Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Confluence Daily: Maria Corley: Meghan Markle’s Blackness: The Lot of Black People

Meghan Markle

By Maria Thompson Corley

May 23, 2018

Meghan Markle’s Blackness: The Lot of Black People Hasn’t Changed Just Because a Woman With African Heritage Has Joined the British Royal Family

I had no intention of watching the royal wedding. In addition to philosophical issues I will mention later, I’m a church organist, which means I’ve played so many ceremonies that unless I know the couple personally, I’m mainly excited about the check. But when I turned on the TV, there they were—Meghan and Harry, two well-dressed strangers standing at the altar in an opulent church full of celebrities. I’m a classical musician with a weakness for the sound of boy sopranos, so I couldn’t help being curious about the music. I also like to look at pretty dresses. Nothing better to do, so I settled in. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I tuned in moments before the Most Reverend Michael Curry, the African-American bishop of the Episcopal church (in which I’ve been a musician for many years) delivered his flawless sermon, referencing slavery and Martin Luther King while extolling love’s power to change the world. By now, most people are aware of the musical nods to the bride’s blackness: the gospel choir singing “Stand by Me” in the church followed by a medley of “This Little Light of Mine” and “Amen” outside it, and the stunning performance by teenage cellist Shekuh Kanneh-Mason. Most also know Oprah Winfrey and Idris Elba were in the congregation, but may not have heard about Tessy Ojo, CEO of the only charity to bear Princess Diana’s name, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the queen’s personal chaplain, and Colleen Harris, the first black royal press secretary. Mutsu Potsane was an even lesser-known guest. He bonded with the groom in an orphanage in Lesotho when Harry was 19 and Mutsu was 4. Also in attendance was his compatriot Prince Seeiso (a good friend with whom Prince Harry co-founded a charity) and his wife, Princess Mabareng. As I write this, the honeymoon is still delayed, but expected destinations include Namibia. Most of all, Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, wearing a nose ring and locks, was never off-camera for long. In short, nobody can say this was a purely “vanilla” affair.

The lot of black people hasn’t suddenly changed just because a woman with African heritage has joined the British royal family, though, any more than the election of Barack Obama—whose family is decidedly regal—made everything all better. It was clear that a number of white guests didn’t quite know how to react to the inclusion of black culture. And yet, as much as I tried to stay indifferent, I got chills. I even choked up a bit. But why?

Before I answer, I need to mention my philosophical issues. Two days after the ceremony, a friend sent me a video of a black woman ridiculing the people who are excited about Meghan Markle being Great Britain’s first black princess (though it appears that she isn’t). The commentator pointed out that there are many, many black princesses in Africa. Good point, but…so what?  Let’s face it: the idea of monarchy is antiquated and ridiculous, especially since nobody puts their life on the line to maintain their status anymore (not that I think the system was better back in the day). 

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