Race & royalty don’t mix: The British royal family wasn't ready for Meghan and Archie

Sophia A. Nelson, Opinion contributor
·6 min read

I am of mixed race. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers have a white father or a white grandfather who married their Black mothers. My two nieces (ages 18 and 23) are of mixed race. Their mother is white. They look a bit like Meghan Markle. Fair skinned, dark long beautiful straight hair, freckles, more white features, but still identifiably Black.

One of the clearest and frankly most heartbreaking takeaways from the jaw-dropping Oprah interview with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, on Sunday via a CBS special was when Meghan talked about her unborn son, and that an unnamed member or members of the “royal family” had raised questions about young Archie’s possible “skin color” and how “dark” he might be. Full stop.

This is 2021. How ignorant can anyone on earth be that they do not know that mixed-race children who are (as in the case of Archie 3/4ths white) will very likely look white. Or as we say in the Black community, they can “pass” for white.

The crown has shown a lack of cultural literacy

Meghan told Winfrey that she and Harry did not choose to forgo a title for baby Archie, (the first mixed-race royal since Queen Charlotte sat on the throne in the 1800s). She said she was told that the rules prevented it, at least until his grandfather, Prince Charles, ascended the throne. But she shocked Winfrey when she said they were told that the baby could not get royal security without a title.

All this suggests it was driven by race, class and a really bad sense of cultural literacy about why this new baby was such a special gift to the stuffy nearly 200-year-old, very white, very Germanic monarchy and not a burden.

Many biracial children in America and abroad have a tough time fitting in. They are two parts of no whole. Meaning one part is white, caucasian. But they cannot claim to be white. The other part can be Black or brown, and they cannot claim to be fully that either.

In this new brave world of “mixed race” children — of which according to a 2017 Pew Research Study, 1 in 7 U.S. infants (14%) born in 2015 were multiracial or multiethnic (nearly triple the share in 1980) — we still have a long way to go. My nieces consider themselves “Black” — just as did my paternal grandmother consider herself Black (even though she was a mulatto).

My great, great maternal grandmother “Viney” was a slave girl, who ran off with my white great-great-great grandpa Henry (a slave owner’s son from Georgia). They fell in love. They could not get married due to the miscegenation laws of the post-Civil War in the mid-1860s. They fled to Oklahoma then to California, where they married and had 11 kids. Their kids were considered “negro” or “colored."

Oprah Winfrey and  Meghan Markle on March 5, 2021.
Oprah Winfrey and Meghan Markle on March 5, 2021.

It all goes back to the infamous “one drop rule”: which is a uniquely American phrase coined during slavery for the purposes of identifying slave children who were often fathered by white men on the plantations that owned them. The children were whatever race their mother was — so if she was a Black slave, her children, even though half white, were still Black. It was a slick practice that deprived mulatto slave children of any legal rights to property or otherwise that their white fathers might have had. Those rights and privileges were passed only to legitimate white children.

In a powerful PBS "Frontline" piece about the one drop rule, author F. James Davis writes: “Not only does the one-drop rule apply to no other group than American blacks, but apparently the rule is unique in that it is found only in the United States and not in any other nation in the world. In fact, definitions of who is black vary quite sharply from country to country, and for this reason people in other countries often express consternation about our definition.”

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We are not unlike many Black families in America who have white blood in our immediate family lines. And like many more American families who have mixed race ancestry and either do not know it, or do not speak about it. That includes our white brothers and sisters who have great-great-grandparents or further back who were once slaves and who once free could “pass for white” and blended in.

This issue goes to the very heart of our founding as a great nation: Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, is known to have fathered at least six children with his mulatto slave Sally Hemings, and we know that at least two of Jefferson’s children left home and passed for white. They were never heard from again by their brother Madison, who gave this account of the family lineage in 1873 to the Pike County Republican newspaper in Ohio.

America clearly is still struggling with race. Just take a look at voter suppression laws being enacted in the South, and our current national dialogue around race, policing, diversity and equity. But the British royal family seems stuck in the dark ages relative to race. In America, we have been forced to confront our racial issues head on since the Civil War, throughout Jim Crow and during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It was just in my lifetime, the year I was born in 1967, that my home state of Virginia legalized marriage between the races in the landmark Supreme Court Case of Loving vs. Virginia. That was only 54 years ago.

Royalty was not ready for Meghan Markle

In the final analysis, clearly race and royalty do not mix in the minds of many in the British media, the British upper classes and among the very white parts of the British Empire, or commonwealth, as it is now known. The royal family was clearly not ready for a Meghan Markle — just as they were not ready for Princess Diana. Worse though is that little 1/4 Black Archie has been shunned and denied his royal privileges.

The result is a further deeply wounded, deeply scarred Prince Harry, who was cut off by his callous father, heir to the throne Prince Charles, and he had to literally flee with his wife and child to America for safety and empathy.

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The royals should be ashamed. And they should make this right with a formal apology to Meghan and to Harry, and the queen should make a very public move to restore Archie to his rightful place as a welcomed and loved member of her royal family.

Sophia A. Nelson is an adjunct professor at Christopher Newport University in Virginia and the author of “E Pluribus ONE: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America.” Follow her on Twitter: @IAmSophiaNelson

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Oprah interview: The royals weren't ready