Best not to bury the lede with this one so let’s get down to business. I watched the interview of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (what are the royals’ last names? am I the only one who doesn’t have that info readily available without having to google??). Of the many Oprah jaw-dropping moments that occurred during the interview, the overall takeaway I had was the inability, no the refusal, to protect Black women knows no borders.
Years ago during the royal wedding planning process, there was once a headline in British tabloids that claimed Meghan made Kate Middleton cry over a squabble dealing with flower girl dresses. First of all, what sort of debate over flower girl dresses could possibly result in the tears of a duchess? Were they not cute enough? Were they too cute? Did they show too much ankle? Were they not the right shade of white? We may never know the answer but what we do know now is the story wasn’t completely false. Though there were tears over the dresses, it was revealed that they were Meghan’s tears, not Kate’s. Meghan made sure to graciously reveal that even though Kate drove her to tears, she did eventually apologize and is a lovely woman. However, when the media first ran with this story of a Meghan so evil that she made the princess shed a tear, no one corrected the falsehoods. Not the royal family. Not the firm. Not Kate.
Kate Middleton understandably could not comment because apparently once you join the royal family, your tongue is permanently removed and placed on display in the palace gift shop. Once Meghan revealed the truth, there was a collective sigh and feeling of empathy from Black women all across social media because we know all too well what it is to face attack publicly without the support of white women. Maybe it’s a work-related incident that a white female coworker knows was wrong but instead of standing up for you, she just privately lets you know she understands. Perhaps it’s discrimination, stereotyping, and implicit bias in higher education. Or maybe it’s a conscious decision to cast a cloud over a Black woman because it’s the only way to make yourself shine.
Every summer between the 7th and 10th grade, I would pack two giant duffle bags and fly to Maine for sleepaway camp. Though most of those summers were the best times of my adolescence, they were not free from scandal, trauma, and/or humiliation. Most of my fellow campers were white and many of them came from wealth. I’d overhear discussions about multiple homes in the Hamptons or a beach house in the Cape so frequently I sometimes mistook this for normal, even though it was nowhere close to the normal I lived.
One summer, I was involved in some drama that at its simplest can be reduced to girls being girls but nothing is ever that simple. To make a short story long, it all began when someone in my cabin (let’s call her Sam) revealed to me and another person (let’s call her Anne) that she had a crush on a boy. During one of the camp’s social nights, I found myself in a conversation with said boy and Anne. At some point, Anne revealed to the boy that Sam had this crush and once it became clear that spilling the secret would lead to consequences, Anne told Sam that it was me who dropped the bomb. What followed was an awkward and understandably angry confrontation from Sam which evolved into an entire cabin whispering and casting me as someone I wasn’t. Now, remember that I was already very much an outcast at this camp. I was one of about five or so Black campers, who had to constantly negotiate our presence in this space. I remember confronting Anne and begging her to tell the truth but she never did. I remember trying to salvage my relation with Sam, which was never the same. Though the heat of this drama eventually simmered when the next big scandal popped off, I was changed forever. It was my first real experience with needing someone, anyone, to stand up for me just to realize I was all alone, waiting for a train that was never coming.
And while this might have been the first, it certainly wasn’t the last time I’ve found myself in need of support, specifically from white women. There have been altercations in friend groups, incidents at work, and traumatizing moments in school where I, like Meghan, waited patiently for the quiet murmurs of reinforcement to grow to a public shout. But I’m tired of waiting. And I don’t know if that will ever change, for as long as white women stand to lose something, be it their security, pristine image, or standing in society, Black women will always be the ones bearing the brunt of the damage.
If only there were a more vicious trade that took place when this silence and complicity was chosen. Would you still stay quiet if you knew it meant your tongue would actually disappear forever? If you reaped what you sewed and the needle and thread were actually stitching your mouth closed for good. If your action of inaction forced you to live as the truest version of yourself. Now what a sick, sad, altruistic world that would be.