She Got a Big Ego: The Audacity of Meghan Markle
On a blistering hot day in the summer of 1996, 15-year-old Meghan Markle sat on the stiff black railings outside of Buckingham Palace with her good friend, Ninaki Priddy. Wearing an all black baby doll dress and sandals with her mane of curls pulled back into a ponytail, the teen smiled bashfully into the camera. Twenty years later, the Los Angeles native would become Her Royal Highness, Megan, Duchess of Sussex.
Meghan’s journey to secure the castle was hundreds of years in the making. It was unlikely enough that a biracial woman raised by a single Black mother in LA would make it to the halls of Northwestern University. It was even more improbable that Meghan would rise to fame as a fan favorite on the beloved USA drama series, Suits. However, if you take a closer look at the Duchess’ lineage, it’s obvious that this was the one role she was born to play.
Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, is a loc-wearing social worker with a nose piercing, and a love of yoga. A cinnamon-brown skinned woman, Ms. Ragland’s people hail from the crusted soil of America’s Deep South. Meghan’s 4x great-grandmother, Nancy Bowers, was born into slavery in Georgia in the 1820’s. After Emancipation, Nancy lived as a single mother and farmer who worked tirelessly, caring for her five children and grandchildren.
A legacy of powerful Black women is just one half of Meghan’s story. She also has roots in England — her new place of residence. The former actress’ 3x paternal great-grandparents, Thomas and Mary Ann Sykes, left Europe for the States in 1867. Once the Sykes landed on U.S. soil, Thomas began working as a coal miner. Many moons later, the Bowers and the Skyes would merge when Ragland met and married, Markle’s father, Thomas Markle, a television director of photography and lighting director. It was on the set of General Hospital at her father’s side that first invigorated Meghan’s love of acting.
This isn’t to say that Meghan’s journey to Queen Mary’s diamond bandeau tiara hasn’t been fraught with conflict. By the time she decided she wanted to try her hand in Hollywood, her dad was long gone — an expat in Mexico avoiding various IRS tax liens. Still, abandonment can teach you a lot of things, and Meghan learned that life had rules; she just needed to learn how to play them. Scrappy and determined, she took bit parts in TV shows and did calligraphy work in between acting jobs to pay her rent. But, the most significant thing she did – a decision that would leave her both vulnerable to critics and land her the role of a lifetime, was to become a woman without a race.
If you look at the Duchess of Sussex now, she could easily pass for a slightly tanned white woman. Long gone are her fluffy brown curls and in their place are sleek straight tresses. In fact, most folks were shook when The Wire’s Wendell Pierce showed up on Suits to play Meghan’s character’s father. Though she never deliberately said so, for much of her career in Hollywood, Meghan passed for “white.”
In a 2015 essay for Elle U.K., Meghan Markle: I’m More Than An ‘Other’ the philanthropist wrote openly about her heritage for the first time saying, “My dad is Caucasian, and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white. … While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.“ Meghan’s choice to stand outside of the box was an interesting one. It’s a pronouncement that has certainly afforded her the privilege of being called Her Royal Highness. We can only think that if her hue was more in line with her mother’s, she might not be having this regal moment.
Refusing to label herself was perhaps the 36-year-old’s most brilliant move. It was apparent then that she had a long-term vision for the life. It was a world that her first husband, actor/ producer Trevor Engelson ultimately didn’t fit into. After seven years together, Meghan and Engleson married in September 2011, only to divorce just two years later. According to royal biographer Andrew Morton’s new book Meghan, A Hollywood Princess, Meghan ghosted Trevor. He had no idea the divorce was coming. It was a cold and calculated move, one that many don’t expect women to make.
Meghan was never a woman to let a man define her — unless he enabled her to reinvent herself completely. After deleting Engleson from her life, she moved on swiftly, diving into her work on and off the screen. The off-screen work, her commitment to activism, supporting women and children’s rights is what really caught Prince Harry’s eye. Without this key component in her character arsenal, the pair may have never connected. Charity work isn’t new to Meghan, it’s in her blood. The Duchess’ 2X maternal great-grandmother, Gertrude Sadler, was well-known in her community for her charitable nature. She was heavily involved in Black charity groups, and in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, she was elected the president of the Charity Club — a relief group that gathered food and clothing for those living in poverty.
Charity and activism are what drew Meghan and the bad boy Prince to one another during that faithful blind date one summer evening in London in 2016. It was a chance meeting that would lead to marriage. Still, fate is a tricky thing. During the royal couple’s first BBC interview together after they announced their engagement, the actress proclaimed she didn’t know much about the royals or the House of Windsor. She said, “Because I’m from the States, you don’t grow up with the same understanding of the royal family. I didn’t know much about him.” Meghan’s comments certainly raised eyebrows. Having visited Buckingham Palace the summer before Princess Diana’s tragic death, Meghan would have been at a prime age to weep in anguish over the loss of People’s Princess. We think she knew way more than she let on.
And yet, whether Meghan was obsessed with Princess Diana and her sons or not, no one can fault her for putting on the performance of a lifetime. The fact that she appears genuine, poised, and warm at all times is something that not even the Queen of England herself has been able to master in over seventy years. Meghan’s capacity to be both so approachable and entirely untouchable is masterful. It’s a coat of armor that remains out of reach for most Black women.
The audacity of Meghan Markle is that she’s chosen her own box to stand in, and she revels in it. When her half-siblings on her father’s side were giving more energy then they could spare, selling stories about her to the tabloids, writing books, and urging her to call off her wedding Meghan remained unbothered. When fame obsessed associates dredged up even the slightest antidote about her, the Duchess of Sussex paid them dust. Instead, she sat poised next to her now-husband at St. George’s Chapel on a breezy May day, a coquettish smile on her face as Bishop Michael Curry gave his fiery sermon on love, an all-Black choir sang “Stand By Me,” and her weeping mother looked on. At that moment, Meghan Markle silently declared her Blackness. Her ego and her willingness to only accept the very best version of her life, allowed Meghan to create her own story – the Princess for the People. Whether it’s a narrative created in fact or fiction is something that still remains to be seen.
*This story was originally published in Issue 4 of the magazine \ Violet Summer Zine.