Yesterday, I shook Meghan Markle’s hand. As a Suits fan, this was a pleasure, but as Markle is about to join the royal family it caused my republican self some consternation. As she shyly came forward to shake the hands of rows of (mainly) black women who had lined up to offer her their congratulations, I had become part of the raucous chorus of adoration.
My damp handshake represented the fact that, for many black women in the UK, Markle’s forthcoming ascension to the title of Duchess really means something; a stamp of approval from what is still, unfortunately, regarded as an important societal hierarchy. Although Markle is the acceptable, light-skinned face of blackness, whose experiences diverge from the majority of black women, she has still won the hearts and minds of many of my peers.
Meghan Markle on her visit to Reprezent 107.3FM. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images
The reason I saw Meghan and Harry in the flesh was because they were on their second official public engagement together, at Reprezent 107.3FM in Brixton, a community radio station that gives a platform to young presenters from diverse backgrounds and launched the careers of artist Stormzy and DJ Jamz Supernova.
Two members of gal-dem, a magazine and collective written and run by women and non-binary people of colour to improve media diversity, were able to greet her in a private area, tell her a little about the magazine (of which I am deputy editor, and which also has a show on Reprezent), and slip her a copy of an issue that focuses on subjects such as Grenfell, Calais, growing up mixed-race, and feminism in Saudi Arabia.
She had apparently heard of us and was excited to read the mag. My dreams last night were filled with the thought of little brown babies one day discovering the copy of gal-dem tucked away in the opulent bowels of Kensington Palace, becoming radicalised, renouncing their titles and overthrowing the monarchy.
It is fair to say I am still not actively excited by Markle joining the ranks of the royal family, but perhaps her presence will do a pinch of good within them. It is difficult to know how much she will be used to fulfil the irritatingly fashionable diversity quota that every public body needs in 2018 to stay relevant, or whether she will be able to lead the way with some autonomy.
As Markle is an ardent feminist who has advocated for women and people of colour, I have a little faith – even though she has now deleted all her social media channels, which were once so active and supportive of women. And, of course, she has also said goodbye to her acting career. Even so (and problems with the institution of monarchy aside), black British women certainly have Markle’s back.