Here's What The Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry Means for Black Women
I was 11 when I crawled out of bed in the wee hours of July 29, 1981 to witness what I believed would be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
In just a few moments the royal wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles would be broadcast for all the world to see, and I was going to have a front row seat in front of my small black-and-white TV. I couldn’t wait to see the pomp and circumstance, the pageantry, and the finished design of the top-secret dress everyone was buzzing about weeks earlier.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles' royal wedding on July 29, 1981
I lived for the chance to see a real-life Cinderella story play out right before my eyes, and when the archbishop of Canterbury said “this is the stuff of which fairytales are made,” I felt as if the entire royal family had just invited me to tea.
But as I outwardly cheered on the happy couple, I felt a familiar feeling arise in me. The last time I’d experienced it was the day I opened the pages of a magazine and saw the actress Bo Derek wearing her hair in braids, realizing at that moment the hairstyle my ancestors had proudly designed for our unique kinky-textured hair was now being attributed to a young American White woman. The ornamental braids and decorative beads my Black sisters and I wore proudly were one of a very few things we could definitively link to our African-American heritage, and now some random magazine had the nerve to reduce our hairstyle to “The Bo Derek look.”
Actress Bo Derek wears cornrows for the movie "10."
I also recognized it when I’d watch hundreds of long, straight-haired, blue-eyed “All-American” women compete for the Miss America crown. So few of them looked anything like me, and with the exception of events like Miss Black America, a nationally televised pageant for African- American women that aired the day before Miss America, the beauty of African-American women was rarely celebrated in mass media.
What was clear to me the moment I watched Lady Diana Spencer ascend the stairs of St. Paul’s Cathedral was that no matter how smart I was, how capable I was of being a leader, or how much I wanted the opportunity to pursue my own fairytale, Black women were not considered an appropriate match for members of British royalty. If I wanted to have any kind of Cinderella story, I’d have to create my own.
So that’s just what I and so many other African-American women set out to do. Today, Black women are leaders and decision makers in a variety of spaces, unapologetically bold in our demands for gender and racial equality. We no longer tolerate being told who, what or how to be; we create our own unique definitions of what it means to be an African-American woman, sporting boldly our variances in personal choices, skin tone, gender identification and sexual orientation. This is our renaissance and rebirth.
So for many of us, witnessing Saturday’s royal wedding between a woman of African-American descent and a prince of the British royal family was a full-circle moment. As we watched this beautiful biracial woman say “I do,” I know many of us couldn’t help but recall a time when Black and mixed-raced women were considered the property of White slave owners and surely weren’t allowed the privilege of marriage.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at their wedding at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle
Said Denise Crawford who flew in from Brooklyn, NY to witness what for her was an historic event, “one of the children of slaves is marrying a royal whose forerunners sanctioned slavery; the lion is lying down with the lamb.” I saw that sentiment echoed several times as Bishop Michael Curry’s "power in love" sermon took us all straight to the Black Church. And I almost broke into my own early-am-pajama-wearing praise dance when Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir sang “This Little Light of Mine” during the newly-married royal couple's church exit.
Witness the full speech delivered by Bishop Michael Curry
at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
And the icing on the royal wedding cake couldn't have been sweeter than the warmth I experienced seeing St. George’s Chapel filled with accomplished, strong, beautiful brown-skinned women like Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams. As my eyes panned this room full of colorful people I felt something in me rise. But it was nothing like the feeling I'd had during the 1981 royal wedding broadcast. This was something new. This was pride. This was honor. This was true happiness.
This was the stuff of which my fairytales are made.
Today our sister Meghan Markle, a woman of African-American decent, became the Duchess of Sussex, taking a hand in marriage to Prince Harry.
Today, I, as a Black woman, rejoice at this evolution in the British monarchy. There once was a time when African-American people could enter houses of Whites only with strict permission, and we were made to use the back door. Today, we have the keys to the castle.