By: Maria Thompson Corley
I had no intention of watching the royal wedding. In addition to philosophical issues I will mention later, I’m a church organist, which means I’ve played so many ceremonies that unless I know the couple personally, I’m mainly excited about the check. But when I turned on the TV, there they were—Meghan and Harry, two well-dressed strangers standing at the altar in an opulent church full of celebrities. I’m a classical musician with a weakness for the sound of boy sopranos, so I couldn’t help being curious about the music. I also like to look at pretty dresses. Nothing better to do, so I settled in. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
I tuned in moments before the Most Reverend Michael Curry, the African-American bishop of the Episcopal church (in which I’ve been a musician for many years) delivered his flawless sermon, referencing slavery and Martin Luther King while extolling love’s power to change the world. By now, most people are aware of the musical nods to the bride’s blackness: the gospel choir singing “Stand by Me” in the church followed by a medley of “This Little Light of Mine” and “Amen” outside it, and the stunning performance by teenage cellist Shekuh Kanneh-Mason. Most also know Oprah Winfrey and Idris Elba were in the congregation, but may not have heard about Tessy Ojo, CEO of the only charity to bear Princess Diana’s name, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the queen’s personal chaplain, and Colleen Harris, the first black royal press secretary. Mutsu Potsane was an even lesser-known guest. He bonded with the groom in an orphanage in Lesotho when Harry was 19 and Mutsu was 4. Also in attendance was his compatriot Prince Seeiso (a good friend with whom Prince Harry co-founded a charity) and his wife, Princess Mabareng. As I write this, the honeymoon is still delayed, but expected destinations include Namibia. Most of all, Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, wearing a nose ring and locks, was never off-camera for long. In short, nobody can say this was a purely “vanilla” affair.
The lot of black people hasn’t suddenly changed just because a woman with African heritage has joined the British royal family, though, any more than the election of Barack Obama—whose family is decidedly regal—made everything all better. It was clear that a number of white guests didn’t quite know how to react to the inclusion of black culture. And yet, as much as I tried to stay indifferent, I got chills. I even choked up a bit. But why?
Before I answer, I need to mention my philosophical issues. Two days after the ceremony, a friend sent me a video of a black woman ridiculing the people who are excited about Meghan Markle being Great Britain’s first black princess (though it appears that she isn’t). The commentator pointed out that there are many, many black princesses in Africa. Good point, but…so what? Let’s face it: the idea of monarchy is antiquated and ridiculous, especially since nobody puts their life on the line to maintain their status anymore (not that I think the system was better back in the day). My attitude extends to the well-meaning custom among African-Americans of addressing each other as kings and queens. How can an entire continent have been populated only by royalty? Besides, what exactly is it about royalty we are embracing? The ability to rule over everyone else because of the accident of birth? There’s nothing inherently special about any of these people, other than winning a rigged, exclusive genetic lottery for which the prize is a lifetime of scrutiny in the most gilded cage around.
And yet, I stand a bit taller when someone calls me “Queen,” because the title implies dignity, respect, and—my favorite—entitlement to the best of everything. Similarly, the inclusion of elements of black culture in the Windsor/Markle wedding felt like vindication. Gospel music and black excellence don’t need legitimization, but the symbolism bored right through my “woke” shell to my politically incorrect heart. Which makes me sad, because I want to believe I don’t give a damn what white people think. Then again, maybe most of my joy had to do with knowing how happy other black people felt about Meghan Markle’s unabashed display of blackness. Which is also sad, and wrongheaded to boot, though after generations of being disregarded and disrespected all over the globe, easily understood.
I’m not knocking the obviously loving couple, whose title, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, comes from an abolitionist predecessor. Meghan inspired people all over the world by being unapologetic about not only her background, but her feminism (represented by her solo stroll into the church). Harry obviously embraced (or suggested?) his bride’s unconventional touches. More importantly, both have a well-established history of using their privilege for good. From those to whom much is given, much is expected, and they’re living that statement. Nevertheless, way too many of us think way too much about what Meghan (and Kate, and Diana) are wearing, focusing on their kids more than the ones down the street or across the ocean who would actually benefit from our attention. That said, until having the money to get and do whatever pleases us becomes less of a fantasy, “royal” weddings will continue to engage us. For better or for worse.
Maria Thompson Corley is a Canadian pianist (MM, DMA, The Juilliard School) of Jamaican and Bermudian descent, who has experience as a college professor, private piano instructor, composer, arranger and voice actor. She has contributed to Broad Street Review since 2008, and also blogged for Huffington Post. Her first novel, Choices, was published by Kensington. Her latest novel, Letting Go, was published by Createspace, along with a companion CD of solo piano performances by the author. “Malcolm,” a poem about her son which she presented at the 2016 National Autism Conference, is featured periodically on the Scriggler All Stars Twitter page. “Drop Your Mask” was awarded second place in New York Literary Magazine’s love poetry category and appeared in that publication’s AWAKE anthology in December, 2016. Her short story, “The Road to Jericho,” is slated for publication in the inaugural edition of Midnight and Indigo.
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