fb-pixelMeghan Markle becoming a Duchess could not overshadow her Black reality - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
Jeneé Osterheldt

Meghan Markle becoming a Duchess could not overshadow her Black reality

Meghan Markle (right) and her mother, Doria Ragland, arrived for her wedding ceremony to marry Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on May 19, 2018.Oli SCARFFOLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images/file

It may have been a fairy tale wedding, but Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, with a life bound to Buckingham Palace, were not destined for happily ever after.

Marrying into the monarchy and becoming the Duchess of Sussex didn’t upend the system. It sucked Markle into a royal nightmare.

Earlier this week, Prince Harry and Markle announced they would be stepping back as “senior” members of the royal family. The goal is to balance their lives between the United Kingdom and North America. They plan to live financially independent of the monarchy (he’s still a prince with inherited wealth and she didn’t come to the palace broke) while still supporting her majesty the queen. And the pearl-clutching was instant.


London’s Madame Tussauds museum swiftly split the waxworks of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex apart from its Royal Family set. Some people celebrated, claiming Markle stole a prince. Memes took over Twitter, calling it a dismantling of the monarchy and the “Megxit.”

Others called the move hypocritical and privileged, labeling it a shirking of responsibility.

This is not ditching the laundry. It’s not running off with a luxurious title while escaping hard work.

This is a life-or-death decision. Paparazzi chased Princess Diana to her death. That was in 1997, before social media, hashtags, and even mainstream news took on tabloid tendencies. In her case, racism wasn’t even a factor.

Her son, Prince Harry, does not want that fate for his wife. He was worried about her safety when she was his girlfriend. It’s only gotten worse. As a family, they chose the less dangerous path.

Racism is already deadly for everyday Black folk. Add the royal frenzy and the brutality of British tabloids to the mix and Meghan Markle became a Black American woman on an international tightrope.


When they first got engaged, “Good Morning America” and “The Guardian” tried to make it seem like Markle’s future with the prince was a Black woman’s hope. I’m Team Meghan, who was a queen long before Harry, but I knew that marriage wouldn’t change a thing in an era of the xenophobic Brexit, Trump, and Black Lives Matter.

There is no highness high enough to transcend racism and supremacy. Before Harry put a ring on it, Meghan became a magnet for hate. The Daily Mail’s headline in November 2016: “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed - so will he be dropping by for tea?

British tabloids immediately took to painting her as “Duchess Difficult” and created a feud between her and Kate Middleton. They’ve only been married for a year and a half. In that time, she’s been abused by the public while pregnant and newly wed. She’s been expected to keep a stiff upper lip and maintain poise and grace while being attacked for simply loving a prince, having a baby, and having the audacity to be a happy Black woman.

Last year, BBC broadcaster Danny Baker compared Prince Harry and Meghan’s newborn, Archie, to a chimpanzee. He was fired. BBC also aired a blatantly racist animated depiction of Meghan as an angry Black woman. Being biracial does not give her a get-out-of-racism free pass. Everything from her baby shower to her guest-editing of British Vogue has been vilified.


Their son isn’t even 1 year old. Meghan has been enduring this with very little support outside of her husband. Her mama is in California. Most of her best friends are in America.

In October, when being interviewed by British channel ITV, she was asked about her physical and mental health. Teary-eyed, she openly admitted how hard and isolating the pressure has been.

“Thank you for asking. Not many people have asked if I’m OK, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she said.

When the journalist asked if that meant she was not OK, if it would be fair to say it’s really been a struggle, she answered one word: “Yes.”

This was just three months ago, the same month Prince Harry announced they would be suing British tabloids.

“There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives,” the statement read. “...Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”


Meghan tried to tell us. She is not OK.

And like so many women, but disproportionately Black women, she is expected to be strong and suffer in silence. No one is asking her if she’s all right. So she’s going to spend half her time at home. Near her mama. She’s going to be sure her son, who is biracial, will grow up around both sides of his family.

Wednesday, a Royal Communications statement called the situation complex.

“Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” it read. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”

Fact: This does not put the monarchy in danger. Prince Harry isn’t the first, second, third, fourth, or even fifth in line. What’s complicated isn’t a wife and husband doing the right thing for their family. No. The sickening complexity comes in the inescapable schadenfreude and racism that plague us.

Meghan, with her husband by her side, is going to get the support she needs to survive in this already divisive world. She is going to take care of herself.

And she’s going to do it while still giving back, while still working, while still aiming to pledge allegiance to the royal family. That’s how a real queen moves.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.