white and whose mother is black. Before the recent news of the engagement, one particularly offensive Daily Mail headline encapsulated the country’s preoccupation with Markle’s racial heritage, declaring that “Harry’s Girl Is (Almost) Straight Outta Compton.” On the other side of the coin, noted author Irenosen Okojie, Harry’s relationship with Markle led to an explosion of interest in the royal family — particularly from people of color — and reignited hope that the engagement could usher in “a new era where the boundaries of race and class will be blown open in Britain.”

Ellis Cashmore, a British sociologist and critic, agreed with Andrews that Markle would likely “be strongly advised by Royal advisers to avoid discussing her ethnicity.” But after Markle addressed the media maelstrom surrounding her heritage on Monday by calling the obsession with her race “disheartening,” Cashmore added that Markle seemed unlikely to be constrained by her royal advisers.

“She will ignore [the advisers] at some stage,” Cashmore told Newsweek. “She’s bound to want to describe how she feels about herself and how she self-identifies.”

Read the full story at Newsweek.

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