Global News with Annette Henry 08 May 2019
Since she started dating Prince Harry, Meghan Markle — whose father is white and mother is Black — has been the subject of racist attacks online.
In November 2016, Kensington Palace released a statement urging the media to halt articles with “racist undertones.”
In February 2017, the couple was sent a suspicious package with a racist note.
And in March of this year, the Palace increased social-media monitoring to combat racist comments made against the Duchess of Sussex, who identifies as bi-racial.
Now, the pair have welcomed their firstborn son, and he is the first “mixed race” baby to be born into the modern British Royal Family.
According to Dr. Ronald Hall, an expert in race relations and a professor in the department of social work at Michigan State University, it’s likely that this child will receive some of the same treatment as his mother.
Taking one look at social media in the days after the baby’s arrival confirms this. Mere moments after the first images of the newborn were revealed, racist trolls were abound on sites like Twitter.
“Old stereotypes — and ugly stereotypes — die hard,” Hall said.
In his view, racism in western countries isn’t as bad as it was 100 years ago — but we still have a long way to go.
“Anything and everything that this kid does from childhood and adulthood is going to be scrutinized to the nth degree,” said Hall.
Annette Henry, a professor in the department of language and literacy education at the University of British Columbia, agreed.
She referred to the racist treatment of the Duchess of Sussex to prove her point.
“Clearly, [Markle] is going to have to do some protecting,” Henry told Global News.
“Already, we see how Harry has been very protective of her and come to her defence.”
However, Henry isn’t sure how this will manifest in the baby’s life because he’s a royal.
“That child [will live] such a protected life,” Henry said. “They’re different than us… everyday people.”
The nuances of complexion
Hall has done an abundance of research on how skin colour affects success and added the newborn’s skin tone will be critical.
He discovered a correlation between lighter skin and access to more money, better jobs and better education.
“Your quality of life is going to be significantly better if you have more Caucasian features.”
Therefore, Hall said the baby will struggle less with racism if he looks more like his dad, Prince Harry.
“The physiological ideal is Caucasian features with lighter skin,” Hall said.
“He will have it much easier than if he’s darker complected or if he takes the features of Meghan’s mother, [Doria Ragland].”
Should the baby have predominantly white features, however, he will still struggle with negative Black stereotypes — though perhaps to a lesser degree.
“It’s known as the One Drop theory in western culture,” Hall said.
“It is believed that one drop of Black blood defines you as Black, even if [you’re] blond-haired and blue-eyed.”
This reality often opens up a mixed-race person to scrutiny and ridicule, regardless of how they act.
Hira Singh, an expert in social inequality and a professor of sociology at York University in Toronto, places this within the context of the monarchy’s problematic history.
“[The new royal baby] will have to confront the hidden and open, conscious and unconscious ideas, prejudices relating to race cemented from the past and continuing in the present,” Singh said.
According to Singh, race is a structure created in order to differentiate between white and non-white people.
The superiority of the white race was promulgated worldwide by the British monarchy during colonization.
“The burden of resistance falls on the racialized groups,” Singh said. “The baby, as part of that group, will have to bear that burden.”
‘Too white or not Black enough’
Hall said often, the issue of skin colour is more critical for women than it is for men.
“Society values women for their beauty,” he said. “If they’re not lighter-complected, there are going to be challenges. If they are light-complected, there will also be challenges.”
Some light-skinned women often struggle to prove their Blackness to the people around them.
“You have African-American women with naturally green eyes or naturally blond hair, and they’re always going to be put aside… not considered Black,” Hall said.
These are the same women that may get attention from men because lighter skin is considered more attractive — they could be fetishized for their whiteness.
However, the situation only marginally improves for light-skinned Black men, Hall added.
According to Hall, some mixed-race men are commonly scrutinized for their masculinity (or lack thereof). He uses the example of NBA players to illustrate his point.
“Kobe Bryant was quoted [saying], ‘Take it to the hole like a dark-skinned dude,’” said Hall.
“This simply means that, on the basketball court, darker-skinned men are respected as more aggressive and more manly, [while] lighter-skinned men are [seen as] soft, not aggressive, not manly.”
Ultimately, Hall predicted the new royal baby will struggle with feeling “too white or not Black enough.”
Preparing the baby
With Markle having been subjected to racist treatment by the public, it’s likely she will draw on that experience to help prepare her newborn son.
In Hall’s opinion, how she does that will, again, rely heavily on the baby’s skin tone.
“If he’s lighter-complected, [Markle] may want to emphasize pride in the history of his African ancestry and prepare him for people who are going to challenge his ethnicity,” Hall said.
“If he’s darker-complected… she may want to make sure that he is aware of his British ancestry.”
“Complexion is going to be the most important aspect of his life,” Hall said.
Henry is on the edge of her seat, hopeful that this is the beginning of a new era for the Royal Family.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they craft this,” she said.
“I think [Markle] will probably make sure the child is surrounded by a range of people with a range of backgrounds.”
She hopes the increased representation within the family will force a larger conversation about diversity and inclusion — but whether or not this will make a difference for society at large, Henry is unsure.
“We have a rising tide of neo-nationalism,” she said. “Politically speaking, it’s scary what’s happening in Canada and the U.S. and in Europe, so… I don’t know.”