Why Meghan Markle could save the monarchy
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, May 11, 2018 6:00AM EDT
The love story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is a “beautiful antidote” to racial discord in an era of Donald Trump, Brexit and the alt-right, says U.K. writer Irenosen Okojie.
"I look at this union and I hope for progress."
Markle is a “radical choice” as a royal bride, says Okojie. She is biracial (her mother is African-American and her father is a white American of Dutch and Irish descent), American, raised Catholic, divorced and an actress.
Okojie, a novelist and short story writer, penned an opinion piece in the New York Times headlined “Can Meghan Markle save the monarchy?”
For Okojie, who was born in Nigeria and moved to the United Kingdom with her family at 8, the answer is yes. As a young girl enrolled in a countryside boarding school, Okojie quickly learned about race and what it meant to be an outsider. Markle shows today’s young girls that the Royal Family can reflect what the world looks like, she says.
"It's a lovely, very human story. And it speaks to who can have a seat at the table. It's almost a Cinderella-esque story,” she told CTVNews.ca.
Okojie says Markle is breaking down barriers and winning over people who have thought of the royals as an anachronistic, elitist symbol of colonialism. And race plays a big role in that, says Okojie, who was accused of being divisive by writing about Markle’s race.
"We need to talk about the fact that she is a woman of colour. It's silly to ignore it. And as a woman of colour, it's interesting to talk about how it will change the Royal Family,” she said. "It's about seeing yourself reflected. It's similar to the Obamas; people of colour saw themselves in the White House for the first time."
Marriage laws repealed
Just a few years ago, Markle would not have been a suitable, or possible, choice for Prince Harry.
The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 restricted entry to the Royal Family by marriage to those born aristocratic, Anglican and who had never married. So when King Edward VIII wanted to marry an American divorcee in 1936, he had to give up the throne to do it.
But those marriage laws were repealed in 2015 and that illustrates just how much the Royal Family has modernized, says Sarika Bose, a sessional lecturer in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are the result.
"I'm not negating their relationship as a genuine, loving relationship but this is the time it is possible. It signals that the Royal Family is open to new ideas and new ways to define family. Megan Markle allows that message to come through,” said Bose, who is a frequent commentator on the Royal Family.
The new measure of royal worthiness is charitable work and Markle’s involvement with gender equality issues, World Vision and other humanitarian endeavours makes her a suitable choice for Prince Harry in the eyes of Buckingham Palace, says Bose.
"In a way, it's something of an experiment for the Royal Family,” said Eloise Parker, a British-born and New York-based journalist who closely watches the royals. “They are betting a lot on the success of this marriage. It will be fascinating to see how royals take this forward but it seems they will be a little less governed by protocol and be more emotional about these things."
‘Diversity in royal circles’
Prince William, who is second in line for the throne, has been confined by a life of duty and acted accordingly. Harry, now sixth in line behind his father, brother and William's children, has had the freedom to push the boundaries. He's lived a more carefree and cosmopolitan life than his brother and that is apparent now in his choice of wife, says Parker.
"It's phenomenal that we'll see more diversity in royal circles. It's been a very closed group. Only good things can come from that."
Daniel Brereton, an Anglican priest in Mississauga, Ont., has always been interested in the monarchy as a political and cultural institution. He didn’t know who Markle was when she was linked with Prince Harry and admits he was skeptical about her at first. But Brereton has since come to admire her and what she stands for.
"The Crown represents a diversity of people. That should be reflected in the Royal Family. As a gay man, it's meant a lot that Harry and Meghan have made LGBTQ issues part of what they speak about. The Commonwealth still has countries where being gay is still illegal, so having a senior member of the Royal Family speak out is important."
He says the royal wedding will boost support in Canada but it remains to be seen if the new generation of royals can make a dent in what he sees as general apathy of Canadians toward the monarchy.
"I think Meghan can be a really rejuvenating force in the Royal Family but I hope she doesn't get lost into her title and lose her voice."
Markle is just the latest in a long and constant process of royal adapting and modernizing, says Bose. The Royal Family has fought to change with the times and stay relevant as societal norms change while trying to maintain itself as a symbol of stability and leadership.
Markle carries on what Diana started in terms of combining glamour with a common touch, says Parker. "From what we've seen of Megan, there is a lot of hugging and chatting with people. She seems easy-going. She's not aloof with the public."
The formal, stiff-upper lip detachment of royals past won’t cut it going forward, agrees Okojie. Diana, the Princess of Wales, made the Royal Family seem accessible and caring, just as Markle appears able to do. She is truly a commoner in a way that is entirely new for the royals.
Diana was often portrayed that way but was actually an aristocrat by birth. Kate Middleton was technically a commoner but comes from a prominent and privileged family.
For Ashley Ederman, a veterinarian who lives in Milton and spent summers in England with her family, the upcoming wedding will be a chance to dress up in her wedding gown and drink tea out of china cups with her girlfriends.
“It’s just something silly and fun to do. The pomp and circumstance is quite fun,” she said. “With what’s going on in the world and in politics, there is some escape in it. But the fact Meghan is biracial, makes this a valuable and meaningful event for a lot of people.”