In response to Meghan Markle’s recent Oprah interview, Tara Gandhi discusses why telling people of colour to be happy with a “less racist” Britain isn’t good enough.
I remember their wedding day. I didn’t watch it, because that was the day I was moving out of Queen Margaret Residences and I was distracted trying to clear the suspicious gunk out of the freezer and persuade my parents that I didn’t have too many blankets. But I remember it, and I remember the public feeling, and I remember the hope. What a hopeful day that was for women of colour. I knew that being a princess is not the goal we should be striving for, and I knew that the institution of the royal family was deeply and ultimately flawed. But… we had a brown princess. A woman of colour in the royal family! It felt hopeful and exciting and like a Good Thing. And then time passed and it got harder to ignore the vitriol that surrounded her. But at least she’s happy, I thought. At least she’s being protected and looked after and loved. And now we come to the miserable end of that hopeful image; she wasn’t protected, loved only by her husband, and far from happy. These past few weeks it’s been (even more than usual) depressing to be a woman of colour in Britain. To see what the establishment, what the leaders of the country, the media, and much of the public think of us when the chips are down.
The fact is, there is no version of us that is allowed. The most beautiful, well-spoken, well-meaning and classy version of us is unacceptable. Mixed race women are revered because we’re palatable, just the right about of brown or Black to be interesting, exotic and tan, but we still are passable as White or Mediterranean, and there doesn’t need to be any concern about our behaviour because at least one of our parents will have raised us the British way. But when it comes down to it at the end of the day, we are still not White. And that is not good enough.
Before the interview, they said she wasn’t Black enough to experience racism, and then they thought Archie would be too brown to be a Prince, or to even be protected. Such is the contradiction of being mixed race. You are a “coconut”: too whitewashed to fit in with one culture, and not White enough for the other. And I know being mixed comes with its privileges. We are afforded luxuries and benefit of the doubt that our non-mixed person of colour (POC) friends are not. When it comes to issues of colourism, we benefit the most. But we also exist in a limbo, overexerting our identities to fit into either of our heritages. I can’t be English because neither of my parents are, but I can’t be Indian because I was born in England and don’t speak Hindi. I’m not Northern Irish because I look Indian and have an English accent. It’s exhausting. Mixed people are never enough of one thing to make people happy.
Then, after the interview, we had to watch people try to excuse racism, with Jane Moore on Loose Women saying that it was probably just “casual racism” and so shouldn’t be criticised. We have seen pundits and journalists and TV personalities more outraged that Meghan would dare to point out racism than that she has had to face it. This is a perfect example of the specific, subtle, British form of racism that British POC have been talking about for so long. Because Black boys aren’t being gunned down in the street, we should be happy. We should let the royal family be a little racist because they are old and special. The British media can’t be racist because there were a handful of positive front pages following Harry and Meghan’s engagement. Things aren’t as bad as they are in America, aren’t as bad as they used to be, so we just grow thick skin and handle what we get, because we’re lucky to live in this country, in this time. But in the words of the great Dave, “the least racist is still racist”. There is no “acceptable” level of racism. And there is no acceptable level of racist abuse that Meghan, or any other POC in the UK, should have to face.
Incidents like this hurt, as a POC, as a British Asian, as a mixed person. Harry himself has spoken about not realising the unconscious bias that he carried until he met Meghan, and whenever these national conversations about race happen, it is just a reminder that my White friends, as well-meaning and anti-racist as they are, simply don’t have to factor in the daily microaggressions we face that beat us down. They have the luxury of never having to think about race. Meanwhile, in four years, I’ve only ever had one seminar with another South Asian in it. I take politics, and every time the Middle East, racism, islamophobia, terrorism or migration is brought up, people look at me. I’m a Hindu. Yet for four years, I have been the racial ambassador in my classes, grinning and bearing the microaggressions and ignorance I face every time. And the class I did share with another South Asian? She was a hijabi, and entirely unprompted, the lecturer asked her to translate an ancient version of the Qur’an in front of the entire group. It is exhausting, living every day and having to think about your race.
I’m sick of having to act as a racial ambassador, I’m sick of having to mould my mixed heritage to fit whatever box makes it easier for people to understand me. I’m sick of being told to be happy with a society that is “less racist”, that is an expert at hiding its racism in microaggressions and subtleties. I’m not surprised Meghan left. And I’m not surprised that Charles, or Camilla, or whoever it was, was worried Archie would be too dark. This is the country we have all been living in, just some people get to not notice. British people of colour are told to grin and bear it, and we have been – but now everyone else has noticed, it feels like a good time to spark some change.