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Culture Clash: Royal Wedding

Of all the movies in theaters, plays on stage, and weddings all over the world, none drew attention to match that of the royal wedding on Saturday. People set alarms and woke up early to spot celebrities, critique the wedding dress, give meaning to Queen Elizabeth II’s expressions, and see the way Prince Harry and Meghan Markle looked at each other during the ceremony at St. George’s Castle.

Markle arrived by car with her mother, Doria Ragland, and stepped out in a silk dress by British designer Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy. The palace described it as “timeless minimal elegance.” With a boat neckline, long sleeves, and no embellishments, the soft matte dress drew attention to her shoulders and waist. It stayed true to Markle’s minimalist sophistication and preference for an understated aesthetic. Her hair was styled in a low chignon bun and she wore the diamond bandeau tiara from Queen Elizabeth II’s collection. The trim of her 16-foot silk tulle veil, also designed by Waight Keller, was a composition of distinctive flora from each of the 53 Commonwealth countries, hand-embroidered in silk threads and organza. The yellow elder was representative of The Bahamas.

Celebrities in attendance included Amal Clooney, Victoria Beckham and, Serena Williams and their husbands, Oprah Winfrey, Gina Torres, and Idris Elba.

To enjoy, or not to enjoy?

On Saturday, everyone was talking about the royal wedding. Even those who claimed they did not care about it made statements to assure everyone that they, in fact, did not have any interest in the event. Some even took time to berate or subtly shame people who watched the ceremony or commented on any aspect of the event. There seemed to be two camps — the completely enthused and the utterly uninterested (who still needed to be involved in the conversations of the completely enthused). The first camp was seen as mentally enslaved, foolishly addicted to colonialism, and the reason we are not in a better position today. The second camp, through its most vocal members, became the thief of joy. Because of slavery, colonialism, and the continued effects of white supremacy, they said there should be no black person with an ounce of interest in the royal wedding.

Let’s face it. Most of us are interested in the weddings, funerals, birthday parties, baby showers, and vacations of complete strangers. No? How many days has it been since you looked through pictures of someone else’s event because someone you know (or sort of know) was tagged in one of the photos and you just kept going, because why not?

We can — and should — be angry about slavery and colonialism. We should be a part of the movement for reparations. It should bother us to see people continue to benefit from kidnapping, slavery, murdering, cultural genocide, and crimes and injustices that go unacknowledged by perpetrators and beneficiaries. This, however, does not mean we cannot seek and find joy in the pomp and pageantry of a royal wedding, the supposed discomfort of the queen, the possibility of royal children with afros, the imagination of the monarchy being taken down, or spirited arguments with friends and family members about aspects of the ceremony and its guests.

We can love Wakanda and still sip tea throughout the ceremony, celebrating every drop of blackness we find, real or imagined. We deserve that much. A little bit of joy goes a long way and, for some people, that wedding was the beginning of something else.

Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement, the discussion about the royal family and race has been endless. Many seem to expect Markle’s presence, as a biracial person in the British royal family, to revolutionize it.

What does Meghan Markle represent?

Meghan Markle is an American woman with a white father and black mother. She has worked as an actress, best known for her role as Rachel Zane in Suits. She is divorced. She is not a typical “royal.” She has had a career, public persona, and demonstrable interests. The Tig — her now defunct lifestyle blog — gave insight into her love for food, wanderlust, and engagement in sociopolitical issues. She comes across as both a dreamer and a practical person and, overall, quite low-key.

Markle has been the kind of black woman it is easiest to like. To love. To respect. To idolize. She is not only light-skinned, but has a biological proximity to whiteness. She has been what most consider to be modest. She has been likable; not controversial in her statements or actions. She is “respectable.”

To the optimistic among us, she signals the acceptance of black people and blackness by the royal family. Maybe she will breathe new life into the family, relax the formalities, and expose personalities. Maybe.

There has been a lot of talk about what Meghan Markle represents for us, but far less about what she represents for the royal family. Might they have an agenda of their own? The family has always been known as stuffy and uptight. Princess Diana brought a new energy that does not seem to have stuck around since her death. They may have realized that, at this point, a change in brand could be helpful. This is not to say that her relationship with Prince Harry is not real, but that the unexpected acceptance — or the illusion of acceptance — could be strategic.

Think about what Princess Diana brought to the family. Recall the reactions to her death. Look at the conversations taking place everywhere, everyday, about gender, race, class, and migration. Markle’s place in the family is no more the end of racism or an erasure of slavery than Obama’s presidency. It looks good, it feels good, and it encourages optimism, but it might not be all we think or dare to hope.

What can we expect from the Duchess of Sussex?

She is certainly different from what we might expect of a “royal.” On the wedding day alone, she made this clear. She was intentional about including black people such as  The Most Rev Michael Bruce Curry of the Episcopal Church, Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir, and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. She went unescorted until the Quire where main guests were seated, accompanied by Prince Charles the rest of the way. Her Cartier earrings were worn for at least the third time on that day. Still, she entered the British royal family. She was baptized and confirmed in a private ceremony, becoming a member of the Church of England. She wore jewels from the queen’s collection. How much will she change, and how much will she be changed?

In her blog post titled “How to Be Both,” Markle explained the bridge between her two worlds — one where she was a successful actress, and another where she did humanitarian work.

“I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches – I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works. And this type of work is what feeds my soul, and fuels my purpose. The degree to which I can do that both on and off camera is a direct perk of my job.”

It will be interesting to see how life as a duchess will suit her, or how she will suit it. We will soon see how she balances that new life with existing interests, and whether or not she will find a way to share it with the world, similar to the way she shared her lifestyle on The Tig.

Published in The Tribune on May 23, 2018.

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