Meghan Markle, despite her privilege as ‘white passing,’ has likely been perceived for only her Blackness during her life. Moving in spaces beyond “social norms,” that is, things and/or positions which are perceived to be of a higher social standard, we are often seen for our Blackness first and will undoubtedly be reminded of “our place.” How dare a Black woman lead a happy and privileged life?!
The racist media assault on Markle has been relentless long before Prince Harry put a ring on it. To some credit, earlier on in their relationship, Buckingham Palace released an unprecedented statement in an effort to ward off future attacks in “racial undertones of comment pieces” on Markle. Our experiences and time would later prove that attempts of the kind make little to no difference. We can happily coexist as long as everyone else has more than Black women and we have little to nothing for ourselves. Whether conscious or not, this is your comfort.
Racism is debilitating and when it happens to us in “White spaces,” it’s further isolating as White people cannot or will not relate no matter how well-intentioned. Yet, Black women push through the hatred and indifference. Every. Single. Day. This is life. And to be clear, choosing to date and subsequently marry outside of our race or doing whatever is our hearts’ desire is of very little regard to claim as existing in “White spaces.” It is the stature and regard of what Markle’s partner represents that is deemed too good for a Black woman. This behavior is not a secret or revelation amongst us. However, there is very little conversation on how can we be better equip and support Black women to succeed in such man-made institutions of the kind and before the inevitable situation presents itself.
Born and raised in Jamaica, my family migrated to New York City when I was 10 years old. Our family’s journey to the United States was sponsored by a Jewish family, thus it came naturally to me to build friendships in predominantly White spaces. I went through four years at Tufts University and shamefully never stepped foot inside the Africana Center — a community designated for Black students, but welcoming to all — because I never knew I’d need it. Why would I? My family never personally experienced America’s horrid racist past and I got invitations to my friend’s Rosh Hashanah dinner.
It was during my senior year of college that the different paths my White peers and I would take started to unravel. I was the last among my friends to land a job after graduation and after I did, I couldn’t find an apartment in downtown Boston. It so happens that many times upon introduction, I am told unsolicited comments that my name represents “girl” in Irish and that it’s a common Irish name. This explains the often bewildered stares on the pale faces as I, not Irish, walked through their doors after a prior phone or email introduction. I’d eventually found a job, but it came with the added burden of housing discrimination and having to perform comparable to my White peers under unspeakable strains.
Just before Covid-19’s shelter- in-place 2020, I visited my local café on Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay for a latte, which I did every day. On that particular day, another patron handed me his tray at the utensils bar, asking where he should put it as I placed the lid on my hot drink. (Note: I’m in full winter gear, a black coat and scarf, while all the cafe employees are in grey sweatshirts with the café brand logo, making it quite difficult to have mistaken me for an employee). Yet, his non-Black body could not see me, past my Blackness and his stereotype, to be anything more than his server. You see, we don’t have to be Meghan Markle to have our lives placed in an upheaval doing the most mundane oat-milk latte run or partaking in simple liberties like marrying the one you love.
I’ll never forget the first time I was maliciously addressed by the n-word. On an unseasonably warm, January afternoon in Central Square — Cambridge, MA, 2007 — I was crossing the street with my White boyfriend when an impatient White woman casually shouted the racial slur as she turned her car into the crosswalk unwilling to lawfully yield to this pedestrian. With nowhere to turn, no one to find comfort in, I kept the incident to myself for years as if it were my shame. My now former partner was left shell-shocked and screamed, “Did you hear that?!” This made it all the more terrifying because I knew at that point that he would never know what it felt like. To his ignorance and my naïveté, we continued on the days’ events as if it were an “isolated incident” because our relationship was about us and not the hatred of our world. Right?
Black communities, there is much talk about having “the conversation” with our Black young boys on the matter of being pulled over by the police, which is detrimental to our survival.
But what would we call the talk for young Black girls?
We’re fighting forces that are stronger, older and bigger than ourselves, and at the same time having to perform, and oftentimes exceed, expectations. The White friends I’d surrounded myself with couldn’t relate (not their fault) and I would find myself having to crawl back to my own culture to heal.
Which led me to fall in love with Jamaica all over again. I realized how privileged we are to see ourselves in each other everyday. I came to celebrate this feeling in a shared space for us — my first book. Filled with all the memories of what makes Jamaica home, a place to belong.
How can our Black women feel like we belong in these spaces? How are we preparing Black girls to lead in a world that is constantly against us and fighting our very existence? I am from a family of proud Black women. My parents had three girls, nine out of twelve of my maternal grandparents’ children are girls and seventeen out of twenty-four maternal first cousins are girls. On my paternal side, it’s about a 50/50 split. I cannot think of a time when I lacked female support, yet there were never any discussions about what it meant to have a meaningful and purposeful life as a Black woman. If I remember correctly that my mom — who was so preoccupied with survival and “needs” that “wants” hardly ever entered the conversation — would say, “Do what you have to do and mind your business.” To be followed up by, “That’s it. That’s the tweet” reflective of today’s meme culture. As simple as it was, I knew what she meant, but I kept asking for more, stepping out of line and getting hurt doing so.
The most known among us aren’t spared, idols are not shields and our White allies can’t save us. I’ve owned my home in Boston’s South End for fourteen years now, and yet on occasion, I still get the unspoken “You should be grateful” to live here. It’s as if in my female Blackness, my success and privilege — an ownership I acquired after previously being denied rental in spaces designated for the Irish girl they had in mind, is now an existential threat to others. How do we, Black women, come together and protect our needs, wants, minds, worth and values while continuing to thrive in a world that is taught to be disrespectful to us and where our presence is regarded as having little or no social value?
Thank you for your time.
Colleen Hall is founder and director of Jamoji App LLC. Jamoji is an emoji and lifestyle keyboard mobile application that includes Jamaican cultural expressions, phrases, food and places! The book, Jamoji — Essays of Life and Play in Jamaica will be available January 2022.