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Royal racism: Experience of Meghan and Harry all too typical among interracial couples | COMMENTARY

FILE - In this March 9, 2020, file photo, Britain's Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrive to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London. Many say it was painful to watch Meghan’s experiences with racism invalidated by the royal family, members of the media and the public, offering up yet another example of a Black woman’s experience being disregarded and denied. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
FILE - In this March 9, 2020, file photo, Britain's Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrive to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London. Many say it was painful to watch Meghan’s experiences with racism invalidated by the royal family, members of the media and the public, offering up yet another example of a Black woman’s experience being disregarded and denied. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File) (Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Millions of people tuned into the riveting interview of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, about their struggles with the royal family as the most high-profile interracial couple in today’s world. Their experience with racism was shocking to many — but, unfortunately, not the thousands of other biracial couples in this country who face similar treatment on a regular basis.

Presently in the United States, 1 in 6 marriages are interracial or interethnic. Over 50 years ago, in 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Loving versus. Virginia decision that state laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional, it was 1 in 33. That case, which involved a Black woman marrying a white man, has echoes in today’s world, both in the U.S. and in the United Kingdom. While social acceptance of interracial marriage has increased dramatically, such unions, for the couple as well as for their children, may still face hurdles within their family and broader society.

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Since the fall, we have been interviewing interracial and interethnic couples about their marriages, their relationships with family and friends, and their children’s identities. We also asked how they negotiate with each other around difference and deal with people outside their social networks if hurdles are thrown in their path. While we have representatives of different interracial marriages, we have chosen to focus initially on white women married to Black men, the most common gender configuration in Black-white marriages in the U.S. and the most relevant in Maryland, where close to 1 in 2 residents are white (non-Hispanic) and 1 in 3 are Black.

Our preliminary analyses show that white women report they have learned a great deal about race as a result of being married to a Black man. Their education includes a heightened awareness about being Black in America. This awareness reached a troubling stage for many of them following the summer of 2020 racial protests about the killing of unarmed Black men by police and the disturbing realization that their husband and biracial children may be at increased risk based on the color of their skin. Marriage also made them more aware of their white privilege and how they often negotiated on behalf of the couple with the world outside their home. In a few cases, they worried about their own safety while traveling with their husbands to less diverse parts of the country, communities with troubled histories regarding race relations and where they stood out.

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The women told us about microaggressions they experienced from family members and friends. Unsympathetic Facebook postings about Black Lives Matter protests caused emotional distancing. The women’s parents complimented their siblings who had married Asian individuals and were going to have “cute kids,” yet no such comments were made about the offspring of their Black-white marriage. And they told us about their children, who sometimes struggled with their racial identity and felt they did not fit neatly into a peer group, a potential sign that our social progress has stalled.

Not everyone shared these experiences. Some had only found acceptance from family, friends and strangers. If they ran into trouble spots, they ignored them or framed them as an opportunity to teach others. Maryland, especially the areas around D.C. and Baltimore, was considered friendly territory by many we interviewed.

We see many parallels between what we are finding and the recent interview with Meghan and Harry: a racially sensitive perspective taken by Harry (but not by his family), fears about safety, outright racism from the media and members of the royal family, and racial identity building of Archie and the couple’s next child.

Reading about what others experience who are in similar situations to us can be uplifting, traumatizing or both. For example, veterans living with PTSD may be re-traumatized by news stories of other veterans with PTSD. Similarly, watching others march for racial justice can be simultaneously upsetting and uplifting as society pulls together to battle injustice.

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For interracial couples, hearing Meghan and Harry talk about their struggles with their extended families, may be helpful in thinking about their own experiences. It may leave them hopeful that a light is being shone on these relationships or saddened that, no matter who you are, differences and histories can be hard to overcome. Tuning into the interview may teach us all that pulling back the curtain on the insidious nature of racism can affect our most intimate relationships.

Geoffrey L. Greif (ggreif@ssw.umaryland.edu), Michael E. Woolley (mwoolley@ssw.umaryland.edu) and Victoria D. Stubbs (vstubbs@ssw.umaryland.edu) are all on faculty at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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