Racism is deeply personal and also impassive and impersonal.
When we are exposed to the personal ways in which racism causes distress and violence, such as the silencing and suffering of Meghan Markle, it’s easy to overlook the way in which interpersonal racism is deeply rooted in systems of oppression. Yes, it’s about Meghan, Archie and Harry, but it’s about their lived experiences in a system built on colonialism doing exactly what it is designed to do.
Racism shows up consistently, reliably and relentlessly. It is a sign of humanity to be shocked at what is happening in the royal family, yet we cannot waste time being surprised.
Instead, we hold up a mirror, and direct our attention to the ways in which the same patterns of violence and silencing show up in our own relationships, communities, businesses and playgrounds.
Colorism and Ladders
Meghan Markle’s experience in the royal family and with the British tabloids surfaces the topic of colorism and anti-Blackness.
In her book The Body is Not an Apology and in her subsequent work, Sonya Renee Taylor names racism as “body terrorism.” Racism is rooted in white supremacy’s hierarchy of bodies where there are “default bodies,” namely bodies that are white, male, cis-gender, heterosexual, thin, and able, and bodies that are less important as they differ from the “default” by larger degree. Taylor uses the metaphor of a ladder to explain this hierarchy of bodies.
If a white body is at the top rung, then by definition, the Blacker one’s skin, the lower this body is situated on the white supremacy ladder. This hierarchy is not theoretical. It is practical in its violence: Archie, even before he was born, was denied bodily protection. Meghan Markle was denied emotional and mental health protection.
Meghan, in her Blackness, was subject to this violence. And with her lighter skin, she also benefits from privilege due to her proximity to whiteness.
Anti-Black racism is persistent and personal
No matter who we are, we hold up this ladder. Taylor writes, “None of us are solely culprits or solely victims.” Anti-Black racism shows up in communities of color when a person prioritizes lighter skin in a future partner, when grandmas regret and reject the darkness of their grandbabies, when mothers of color shoo their children out of the sun and when biracial folks hide their blackness and deliberately pass for white.
This anti-Blackness is at its root and in its actuality violent.
As the Black queer women of the Combahee River Collective wrote, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”
Likewise, as Taylor asserts, we must pay attention to the experience and voices of people who are deemed by white supremacy culture as lower on the ladder.
We cannot do this without naming our own internalized racism and colorism. We must continually identify the ways in which we ignore, deny and obscure our own place on the ladder in order to maintain our place in an inhumane fradulent hierarchy. Only then are we better positioned to topple white supremacy and other intersecting forms of oppression.