By Miranda Larbi
My boyfriend and I were standing outside Wasabi in Piccadilly Circus when it happened, holding each other’s hands and bags of sushi.
“I have to tell you this: you are such a striking couple!” We looked up to see a friendly older woman standing in front of us, beaming as she said it. “I wonder what your children would look like!” This wasn’t the first time that someone had discussed our future offspring in front of us, but it was the first time a complete stranger had felt within their rights to do so.
As a bi-racial woman living in the UK, the color of my non-existent children is a recurring subject of conversation. It has come up in almost every romantic relationship I’ve had, with people seemingly invested in our relationship and baby-making potential. While dating a Black man, those comments seemed to come largely from strangers; when dating white men, invariably they’ve come from their own family and friends. Just how Black would our kids be?
When Meghan Markle revealed in Sunday’s interview with Oprah Winfrey that there had been a conversation about the color of Archie’s skin before he was born, I couldn’t decide if I was surprised or not. On one hand, conversations on the skin tone of potential children is almost universal among interracial couples and multiracial people in the UK. Yet Markle’s revelation was still jarring.
The public was in disbelief, but they shouldn’t have been
For many, asking about skin color is seen as simply “taking an interest” or encouraging what they see as progress. How many of us have heard that the future is “brown,” and that soon, “everyone will be mixed race”?
But Meghan described the conversation about Archie as one involving “concerns” over how dark the future baby would be. It suggests that for some members of the royal family, there’s a “right” and a “wrong” shade to be — and the “wrong” shade is dark.
The British public’s reaction to Markle’s revelations that these conversations had occurred was perhaps the most interesting aspect. Most TV shows, radio programs, and news articles that have come out since the interview aired have been hooked on the Archie conversation. The public seems to be collectively reeling in disbelief that anyone could care about Archie’s skin color, or that this would ever be a conversation topic.
Yet this is also a country in which people of color are routinely disbelieved over the racism they face, where Black Lives Matter marches are written off as “dreadful” acts, and where national newspapers print headlines like “Straight outta (nearly Compton)” about Markle. For the public to respond with such surprise glosses over the fact that Markle has received racist treatment from them from the get-go, and it also conveniently forgets a long history of anti-Blackness in the UK — and in the royal family.
It never ceases to amaze me how naive and willfully ignorant people can be when it comes to deeply uncomfortable subjects like racism.
It’s not uncommon for people in interracial relationships or from multiracial backgrounds to field these questions
In speaking to other people from multiracial backgrounds, I’m struck by how prevalent this discussion of unborn children is. Almost everyone has a story involving family members, friends, colleagues or strangers discussing how dark their future children would be, or what kinds of eyes or hair they’d have. I don’t think that it necessarily comes from a bad place. These people aren’t always racist; they’re just entitled.
I went to a university where people jokingly called me a “darkie” and asked repeatedly if my dad could speak or understand English. (My dad, a multiracial man himself, was born in North London.) I started to experience the dissection of my race from people I thought of as friends, who wanted to know more about why I was my color when my dad was so much darker, and how my hair became “hybrid.”
Like Markle, self-identifying as “bi-racial” has been ignored by some white people who think that our otherness is more important than accuracy. One university boyfriend continually expressed how excited he was to “introduce his Black girlfriend to his cousins.” He, too, would often imagine what our kids would look like and how much they’d upset his family back in Ireland.
When I discussed the skin tone conversation on Twitter, a white follower spoke of her own experience as the mother of multiracial children, writing that it had been “fun guessing what [her children] would look like. The science of widening the gene pool is fascinating.” Compare that response to one of a multiracial friend of mine — also a mother — who complained of friends treating her then-unborn child’s skin tone as “their own business.”
Are questions over skin color an invasive curiosity, genuine interest, or a suggestion of something more sinister?
Markle, I’d argue, only got so close to the palace because of her near-white passing complexion. It’s unimaginable to me that a darker-skinned Black woman would have come anywhere close to Harry’s inner circle, let alone be allowed to marry and have a child with him. That contrast of racism and privilege is unique to biracial people, and one that our potential children will have to bear as well.
While she may have become a Duchess, Meghan seems to be suggesting that for her offspring to have been considered royals, they, too, would have had to pass an appalling and offensive test. The interview, and the way that it’s been covered by the British press — with the burden of “proving” racism once again put on non-white people — tells us all we need to know about the deeper parts of UK society.
It’s all well and good to celebrate our multiculturalism and diversity, but at the end of the day, shade still matters. Black people know that, and rightfully call out colorism and the role that multiracial people often play in that. But we’re seeing that color matters all the way up the social ladder.
Racism is still alive and kicking in the UK, and Markle’s experience is far from the exception.
Miranda Larbi is a freelance writer and editor based in London. She specializes in race, sustainability and fitness.
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