It is not remiss to say that Megan Markle has been the most divisive and most radical addition to join the British Royal Family ranks since the late Princess Diana (may she rest in pace).
Since getting married to Prince Harry back in 2018(is it me, or does that feel like it was much longer), Megan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, has caused quite a stir among the Royal family, British media and the broader British culture. It is fair to say that she has not been treated kindly by the Brits.
At first, there were many high hopes. There was an initial outpouring of love and excitement when Prince Harry officially announced he would be marrying Megan Markle, a divorced American actress from California who starred in Suits. However, it soon turned sour. After that memorable fire and brimstone, full-on African-Sunday-service wedding reception, the British media soon had their claws out. We had a news outlet stating Megan's DNA was 'exotic'. A BBC presenter tweeted an image comparing her and Harry's then-unborn son to a chimpanzee (thankfully, that idiot journalist got the sack) and even suggestions that Megan Markle eating avocado is somehow linked to human rights abuses and drought." Ok then. *rolls eyes in confusion.*
Then came the rift with the Royal Family. We first got an inclination of this family feud when the Queen banned Megan from wearing the royal jewels worn by Princess Diana. Allegedly, this was a response to Megan's demanding behaviour ahead of her wedding. Things came to a head when the Duke and Dutchness of Sussex announced they wanted to be 'financially independent’ and carve their business entity/empire outside of the Royal Family while still benefiting from the brand association. The fact that the Sussexes did not consult the Queen before making this decision only added gallons of petrol to the fire.
Was it just racism?
After months of uncertainty, the Sussexes have now officially announced that they will no longer be working members of the Royal Family, effectively severing ties with the Royals. With an upcoming stint on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, their brand building in America now underway, now is a good time to reflect on Megan's treatment by the British press.
Many of those in the Black British community believe Megan was a victim of blatant racism from both the British media and the Royal family. And that’s it. But I do not think it's that simple.
Prominent Americans and the Royal Family have never mixed well
I am an avid student of history. You want to know why? Because history reveals seeds that were planted long ago and grew into the current situations happening in the present. Nothing is by accident.
The history books show us that whenever an American, especially a famous one, becomes entangled with a Royal Family member, it is almost always a messy affair. For example, Edward VIII, the shortest-serving king of the United Kingdom, caused a constitutional crisis when he proposed to Wallis Simpson, an American socialite, in 1936. This caused a great deal of headache for the Royal Family because Miss Simpson was twice divorced, which put Edward VIII at odds with the church, eventually forcing his hand to abdicate the throne altogether so he could marry his love.
There have been other times when Americans forming close relationships, romantic or otherwise, with British royals has brought scandal to the Royal Family. Kiki Preston, another American socialite, was a drug-addicted, free spirit who befriended Prince George, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of King George V and Mary of Teck. Preston encouraged Prince George to embark on a hedonistic and scandalous lifestyle of sex and drugs. It is even alleged they both had a son out of wedlock.
Prince Andrew had a short-lived affair with Koo Stark, an American actress, much like Megan Markle, who starred in a very raunchy film. Prince Andrew's close friendship with the disgraced and deceased American investor Jeffery Epstein has been well covered. Another American investor, John Bryan, effectively ended the already rocky marriage between Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson when the former was caught sucking on the former's toes in 1992. What a scandal!
As you can see, there has been a precedent of prominent Americans having relations with British Royals that almost always ends in scandal. The fact that Megan Markle was a divorcee before falling in love with Prince Harry would raise eyebrows among the Royal family, least of all someone as conservative as the Queen.
American's showy behaviour is also very much at odds with the dignified reservation that the Royal Family aims to perpetuate to the public (even if we all know they're not as prim and proper as they make out to be). It's not surprising that the Queen has been unhappy with Megan Markle since the former actress refuses to bow to conformity and follow protocol.
The Queen's disapproval of Megan Markle significantly influenced the negative tabloid reporting around her.
The British paparazzi have always been nasty. Megan is not the first to experience it.
While I do not deny that there is undoubtedly some racial element involved with how the British press has reported on Megan, it is not the only factor. Again, good old history shows us that the British media always love a juicy Royal scandal. The British paparazzi is one of the most reviled and brutal in Europe. The tabloid's obsession with celebrities contributed to the tragic death of Princess Diana.
Although Princess Diana's mental health was already precariously on edge with her marriage to Prince Charles disintegrating before the public, the relentless media onslaught made it worse. It has been well documented how journalists were incentivised with big pay-outs for getting exclusive snaps of the Princess of Wales. The media did praise Princess Diana of course as the people’s princess, a reception the Duchess of Sussex has not received, but they were also quick to highlight her several love affairs. As you can see, media intrusion and bad press is not exclusive to Megan Markle.
Megan’s individuality invited criticism, not her black heritage
The British press used Megan's biracial heritage to embarrass her, but I would argue that her conduct has brought this much negativity on her more than her race. Now, before you crucify me, I am in no way stating that Megan has done anything wrong in the way she has carried herself. I personally think she is a wonderfully progressive and independent woman who has brought much-needed rejuvenation and relevance to an outdated Royal Family.
But I also understand that it is because she is an ex-divorcee, an American and is also very independent that has caused her to be shunned by the Royal Family and be a victim of a smear campaign of negativity by the British press.
Ultimately, the unkind treatment of Megan Markle by the British monarchy and the media is simply a display of progressive attitudes clashing with conservative ones. It is a battle of ideas. Megan Markle married into a family that isn’t big on modernity or breaking with tradition. As much as I admire Meghan, I think it's better for her, Prince Harry and their children to live in America.
They’re both far too cool for the Royal Family anyway.
‘Blackness’ is a white European invention that makes sense in America but is lazily applied in Europe.
One of the books I've finally got round to reading since I have so much time to stay indoors now has been Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Half Of A Yellow Sun.' I am about 30% through it, and it's honestly one of the best historical fiction novels about Nigeria that I've ever read. Well-written, brilliantly researched and filled with a great cast of characters all living in Nigeria during the tragic Biafran war – Nigeria's first and only civil war.
There is a scene in the novel, and I won’t go into too much detail for spoilers, where an Igbo academic explains that the purest form of a Nigerian’s identity is essentially their tribe. The whole concept of 'blackness' is the invention of white Europeans who colonised and enslaved Africans.
It was a revelation in the book that hit me, and I had to re-read that part several times to digest it.
And I had to agree with the statement. This term ‘black people’ only exists outside of Africa. The entire concept of ‘blackness’ has not only robbed so many Africans and Caribbean of their true heritage, but it has effectively confined people with melanin skin and restrict us economically, socially and even culturally.
The very idea of blackness is probably the worst thing to happen to people of African descent.
Blackness was inevitable in America. But in Europe, it’s just lazy and dismissive
What it means to be a ‘black person’ is different across the diaspora. In my view, this concept of ‘blackness’ created by white Europeans has different connotations in America and Europe.
In America, the label of ‘blackness’ is inevitable. The children of African slaves who were shipped to the Americas have sadly lost any real connection to their African heritage. If you were to ask an African American where they are from, they would say from "New York" or "California." What else could they say? They see themselves as American. Since they have melanin-rich, brown skin, which signals their African heritage, they have been collectively labelled as African Americans, which they have proudly adopted. How else would you describe the population of people in America with African heritage who no longer have a link to Africa and, even if they do, it’s tenuous at best.
Even if an African American were to trace back their ancestry and head back to whatever country in Africa their ancestors came from, they would still be African Americans. You wouldn’t call them American Nigeran or an American Ghanaian unless their parents migrated to America during this century, so the connection to their motherland has not been tragically robbed from them.
But the idea of a collective ‘blackness’ in the European side of the diaspora doesn't make sense in the same way it does in America. In Europe, people with melanin-rich skin are very aware of where they came from in Africa or the Caribbean. Unlike African Americans, there is no disconnect to their African or Caribbean heritage.
In modern Britain, the term 'Black British' sounds odd to me now. A British Jamaican and a British Nigerian, the latter I identify as, are not the same, even if our shade of skin might be. Many, if not all, of the third and second generation of black people living in the UK today, have parents who had migrated from one of the former commonwealth colonies in Africa or the Caribbean. These children heard Yoruba, or Twi or Jamaican patois and ate African or Caribbean food at home. They heard, even if they didn't actively listen, to the African or Caribbean music from their motherland. It’s why Afrobeats, the popular music genre created mainly by the third- and second-generation European Africans, is so heavily influenced by music from the motherland. That kind of African influence is barely present in the R'n'B and Hip-Hop genre created by African Americans.
The term 'black people' to describe people with African heritage living in Europe is plain lazy. Instead, I would use the prefix 'British' in front of their place of origin or ancestry—for example, a British Nigerian. But the phrase 'black people in Britain' doesn't make much sense to me anymore. What exactly do you mean by 'black people' in a European context? It makes sense to use that term in America, but in Europe, it's just condescending. ‘Black people’ in Europe are not homogeneous in their culture the same way African Americans are in America.
Tribalism is the trustiest form of the African identity
This idea of blackness is ultimately a by-product of the transatlantic slave trade carried out by White Europeans between the 16th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, African Americans are reduced to being 'Black people' because their link to their African lineage has eroded over centuries. But it's important to remember that 'blackness' is not the identity of Africa's children.
Tribalism is the most authentic identity of every brown person whose ancestry begins in Africa. Even Nigerian nationality is a construct from the minds of white Europeans. My real identity, one that white European hands have not moulded, is British Yoruba. Both my parents are from the Yoruba tribe, so that is what I am. White Europeans did not create the Yoruba language and its customs. It is pure African culture.
Of course, I understand that using the term 'black people' or 'Black British' is a much simpler way to group various ethnic minorities. And I agree in that context. It would be a headache trying to group people by their ancestral tribes on a hospital form. I still label myself as a 'Black British' author because it’s easier for my author brand. But what is important is that I remember who I am. I will not allow myself to buy into the white European construct, especially in Europe, that I am just a "black person."
A recent friend of mine sent me this YouTube video of a white filmmaker named Michael explaining why white pride does not exist because there is no such thing as white culture. Michael argues that there is only white ethnic culture (e.g. German, Italian, Polish etc.), but there is no overall white culture. However, in his view, there is such a thing as a universal black culture because black people have collectively suffered under racism, systematic oppression and universal slavery.
To some extent, I agree with Michael’s well-articulated answer (he’s definitely allowed to spud me). However, for me, where he loses me is when he says a black culture exists because of black people's collective suffering. When he said this, I had to wince uncomfortably. I get where he is coming from, and I understand its well-intentioned, but equating black culture with black suffering is not only very harmful, it's a typical narrative driven by white people. Unfortunately, it's one which black people have dangerously convinced themselves to be true.
Let me break it down.
Slavery is not black culture. It’s black history.
In America, slavery will always be the needle that stitches the African American identity. As everyone knows, the ancestors of African Americans were kidnapped, gagged and chained. Ripped away from the African continent, these African slaves toiled and served under white masters for over hundreds of years. Almost 300 years after Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery, its legacy and long-lasting and damaging ramifications are still deep-rooted in America.
But is this black history or black culture? The dictionary definition of culture is:
“the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”
If we take the above description of culture as gospel, what are we implying if we believe that black people's enslavement is part of black culture? African Americans' subjugation and the systematic racism that hinder their progression cannot come under black culture. The slave trade was an entire ecosystem created by white people to profit from the bodies of African men, women and children. It's an unfortunate part of African American and black history, but it is not black culture.
Whenever I see a white person say or imply that slavery is black culture, I can’t lie, I do get triggered, and I am not a fan of that word. Slavery is black history, but it doesn’t make it black culture. For example, the Nazis and the Holocaust atrocity are part of German history. Still, I am sure if you asked most Germans today, they wouldn’t associate such horrific acts of human brutality with German culture.
In the same way, we should not be slapping slavery under the black culture label. I see many well-meaning white people and even some black people do this. Do you want to know why it has me worried?
Because if we do this, black culture becomes one focused too much on black people's suffering under white Europeans rather than a celebration of black people’s art, music, African history, clothing, various African ethnicities, and the fantastic food. Of course, the history of slavery will always influence black culture, but it's not representative black culture.
Black people did not create the transatlantic slave trade, and most did not profit from it. It was designed, enforced and exploited by white Europeans. Black people have made the best music on earth, delicious food, the best clothing style, and some of the world's best entertainers and sportsmen. That is black culture. Black people in America and worldwide should celebrate that as our culture and not our dark history written by white Europeans. Slavery and colonialism might unite black people under a shared history but it does not define black culture.