Black Lives Matter: Five times Meghan Markle has spoken out about racism

‘I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of colour and as your sister,’ said the Duchess of Sussex while on a royal tour of South Africa

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 04 August 2020 08:20
'I am sorry' Meghan Markle gives passionate speech to pupils of her former high school following George Floyd death

After the death of 46-year-old George Floyd triggered riots and protests around the world, the Duchess of Sussex spoke out against racism in a speech to those graduating from her former high school.

“I wasn’t sure what I could say to you,” said Meghan in a five-minute long address to Immaculate Heart school on Wednesday.

“I wanted to say the right thing... and I realised the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing because George Floyd’s life mattered and Breonna Taylor’s life mattered and Philando Castile’s life mattered and Tamir Rice’s life mattered.”

The 39-year-old royal credited a teacher at school for instilling her with certain values, saying: “One of my teachers, Ms Pollia, said to me, ‘always remember to put other’s needs above your own fears.’

“That has stuck with me throughout my entire life and I have thought about it more in the last week than ever before.”

The former Suits star went on: “I’m so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present.

“Now you get to be a part of rebuilding. And I know sometimes people say, ‘how many times do we need to rebuild?’ Well, you know what, we are going to rebuild and rebuild and rebuild until it is rebuilt. Because when the foundation is broken, so are we.”

It’s not the first time Meghan, who has identified as both mixed race and a woman of colour in the past, has dealt with the issue of racism.

After her relationship with Prince Harry became public knowledge in 2016, Kensington Palace issued a strongly worded statement on the couple’s behalf, which condemned “the racial undertones of comment pieces” and “outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments”.

Here are four other times the Duchess of Sussex has talked about race.

South Africa, 2019: ‘I am here with you as a woman of colour and as your sister’

During a royal tour of South Africa last year, Meghan didn’t shy away from talking about race. She said during one speech: “On one personal note, may I just say that while I’m here with my husband, as a member of the royal family, I want you to know from me I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of colour and as your sister.”

Personal essay, 2017: ‘People are unaware that I am the ethnically ambiguous fly on the wall’

In a moving essay for her former lifestyle blog, The Tig, Meghan wrote in detail about the racism she and her family have encountered.

She recounted her black grandfather telling her about being forced to eat in the car park at a KFC because of the colour of his skin.

“That story still haunts me,” she wrote. “It reminds me of how young our country is. How far we’ve come and how far we still have to come.”

Meghan added that, during her lifetime, “countless black jokes” had been told in front of her by people who were “unaware that I am the ethnically ambiguous fly on the wall.”

Despite it all, she finished the essay on a positive note: “To Martin Luther King Jr., to Harvey Milk, to Gloria Steinem and Cesar Chavez, to my mom and dad for choosing each other not for the ‘colour of their skin but the content of their character,’ to all of you champions of change: Thank you.”

Article for Elle, 2015: ‘My mom was called the “N” word’

Meghan penned a piece for Elle Magazine in 2015, in which she described an incident when her mother, Doria Ragland, was verbally abused by another driver in LA, who called her “the ‘N’ word”.

“My skin rushed with heat as I looked to my mom,” she wrote. “Her eyes welling with hateful tears, I could only breathe out a whisper of words, so hushed they were barely audible: ‘It’s OK, Mommy’.

“We drove home in deafening silence, her chocolate knuckles pale from gripping the wheel so tightly.”

She also described how Ragland, “caramel in complexion with her light-skinned baby in tow”, would often be mistaken for Meghan’s nanny.

However, Meghan also wrote about the lengths her father went to to normalise their family, sharing a story about one Christmas when she coveted a Barbie doll set.

“This perfect nuclear family was only sold in sets of white dolls or black dolls,” she said. “I don’t remember coveting one over the other, I just wanted one. On Christmas morning, swathed in glitter-flecked wrapping paper, there I found my Heart Family: a black mom doll, a white dad doll, and a child in each colour. My dad had taken the sets apart and customised my family.”

In the same piece, she talked about her great-great-great-grandfather, who had been a slave before abolition.

“Because 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,” she wrote.

“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.”

Campaign video, 2012: ‘The really offensive jokes hit me in a strong way’

Filmed as part of the ‘I Won’t Stand For...’ campaign for non-profit organisation Erase the Hate, a 2012 video of Meghan sees her wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with the words “I won’t stand for racism” as she opens up about her experiences of being mixed race.

“I’m biracial, most people can’t tell what I’m mixed with and so much of my life has felt like being a fly on the wall,” she said.

“And so some of the slurs I’ve heard, the really offensive jokes or the names, it has just hit me in a really strong way. A couple of years ago I heard someone call my mom the N-word.

“So I think for me beyond being personally affected by racism, to see the landscape of what our country is like right now and certainly the world and to want things to be better.”

In the video, filmed long before she married Prince Harry and gave birth to their son, Archie, Meghan also shares her dream that any children she had would be born into a better world.

“But I hope by the time I have children that people are even more open-minded to how things are changing and that having a mixed world is what it’s all about,” she says.

“Certainly it makes it a lot more beautiful and a lot more interesting.”

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