June 25, 2018

Race, Identity, and the British Royal Family

12_01446By Angelique Harris

On November 18, 2016, Kensington Palace, the residence and office of the British Royal Family issued a statement on behalf of Prince Harry. Part of this statement read:

His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public - the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.

This is the first time Kensington Palace has issued such an emotional statement that not only publicly recognized the relationship between Markle and Harry, but it recognized the racism and sexism that Markle, who is biracial or of mixed race, and her mother, who is Black, faced. We often hear about racism in the U.S., but the relationship between Markle and Harry, as one article put it, exposed “Britain’s ‘quiet and unique brand of racism.”

After their wedding day, when Markle and Harry became the Duchess and Duke of Sussex, a German candy company released an image of a chocolate candy in a wedding dress on their site in honor of the marriage, and quickly issued a statement apologizing for the image. Markle, who has a White father, has written and spoken publicly about the racism she has experienced and how her biracial identity is often overlooked, as she’s frequently encouraged to choose one racial identity over another.

She writes, “‘What are you?’ A question I get asked every week of my life, often every day. ‘Well,’ I say, as I begin the verbal dance I know all too well.”

The racism and discrimination that Markle has publicly experienced helps highlight the similar plight that other multiracial people often face, bringing additional attention to how their multiple racial identities are often overlooked. For example, although he had a White mother, President Obama was widely viewed as the first Black president. As sociologists, we are deeply aware of the impact that one’s actual and perceived identities have on the ways in which they are treated by others and how this can impact their overall quality of life. What makes all of this so fascinating is that race, and our understanding of it, is socially and culturally constructed.

Let’s first examine by what we mean by construction. Social constructionism is the belief that knowledge is product of a particular culture or society. As such, all knowledge and information is constructed all the time. Importantly, people with power have the ability to construct their realities and the ways they see the world as “normal” and what is “other.”

As you might learn in an Introduction to Sociology course, our social identities (i.e. gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc.) are all constructed based on various social and cultural factors. There is no genetic basis to race, and, for the most part, ancient societies divided people based on social class and status, religion, even language, but not physical characteristics. As such, race is a socially defined and constructed category based on physical characteristic and presumed genetic heritage.

Unlike race, ethnicity is based on culture, and people who identify themselves as having a common ancestor. As we are taught to think about race in very “black/white” categories, people often overlook the experiences of people, who like Markle, make up more than one race. The largest single growing racial demographic in the nation is comprised of those who have more than one racial background. Multiracial babies accounted for only 1% of the babies born in 1970, but rose to 10% in 2013. We have also seen an increase in interracial marriages from 12% in 2013 to 17% in 2015.

Although most multiracial people are proud of their heritages, a majority also report having been subjected to offensive racial jokes and slurs. In fact, only 4% view their multiracial background as having had a disadvantage in their lives. Nonetheless, one of the challenges that mixed-race people often face is whether or not they identify as multiracial or monoracial, or with one racial identity.

Research shows that much of this decision is based on privilege and status. For example, those who were Asian/White and those who were middle class were more likely to identify as biracial as opposed to those who are Black/White and Latinx/White and who are working class, who were more likely to identify as Black or Latinx. The researchers conclude this study by suggesting, “claiming a biracial identity is a choice that is more available to those with higher status.”

We still find the “one drop” rule, or the notion from the antebellum South that people with any Black ancestry, regardless how far back, would be considered Black still in effect today. For example, when Tiger Woods was arrested, although he famously identifies as “Cablinasian – a mix of Caucasian, [B]lack, (American) Indian and Asian,” he was identified as Black on the police report. In fact, the U.S. Census, the largest research on demographic information in the country, only allowed people to identity with one race on the form until the year 2000. As a result, not only were we not able to keep track of the numbers of multiracial people in the nation, it also helped to support notions that multiracial people should “pick” one racial identity over another. This illustrates how we further construct notions of race and racial identity in this nation.

Markle and Harry wed just over 50 years after the groundbreaking Loving vs. Virginia case. In this case, another biracial woman, Mildred Loving, and her White husband Richard, sued the state of Virginia for recognition of their interracial marriage, leading to the ruling that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. There have been a number of points throughout history that has helped to shape how we construct race and think of race relationships both in the U.S. and abroad. Undoubtedly, a multiracial feminist joining the British Royal Family is one of them.

Comments

Hope that this world would understand that Discriminating should not be tolerated. Every human is special not few ones only.

People aren't born racist; it's not in our genes. As we grow up, our views and beliefs of people all around the world is formed. Just as you have the right to expect not to be bullied because of your race or colour, so it is your responsibility never to treat anyone else badly because of their race or colour. Respect is the key.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for everydaysociologyblog.com please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

« Higher Education and Goal Displacement | Main | Micro Meets Macro: Gender Selection and Population Problems »