Meghan Markle's name hasn't left the news since her engagement to Prince Harry was announced last year, and now that the two are married and expecting, the rumour mill is in full swing. Whether from "palace sources" or Meghan's own loose-lipped family members, it seems like no time was wasted in painting the incoming duchess as a "demanding" workaholic (how American!) with little respect or regard for royal protocol (I've seen the phrase "ripping up the rule book" used quite a bit). It feels like every day there's a new story about Meghan not quite fitting in — and with each emerging rumour, it becomes easier for black women everywhere to read between the lines.
There are reports that Meghan made crazy requests for her wedding — though honestly, I've heard crazier from my own engaged friends — and that she and sister-in-law Kate Middleton got into it after Meghan "berated" a member of Kate's staff. It's also been said that Meghan, a 37-year-old college graduate, philanthropist, and former actress, has such high standards and such clear visions for her royal agenda that it's become a problem. She's too used to working in a "Hollywood environment." She has too much "West Coast energy" (whatever that is). She has too many ideas, and she sends work-related texts and emails at 5AM (OK girl, if true then that is pretty annoying). It was revealed in early November that Meghan's assistant, Melissa Touabti, had left the job "in tears" after six months, and most recently, she and Harry's (temporary) private secretary Samantha Cohen announced her plans to leave her (temporary) gig after the birth of their first child next Spring. This turnover is ostensibly due to Meghan's many "stressful" demands, which make her hard to work with.
I'm not exactly sure when having high standards became a bad thing in the royal family, but there's one word pervading these rumours that has me side-eyeing them all: "difficult." Like Meghan, I am a black woman from America with an abundance of "West Coast energy" who has lived and worked in mostly white spaces — and it's a descriptor that I've become all too familiar with hearing about myself.
I've spent the better part of 2018 trying to find ways to compare myself to and learn from Meghan Markle. She has inspired me to be more involved in the causes I care about; to remain outspoken about the injustices I see; and to not be afraid of busting into a room (or a constitutional monarchy) and shaking sh*t up. But as a black woman, it's not easy to take those actions without being perceived as "demanding" or "difficult." I learned at a particularly early age that people would assume my personality traits based on the colour of my skin and their own unconscious biases. I understood sooner than most that I would "intimidate" people immediately upon walking into a room or sitting down in a meeting. Even now I have to remind myself to keep Resting B*tch Face in check and be careful with my words and tone, because there's a chance they'll be considered "abrasive" even before they leave my mouth. I won't even get on the subject of my walking into a high-end store, eating at a nice restaurant, or staying at a luxury hotel.
The racism and sexism that Meghan has faced since her engagement was announced has been well documented, but even the palace's stern warning couldn't stop a relative from wearing this brooch in front of her, or keep some jerk from mailing her a suspicious package. The latter incident was considered by authorities to be racially motivated, and is just one part of Meghan's new life that she's had to get used to — when she's not being judged for her racial background by the public, she's being picked apart in the press by her family, most frequently her own father.
I think it's more likely that Meghan's blackness walked into the room before she did; that she was assumed to be "demanding" before she even made any demands, and she was considered to be "difficult" to work with even before anyone worked with her.
Black women aren't always afforded bad days or missteps, and that thing our parents tell us about having to "work twice as hard to get half as much" isn't based on a myth. It can be utterly exhausting to be black in America, and my sources tell me it isn't exactly a picnic across the pond, either. Although Meghan's "ethnically ambiguous" look — lighter skin, straight hair, freckles — does give her inherent privilege, she is most certainly still considered black to most of the world, and especially to white people.
It's upsetting to think that someone so seemingly hardworking and dedicated to a new job — especially in the face of constant judgements based on her race — could be called "difficult" for diving into her royal duties. And listen, maybe Meghan truly did come in hot at Kensington, and palace aides just weren't ready for early morning emails, incessant work requests, and that distinct type of "I need to be busy at all times and I'll sleep when I'm dead" energy that you can really only find in an American. But based on my own experience as a woman of colour, I think it's more likely that Meghan's blackness walked into the room before she did; that she was assumed to be "demanding" before she even made any demands, and she was considered to be "difficult" to work with even before anyone worked with her.
Unfortunately, along with having to work twice as hard as our white counterparts, black women are doubly punished for exhibiting the traits that come from having such a relentless work ethic. Having ambition and drive makes us "overbearing"; being assertive makes us "angry"; showing authority makes us "hostile"; and suggesting change makes us "rude," "demanding," or even worse, "ungrateful." When people crystallise those biases in their minds before even meeting you, it feels like it doesn't matter what you say, or how you say it. On top of everything else, you then feel the need to work even harder to change minds, to prove you're not a stereotype, and to clean up a reputation you didn't even know you earned.
Is it possible that Meghan Markle asked for air fresheners to hide the "musty smell" of Windsor Castle ahead of her royal wedding? Sure it is. But is it possible that this tidbit wouldn't be half as big a deal if it were a demand from Kate Middleton? Also yes. Don't get me wrong, Kate Middleton is under an insane amount of pressure as the future Queen of England, and for that reason I have to assume that she made her own crazy requests when planning her royal wedding, renovating her home, or choosing staff and caretakers for her children. What's interesting to note, though, is that there was no giant burst of dramatic headlines referring to Kate as a "difficult" new duchess, or calling out how many of her aides quit their jobs. And even in the reports of rifts between Kate and Meghan, Meghan happens to be the aggressor; the "rude" black woman who came in with her newfangled ideas and bossy behaviour. The undertones — that Meghan should feel lucky to be included, not bold enough to bring change — aren't hard to spot, either.
In a sad way, it really doesn't surprise me that the "difficult duchess" rumours have emerged. Meghan being an actress, born and raised in Los Angeles with a bevy of famous friendships and a marriage already under her belt, was already enough to illicit speculation about what kind of wacky American duchess she would be. Once you throw in her blackness — and her audacity in not hiding it — it's easy to see how prejudgements were formed. When it comes to stereotyping black women as being angry and difficult — while subsequently expecting to us to be strong and sassy for entertainment value — well, that train is never late.