By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 05, 2017
Princess we are happy
You came our way
You could not stay.
This is a welcome
That has no end
Please pay us a visit
Now and then.
— The Mighty Sparrow
In 1955 Princess Margaret came to Trinidad to visit. Most of Her Majesty’s subjects felt elated. I attended Tacarigua AC School at the time. All of my fellow students lined the Churchill Roosevelt Highway with our flags (the Union Jack) to pay tribute to our princess. Two days later we headed down to the Queen’s Park Oval to give her a royal welcome.
Princess Margaret arrived on February 1. My sister Margaret was born on February 13. My mother named her Margaret Rose after Princess Margaret whose middle name was Rose and my grandmother (my mother’s mother) whose first name was also Rose. That was the closest that I ever came to royalty. Margaret remained my mother’s princess and, to all of us, she is royalty.
Today, black women, around the world are elated. They regard the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a symbol of their elevated status and a confirmation that their black and brown skins, seen previously as a badge of shame, is now a thing of beauty and acceptance.
The Daily Telegraph (London), a conservative newspaper, began its lead editorial on Tuesday in the following manner: “A divorced, mixed race, Hollywood actress who attended a Roman Catholic school is to marry the son of the next King. Such a sentence could simply not have been written a generation ago.
If this were written in the United States, the editor would have replaced “mixed race” with the word “black.” Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white mother and black father, identifies as black, a status he claimed on his census form. In its joy, The Daily Telegraph cautioned: “Perhaps it might have been different had the would-be groom been Prince William and just one remove from the throne.”
For a family that once shunned commoners, treated Catholics with scorn and made Harry’s great-granduncle (King Edward VIII) abdicate the throne because he fell in love with a divorced American socialite (Wallis Simpson), Harry’s daring was nothing short of revolutionary. Princess Margaret, his great-aunt, denied the permission to marry the man she loved, wallowed in alcoholism for most of her adult life.
I asked my students to respond to this union. One of them was disappointed that Markle chose to identify as “a confident mixed-race woman” because of her need to address her “racially ambiguous features.”
Another student mentioned that Markle could pass for white. She likened it to the “one drop of black blood will make you black” that was deeply embedded in the American consciousness. She placed Markle in the same category of “a vast majority of African American females, stars like Beyoncé and Mariah Carey, who are not fully black, exhibit paler skin tones and more European features,” which make them more acceptable to white people.
Yet another student wrote, “I do not believe that her acceptance by the royal family compensates for centuries of colonialism and post-colonial economic policies that continue to plague black populations.” While most of my students accepted the union, many could not get over the ingrained privileges white people have enjoyed over the centuries and a dominant Eurocentrism that pervades their world.
One month before Princess Margaret arrived in Trinidad, the Guardian ran a feature that read: “Princess Margaret, with delicate, small boned figure, small exquisitely shaped hands and feet, and expressive blue eyes, looks as if she might well have been created for the purpose of wearing beautiful clothes….
“As a child, she had golden hair; soft like her mother’s wide-open eyes, tiny ears and roguish smile. As she grew older her hair darkened slightly but lost none of its lustre. Her skin, never quite so fair as her sister’s, retained its delicate coloring.
“For a little time, in her early teens, she shed some of her childish daintiness, but that phase soon passed, and she emerged from a truly charming young woman to be with a face and figure to inspire dress makers in any part of the world (January 2, 1955).
These views constituted our daily consumption that whiteness was/is equal to beauty.
Harry and Meghan’s engagement has excited many people even as it has produced deep anxieties. One of my students noted, “Meghan Markle is a beautiful woman with what seems like a kind and gentle heart and great humanitarian aspirations. These traits make her an exciting public figure to follow. With the platform that comes with joining the British Royal family, Markle will have many opportunities to promote her humanitarian work. These philanthropic endeavors make her an ideal role model for other young women.”
My mother, the granddaughter of a Portuguese mother and black Bajan father, had definite views about race matters. She identified as black. She probably would have responded to Harry and Markle’s engagement with the words of St. Paul, “Every man in his own order.”
In pronouncing such a judgment, she would have wanted to wish them the best even as she asserted that all men and women are even (her word) as herself.