Over the course of the last few months, Meghan Markle has gone from being an admired but not hugely well-known television actress (for her role as shrewd paralegal Rachel Zane in legal drama Suits) to one of the most famous women in the world.
The pressure that inevitably comes with dating a member of the British Royal Family would be enough to make most of us want to hide under a rock, but Markle is clearly made of sterner stuff. The 35-year-old actor has steadfastly refused to comment on her relationship with Prince Harry, instead choosing to use her heightened profile to raise awareness of more important issues – from racial prejudice to humanitarian causes.
Markle, whose mother is African-American and whose father is Caucasian, has never shied away from discussing her experiences of life as a mixed-race woman. In a new interview, she speaks out again about the unique challenges of being what she calls “more than an ‘other’” – and called on other mixed-race women to embrace the way they look.
Markle studied theatre and international relations at Northwestern University in Illinois, and says that it was while at university that she began to think deeply about race.
“I took an African-American studies class at Northwestern where we explored colourism,” she tells Allure. “It was the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community, too mixed in the white community.”
Once she began trying to make it as an actress, Markle says, this sense of not quite belonging was reinforced by Hollywood’s narrow casting definitions.
“For castings, I was labelled ‘ethnically ambiguous’,” she says. “Was I Latina? Sephardic? ‘Exotic Caucasian’?”
It’s not the first time that Markle has highlighted the casting industry’s rigid racial categories. In an essay written in December, the actor said that being “ethnically ambiguous” had its upsides: it meant she “could audition for virtually any role”. The downside was that she rarely got the job.
“I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t get a job,” she wrote.
But Markle says that she has long since embraced her identity as a “strong, confident mixed-race woman”. Speaking to Allure, she reveals that her “pet peeve is when her “skin tone is changed” and her freckles – which some see as further complicating her ethnic identity – airbrushed out of photoshoots.
“For all my freckle-faced friends out there, I will share with you something she told me when I was younger,” she concludes. “A face without freckles is a night without stars.”
Images: Getty Images, Rex Features