Just weeks ago, Prince Harry – in an unprecedented move – released a public statement condemning some of the media’s sexist and racist treatment of his new girlfriend, Meghan Markle.
They had attempted to reduce the talented Suits actor to nothing more than a divorced older woman (she is 35 – and, as such, just three years older than the prince) Some members of the press also began questioning her financial background and her ‘motives’ for dating a member of the royal family.
Perhaps most shockingly of all, however, were the loaded comments about Markle’s ethnicity – and the backlash that this generated on social media.
Many racist Twitter trolls claimed that the prince should not be allowed to date a biracial person – harkening back to the mythical concept of ‘blue blood’ and royal purity. And, as Prince Harry explained in his statement, paparazzi began to invade the privacy of both Markle and her family, employing abusive tactics in order to find out more about them.
“Some of it has been hidden from the public,” explained the prince, going on to recall “the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriend; the bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life.”
However, it is not the first time that Markle has been subjected to abuse over her ethnicity – and the actor, philanthropist, and feminist is sure that it will not be the last, either.
Writing in a new essay for Elle, Markle explains: “My dad is Caucasian and my mum is African-American. I’m half black and half white.
“To describe something as being black and white means it is clearly defined. Yet when your ethnicity is black and white, the dichotomy is not that clear. In fact, it creates a grey area. Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating.”
Markle goes on to explain that “being ‘ethnically ambiguous’, as I was pegged in the industry, meant I could audition for virtually any role… [but] sadly, it didn’t matter. 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 book a job.”
It is for this reason that Markle was so happy to be offered the role of Suits’ Rachel Zane – a confident and intelligent para-legal and part-time associate at Pearson Spectre Litt.
“The show's producers weren't looking for someone mixed, nor someone white or black for that matter,” she says. “They were simply looking for Rachel. In making a choice like that, the Suits producers helped shift the way pop culture defines beauty.”
However, despite securing a huge fan-base and receiving acclaim for the role in the first series, Markle was shocked at the backlash the show received when they cast Wendell Pierce, a “dark-skinned African-American man” to play her father.
“I remember the tweets when that first episode of the Zane family aired, they ran the gamut from: 'Why would they make her dad black? She's not black' to 'Ew, she's black? I used to think she was hot.',” she writes, adding that she “blocked and reported” a number of social media users.
“The reaction was unexpected, but speaks of the undercurrent of racism that is so prevalent, especially within America.”
Read more: Why Meghan Markle is a feminist game-changer
Markle may recognise that the USA has a long way to go before it finally eradicates racism, but she goes on to explain that she fully embraces her own mixed heritage – and that she refuses to let herself be described as an ‘other’ anymore.
You have to “make a choice,” explains Markle. “[You can] continue living your life feeling muddled in this abyss of self-misunderstanding, or you find your identity independent of it. You push for colour-blind casting, you draw your own box… you create the identity you want for yourself, just as my ancestors did when they were given their freedom.”
She finishes powerfully: “In 1865 (which is so shatteringly recent), when slavery was abolished in the United States, former slaves had to choose a name. A surname, to be exact.
“Perhaps the closest thing to connecting me to my ever-complex family tree, my longing to know where I come from, and the commonality that links me to my bloodline, is the choice that my great-great-great grandfather made to start anew.
“He chose the last name Wisdom. He drew his own box.”