We’re halfway through Harry & Meghan on Netflix, and when Lainey wrote that there’s something for everyone, she wasn’t lying. With six total episodes set to air in the series, the first three so far have been riveting. Maybe not for critics, some of whom have said the series is boring, but the wider audience seems to disagree as Netflix is seeing big ratings for Harry & Meghan since its release.
I usually wait until the hype dies down a bit before bingeing new releases so that I can form my own opinions, and I was gonna get to this one at some point, likely over the holidays. But when I saw the buzz over the weekend about how Meghan’s mom, Doria, failed to have “the talk” with her daughter before she began dating Harry, I realized I had to tune in sooner rather than later.
In this series, viewers get a lot more context than they had before, and context is important. Many people had been introduced to Meghan when she was a briefcase opening assistant on Deal or No Deal, or when she played Rachel Zane on Suits. But learning about who she was before all of that has prompted just as many questions as it has provided answers.
It’s always fascinating for me to hear the story of other mixed people. There are such key moments in our lives and in discovering our identity, universal rites of passage if you will, it’s interesting to see how those key moments played out for other people. When did you first realize you were part Black? When did you first hear someone say the n-word? When did you first realize your music library was so polarizing? Were your grandparents accepting of the relationship between your parents? Tuning in, I had my mixed kid glasses on and I wanted to compare notes.
One of the first things that struck me is that in all of the photos of Meghan growing up, you can see how different her hair texture was in her younger days. It was curly. It was puffy. It was natural. But as she gets older, you can see her embracing her straight hair more, wearing the look of a more silky mane. This isn’t unusual for mixed women, but again, the context around it is important.
For many biracial women, straightening your hair is a coming-of-age moment. You realize you’re not bound to the frizz, curls and poofiness of your natural texture. You realize there’s another option. And when you start straightening your hair, something changes in the way people treat you. I’ve had this discussion with most of the mixed women I know – it’s also my lived experience. And in that experience, straight hair has always translated to being perceived as more professional, more in alignment with society’s beauty standards, and a bunch of other crap that can take years to stop internalizing and stop caring about.
The reason the evolution of Meghan’s hair struck me though, is because it’s evident that at one point in time, she chose straight hair over curly hair. And it’s likely that she did that because she preferred it. Whether it was the look or the convenience, there was a clear preference, choice and sacrifice made there, because when you continue to straighten your hair, the trade-off is that your natural curls become damaged by the heat and can take years to repair. It’s kind of like getting your nails done. On the surface, it looks great, but there is a great deal of wear and tear happening to your natural nails underneath the acrylics.
Why all this talk about hair? Who cares whether she wears it curly or straightens it? It’s a fair question. And it’s one that I’ve tried to answer in a prior piece about Willow Smith, who famously cut all her hair off at age 11. The reason Meghan’s relationship with her hair was symbolic was because given her light skin and features, her hair was one of the only key indicators of her Blackness. And whether consciously or subconsciously, choosing to don straight hair helped her maintain her racial ambiguity – something that protected her from racist vitriol – until she started dating Prince Harry, of course.
So it makes absolute sense that she describes the wind being knocked out of her when all of a sudden, she was reduced to her Black identity after news of her relationship with him broke. This was a part of her identity that had not been a focus, again, consciously or subconsciously, for much of her life before she fell in love with a prince of England.
“It’s very different to be a minority but not be treated as a minority right off the bat,” she described. In other words, where’d my white privilege go?
Doria and I both have daughters who are lighter than we are. Both of our daughters have soft, curly hair. Should I ever put a flat iron to it, my daughter’s hair will likely be just as silky as Meghan’s. And though I’ve struggled with making this assertion, that my daughter is Black, it’s my job to ensure I raise her and provide the necessary context she needs because of her Blackness.
I want to be so careful in not ascribing blame to Doria for not having the talk with Meghan earlier than at the point when she was in her 30s and started dating a member of the royal family. But I wonder if Doria and I are united in our struggle to fully assert what our daughters are, whether they have full claim to a Black identity due to the lightness of their skin and the sense of incompletion of their Blackness.
And perhaps that is the reason she never felt like she had to have “the talk” with Meghan.
It’s not to say that the opportunity didn’t provide itself time and time again. Like when Meghan described a verbal altercation outside of a venue where a woman, frustrated with Doria, screamed the n-word at her, or, as I described, the moment it became clear Meghan was opting for a certain aesthetic with her hair styling choice as opposed to wearing it naturally. No matter the reason behind the conversation being so delayed, not having it earlier is something Doria has regrets about, which she shares in the docuseries.
“As a parent, in hindsight, absolutely I would like to go back and have that kind of real conversation about how the world sees you,” she lamented.
Though I see, feel and understand that, there is also a part of me that wonders whether Doria was enjoying the sigh of relief that came from knowing her daughter would escape the treatment dark-skinned women, or at least those who are visibly Black, are often subjected to in society. Perhaps she was just thankful that there would be no woman hurling the n-word at her daughter outside of a concert, as she had experienced – though what Meghan ended up enduring was just as bad and unimaginably public and ever persistent.
Though my daughter is only five, I’ve had to be really thoughtful in how to approach many conversations that will continue to unfold over the course of her life surrounding things like race, friendships, relationships, boundaries, safety, and the list goes on and on. And they are painful and emotionally exhausting conversations, for me and for her. Because I want her to enjoy her life with no threat of danger or abuse lurking as she discovers the world.
Doria’s regret is a cautionary tale of the dangers that come with an overstay at the hotel of blissful ignorance. It is a reminder to mothers raising Black daughters everywhere, that no matter what you are, no matter what you think they are, you have to give them context. It is a reminder to me of the reasons I have to have these conversations with my little girl. Because the regret I would feel seeing her naively approach anything from taking a drink from a stranger, to not having much-needed context about how she’s perceived in the world, to finding her Prince Charming (if she so desires), would be just as great as Doria’s. The lesson to be learned here is that your child is always better off over-prepared.