Meghan Markle and the Myth of the Strong Black Woman™

From Megxit trolls and those who excuse them, to folks who view their harsh critiques of Meghan Markle as “par for the course”, having “nothing to do with race”, the four-year pile-on of a black, biracial woman speaks not only to the toxic media environment, but to an epidemic of casual, yet harmful, misogynoir.

Image for post
Image for post

“If you are going to reply to this thread, do it respectfully and with kindness please. I do not tolerate trolling in any shape or form. If you would not say it to someone’s face, do not even think of posting it here.” [x]

“Every time I think Twitter can’t get any lower it does. There are some deeply unpleasant, damaged people out there hiding behind anonymous social media accounts. Please don’t use my timeline to spread your lies and filth, whichever royal you like or dislike.” [x]

You would be forgiven for reading these quotes and coming to the conclusion that these seemingly heartfelt defenses came from those who genuinely wish Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, well, after she revealed in a poignant op-ed for The New York Times that she and her husband, Prince Harry, had suffered a miscarriage over the summer.

The truth is that these statements have come from the very same people who’ve made the Duchess’ life a living hell, both directly and indirectly. Royal “reporters” (a label used quite generously, in my view) like Richard Palmer and Camilla Tominey have been the source of Islamophobic fearmongering stories about Meghan being linked to terrorists, accusations of “unconscious bias against white women” (which is not a thing and was widely condemned, which she cried about), and threads about her and her husband being cut adrift by the royal family due to the way they’ve chosen to deal with an increasingly hostile British media, which anti-Meghan accounts swarmed to, filling the replies with hate and mockery and sharing the stories with glee.

The publications they write for, along with others that make up the “Royal Rota”, a media clique that covers the British Royal Family, regularly publish misleading and fearmongering messages not just about the duchess, but about many other public figures and minority groups, which only further exacerbate the abuse Meghan suffers when they turn their eyes back to her. Rarely do they moderate the replies to their tweets, and they often interact with the same people they now claim to want nothing to do with. Others among the rota, while not always explicit in their disdain for the duchess, still regularly fail to call racism and xenophobia out for what it is, often deploying the “it has nothing to do with race” card, and sticking their heads in the sand instead of facing the truth, that the treatment of Meghan Markle is uniquely awful and that they and their employers have created and fed the beast.

And then there’s Piers Morgan, one of the worst of them all, who has been given a platform by his employer, Good Morning Britain, to wage a bizarre, borderline-obsessive hate campaign against Meghan for the last four years. And yet, he was the one to break the news of Meghan’s loss on national British television this morning, “sending love” when what he should’ve done was offer an apology for how he’s treated her, going so far as to say things such as:

All of these reporters, and many of their peers and readers, have contributed to an environment where blatant racism and xenophobia are up for debate. All of their replies on Twitter are home to “Megxits”, people who cheered the duchess’ exit from royal life. All of them either publish or push stories about how disrespectful and self-serving Meghan is. All of them give equal weight to racist, xenophobic, elitist arguments that also display rank misogynoir. Few of them call out the others when they’re wrong, and most of them are quick to cry “bully” when the Sussex Squad, a group dedicated to supporting the Duchess and the occasional fundraiser, calls out their falsehoods and biases.

But Meghan is simply meant to grin and bear it. Because she “chose” this life. Because she is financially privileged. Because she is a “strong black woman”.

Misogynoir
[mi-soj-uh-nwar]
noun

Misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias. The term was coined by queer black feminist Moya Bailey, who created the term to address misogyny directed toward black women in American visual and popular culture. Trudy of Gradient Lair, a womanist blog about black women and art, media, social media, socio-politics and culture, has also been credited in developing the lexical definition of the term.

The concept is grounded in the theory of intersectionality, which analyzes how various social identities such as race, gender, class, and sexual orientation interrelate in systems of oppression.

The idea of the “strong black woman”, in my view, has long been used to ignore our humanity. Our emotions. Our pain and suffering. This trope perpetuates the belief that we can handle anything — and should — all while carrying the weight of the world on our backs. Because we are strong black women. But we’re not, not always, and this view that we are indestructible— while often voiced by those intending to support us, like when the phrase “black women will save us” is (ignorantly) echoed during each election cycle— is not only dehumanizing, but harmful. When you believe that a person is incapable of feeling pain, or is easily able to let it roll off their back, that places that person in harms way. When you believe someone to always be “strong”, you stop worrying about them and their mental health. You stop checking up on them. You may even be harder on them because not only do you believe it is warranted — which may be due to your own unconscious bias — but because you believe they can take it. Because they are strong.

But the strong black woman trope isn’t just a lens that others view us through, as detailed by Ruth Etiesit Samuel for Teen Vogue during this summer’s Black Lives Matter reawakening, but a standard that we as black women internalize. Marverine Cole explained how the trope exacerbated her depression as a teen, and a study found that the trope, also known as the “superwoman schema”, made black women far more susceptible to chronic stress.

Another example of the dangerous combination of misogynoir and the strong black woman trope can be found in the treatment of another Meg, Megan Thee Stallion. Support was slow to roll in after Megan was allegedly intentionally shot by Tory Lanez, who is facing charges in connection with the incident, and doubt was quick to fill the void. Megan, also in an op-ed for The New York Times, spoke about the incident and black womanhood.

“The issue [of violence against women] is even more intense for Black women, who struggle against stereotypes and are seen as angry or threatening when we try to stand up for ourselves and our sisters. There’s not much room for passionate advocacy if you are a Black woman.”

You don’t have to be part of the Sussex Squad, or a Hottie (the name of Megan Thee Stallion’s fanbase), to show sympathy for black women in our time of need. But your condolences carry far less weight when you have contributed to our suffering, and the abuse we receive is regularly the outcome of unbalanced and unfair critique, as well as often unobtainable standards set by others. Much like the rise in hate crimes, harassment and intimidation, and the creation of movements like QAnon due to the increasingly violent rhetoric of outgoing (thank God) President Donald Trump, the constant nitpicking, speculating, and outright lying about Meghan Markle over the last four years — including repeated targeted attacks by the aforementioned president — has directly contributed to the abuse she still suffers today. So you’ll forgive me if I ask that you spare me your shock and awe at the vitriol you see now.

As one blogger so eloquently put it in a post well-worth a read and share, women of color face even more scrutiny when it comes to pregnancy.

“For Black women, our maternity has always been commodified, first as slaves, then as caretakers. We are derided for having too many children. Judged for not having any children. And if we need assistance having children with fertility technology, we often face a medical system uninterested in helping us. Even the language used to describe our fertility and reproduction is steeped in white supremacist individualistic language that foregoes our humanity.”

Meghan’s willingness to share her and her husband’s loss and grief with the world, even after the way so many have treated her and even knowing what vitriol would likely follow, is a testament to who she is as a person. In laying bare the details of her miscarriage, she has given others the space to share their loss as well. She, like Chrissy Teigen, has made the topic a little less taboo, and has made those who have suffered these losses feel a little less alone. But, viewed in a larger context of how she has been treated over the last few years, it is also an example of how we expect black women to continue to give, especially after how we are treated by the general public. To sacrifice. To open ourselves up to the worst treatment, for the betterment of society.

Even now, Meghan is apparently not allowed agency over her own life, accused of seeking attention and lying about her desire for privacy after choosing to share the details of her miscarriage instead of having them leaked without her consent to someone like Dan Wooton from The Sun. Evidently, her only two choices are to become public property or to disappear for good. There is no in-between.

Though unlikely, I hope that those who have contributed to the hateful rhetoric towards Meghan Markle, — which she recently described as “almost unlivable” in a podcast with Teenager Therapy— either directly or by giving it equal weight and space as legitimate critiques and defenses, look back and rethink their choices going forward. I hope those with platforms choose their words more carefully, and consider their own unconscious biases. But if this comment from a UK editor at the Express (home to Richard Palmer, as mentioned above) is any indication, I shouldn’t hold my breath.

xxvi. texan. critic. professional job seeker. beep me to reach me: dianelyssa@gmail.com 💌

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store