It was a feast. Scones with cream and strawberries. Cucumber sandwiches and tea with milk. Crisps and crackers.
We were giddy with excitement to watch all the pomp and circumstance and look in the crowd for any familiar faces. Clooney! Elton John! The girl from Great Gatsby!
The girls even had a bit of champagne spilled on them and loved it. It was festive day after all.
Then she stepped out of the car in a simple boat cut neck, A-line dress with a train that could carry the whole bridal party. Meghan was a vision of understated elegance.
As the three of us devoured the analysis and scones, I noted how historic this day was.
A black woman is actually entering into the royal family!
Um...but she doesn't look black, my friend says.
What does that mean exactly? I ask.
Well, her skin tone is not black.
I told my friend that when you say Meghan is not black, what I hear is that you are saying is she is not black in the stereotypical way you know black to be with broad nose or large lips or dark skin. That Meghan with her light tone and upturned nose and long hair, does not fit that construction. So instead of breaking or redefining your idea of what black is, you simply place her outside of it.
I mean just her skin tone, my friend clarified.
But the truth is the skin of those with African origins ranges from tan to ebony. It is a very broad spectrum. (More on determinations of blackness in history and getting by with lighter skin in another post). BUT the darker skin and the broader features are almost always perceived as less attractive.
I remember a friend of my mother-in-law meeting me for the first time and exclaiming in delight - Elle est belle! Elle est noire...mais pas trop noire. The crazy part is, she thought it was a compliment!
Other people have told me I don't really look African because of my facial features and skin tone. I often get asked if I am Brazilian or Indian, because, I think they just cannot negotiate my features with what they associate with Africanness. Yet, there are at least 100 million people who look like me in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and in the Diaspora.
This also happens within the black community. The Ethiopian mother of a dear friend said of a man who was interested in my friend's sister - But, he is too dark! Shad-ism in Africa and in the Diaspora is a huge and sad issue. Skin bleaching cream is a 10 billion dollar industry. Even though the creams have ingredients that are carcinogens, sales continue to rise every year.
Why can't we all just accept the wide range of shades of our skin tones as being included within the notion of blackness or Africanness and of beauty? People CAN be light and black and handsome. Or they CAN be dark and gorgeous. Or somewhere in the middle and beautiful.
I bet a million little black girls watching today's royal wedding felt, for the very first time, I could be a princess. I can be strong and smart and be someone who helps others. And as they see a beautiful black lady marrying a prince - they are probably thinking here is this lady and she is black and she is pretty and (by extension) I am pretty too.
Just like a million black children felt hope and motivated when Obama became the first black president of the United States. If he can do it, I can do it too.
Now if Meghan's skin had been the colour of mahogany, the impression would have been even that much more powerful. She does come from a mixed background. But that should not negate her blackness. Like it didn't for Obama. They are part of both the black and white communities...to the human race.
As someone who did not feel attractive for a large chunk of my teenage years (with really bad years from 11-14), it means something. I remember once being set up on the phone with a boy and he asked me what I looked like. And for some reason, I described my friend Sara - long blond hair with blue-green eyes. His disappointment when he saw me is something that I can only describe as a little death. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I don't know why I lied, but I think it has something to do with knowing that he would never want to even talk to me if he know I was a black girl.
Today felt historic. It felt like black ladies finally received a place at a very exclusive and largely unreachable table. A place in the castle. A place by a prince who clearly adores them.
These days, I feel pretty. Maybe because my own prince tells me every day. Maybe because now it has less to do with how others see me (or don't see me). Maybe it is because I have begun to accept myself, flaws and all, and love who I'm becoming as a person. This exudes outwards.
But today, I just want to go back to that little girl who lied about who she was and I want to say to her: It will be OK; you won't always feel so ugly. And you will have women, like Nia Long, like Gabrielle Union, like Sanna Lathan, like Misty Copeland, like Kerry Washington, and like Meghan, who have ushered in an idea of beauty, that actually includes those who look like you.