On the blackness of the royal wedding
Less than 10 years ago, Walt Disney Studios released The Princess and the Frog. It featured Disney’s very first black princess.
Despite the buzz and excitement around the movie, it was hard to digest that for the first time in nearly 100 years, one of the world’s most famous movie production companies was just debuting a black, female protagonist for the first time ever.
This weekend, we saw something similar play out in real life. Sure, Prince Harry isn’t a frog, and Meghan looks a lot whiter than Tiana, but the royal wedding certainly shared some of the same sentiments as that film release in terms of the momentousness of the occasion.
For one, the bride herself is biracial. Her mother, Doria Ragland, is a black woman who teaches yoga in California, with natural locked hair and a nose ring. Her father, Thomas Engleson, who was not in attendance at the wedding, is white.
Second, this wasn’t Markle’s first wedding. The divorcee stirred up quite a bit of conversation online when speculations arose that the two were dating. People slammed Prince Harry’s choice of girlfriend citing everything from her race to her career to her relationship history, causing him to release a pointed address to the media to back off.
This fresh and new face in the British monarchy is causing a lot of conversation online, but besides the designer of her dress, the Canadian connection and the celebrities in attendance, one thing we need to talk about is the blackness of this wedding.
One week before the couple’s nuptials, it was announced that Bishop Michael Curry, the leader of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., would be delivering the sermon. For anyone who’s been to a black church service before, Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding sounded familiar. But you could tell by the expressions on the faces of the people in the church, along with the reaction online, the sermon was a little different than what they’d expected, and certainly what they were used to.
Curry began and ended with quotes by civil rights activist Martin Luther King. In 14 minutes, he touched on heavy topics like slavery and the beginning of human civilization. But he also talked a lot about love, ending the sermon saying “My brothers and sisters that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.”
The attendees were also a lot more diverse than they’ve been in past years. There were several black guests, including Oprah, Serena Williams, Idris Elba and more. One woman even dressed in traditional African clothes and swapped her fascinator for a cultural headpiece.
In terms of music, Markle chose a young black cellist in addition to a traditional black gospel choir who sang a fantastic, soulful rendition of “Stand By Me”.
Currently, there are conversations online about why this wedding was such a big deal, whether she’ll ever be crowned and whether any of the fuss about the wedding was deserved.
It’s also no secret that part of the dialogue taking place in living rooms and comment section is the fact that Meghan Markle can pass, meaning if no one knew she was half-black, it could easily be believed she was full white. But the reason that statement has absolutely no merit in this conversation is because when it comes to being black, and I’m speaking as a bi-racial woman myself, it truly is a matter of the one-drop rule. Mixed people can identify as full black, but we cannot fully and comfortably say we are full white due to the racial implications of being black put in place by society.
So it doesn’t matter how she chooses to wear her hair. Or how fair her skin is. It doesn’t matter whether her nose is wide or narrow and long. None of that matters. Because Meghan Markle is black. And so was the wedding.
We can’t continue to demand the occupation of white spaces by black people and reject the black bodies that come to fill them. We cannot divide ourselves by shade, fairness, hair texture and other unnecessary categorizations at a time unity matters most.
And for those who missed the memo, this wedding was black history. While some might disagree with that statement, I refer back to the Princess and the Frog. On a micro-scale, two people got hitched and another Disney movie was released. But on a larger scale, in both instances, the first black princess makes her debut in a significant, widely seen, widely consumed institution mostly occupied by white people. The first African-American head of the Episcopal Church was summoned to deliver a sermon at the most significant wedding, perhaps in the world. The first black musician to win the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year Award performed at this wedding. And the performance of that choir goes without saying.
But perhaps the ultimate symbol of blackness throughout this wedding came at the very end. For those listening very closely, you might’ve heard the howls coming from black women offering up a traditional, musical sound, often recognized throughout Africa as congratulations.
When Whitney Houston died, millions of people all around the world tuned into her funeral. And if you can recall, it was a very traditional, black church service. It was said in the days following that funeral that the world went to church that day. And I’d like to think that this past weekend, in a white monarchy, in a historically white space, a little bit of melanin magic left a little bit of sparkle in the pews, the fascinators and the hearts of all those in attendance and all those who watched.