Biracial Or Black: Meghan Markle, Race And Language

Jan 16, 2018

As media outlets follow the engagement of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – they’re choosing to focus large amounts of attention on her ‘exotic’ biracial identity.

Most often we see her described as 'mixed or biracial' with little mention of her Blackness – while other biracial public figures like Barack Obama and Colin Kaepernick, are almost always referred to as Black, with little attention paid to the identities that also make them 'biracial.'

I grew up with grandparents who remember the significance of the 'one drop rule.' It declared that any person with even one ancestor of African origin is considered Black. This taught me that there’s a definite difference in the word Black and the word biracial and that the stigmas surrounding both are not the same.

As a mixed person, I’m apparently 'Black' if I’m making history by becoming the first person of color to become president – and therefore checking off highly visible boxes, or if I’m taking a public stand on an issue.

But I’m 'biracial' if I’m marrying into an elite European heritage, leaving me to wonder if, in that instance, the 'one drop rule' becomes suspended.

When I pose this question to friends, they often respond, “well, she chooses to identify as biracial and not Black” and, while this is true, I often find myself feeling uneasy about that explanation. And wondering, why, Kaepernick and Obama were never extended that same courtesy.

Perhaps the conversation would be different if Markle simply said, “I am a strong Black woman.” But if so, how?

I believe in loving everyone regardless of race, and, as a people, remaining critically aware of the language we use, as well as the narrative constructs that language builds around us. Being Black is about more than being steeped in controversy and confronting the status quo; being biracial is about more than being exotic or attempting to pass.

I identify as biracial AND Black, and I think the royal engagement of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry affords us a great opportunity to consider a fundamental question about race and language.

Given that the political, social, or life path of a person does to some extent dictate how we as a society view that person, how does bending a knee in protest make you Black, if a marriage into royalty makes you biracial?

Steffen Gillom is a practitioner of Conflict Resolution, an activist, an educator and an AmeriCorps VISTA service alum. Most recently, the bulk of his activism work is through the NAACP, where he currently serves as the Chair of the organizing Committee for the Windham County, Vermont, area.