As a biracial woman, this is just one of the intrusive questions that Meghan Markle gets "every week" of her life.
In a poignant account on her blog, she writes how the inquirer is seldom satisfied to know that she's an actress, a writer, the Editor-in-Chief of her lifestyle brand The Tig, a pretty good cook and a firm believer in handwritten notes. "Right, but what are you? Where are your parents from?" they would ask. So instead, she gives them what they're after. "My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white."
Meghan, whose relationship with Prince Harry has dragged her into the spotlight, writes how even though it would be easier to talk "about which make-up I prefer", she is choosing "to be braver, to go a bit deeper, and to share a much larger picture" of her experiences as a biracial woman.
The Suits actress goes on to write about her childhood in a "neighbourhood that was leafy and affordable".
"What it was not, however, was diverse. And there was my mom, caramel in complexion with her light-skinned baby in tow, being asked where my mother was since they assumed she was the nanny. "I was too young at the time to know what it was like for my parents, but I can tell you what it was like for me – how they crafted the world around me to make me feel like I wasn’t different, but special." She recalls "fawning" over a boxed set of Barbie dolls when she was seven years old. Called 'The Heart Family', the set included "a mom doll, a dad doll, and two children".
"This perfect nuclear family was only sold in sets of white dolls or black dolls. I don’t remember coveting one over the other, I just wanted one.
"On Christmas morning, swathed in glitter-flecked wrapping paper, there I found my Heart Family: a black mom doll, a white dad doll, and a child in each colour. My dad had taken the sets apart and customised my family."
Meghan also writes about her experiences in seventh grade, when her parents "couldn’t protect me as much as they could when I was younger". "There was a mandatory census I had to complete in my English class – you had to check one of the boxes to indicate your ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic or Asian. "There I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up, but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other. My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. "'Because that’s how you look, Meghan,’ she said."
"I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out. So, I didn’t tick a box. I left my identity blank – a question mark, an absolute incomplete – much like how I felt." When the seven-year-old went home that night, she told her lighting director dad what had happened. "He said the words that have always stayed with me: ‘If that happens again, you draw your own box.’"
Apart from her childhood, she writes about her role as Rachel Zane on the hit legal series Suits, which she describes as the "Goldilocks of my acting career – where finally I was just right."
"The show's producers weren't looking for someone mixed, nor someone white or black for that matter. They were simply looking for Rachel," she wrote. Regardless, when the producers cast a dark-skinned black man to play Rachel's father, Meghan was met with racist comments from viewers. "'Why would they make her dad black? She's not black' to 'Ew, she's black? I used to think she was hot,'" Meghan wrote.
The actress ended her post with an inspiring message. "While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that," she wrote. "To say who I am, to share where I'm from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.
"So you make a choice: continue living your life feeling muddled in this abyss of self-misunderstanding, or you find your identity independent of it.
You create the identity you want for yourself, just as my ancestors did when they were given their freedom."
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