Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry landed her in a state of scrutiny so hyper-focused on her race, marital status, and family drama that it shocked even the veteran television actor. Markle “had no idea” how intense the public eye would be, she told ITV’s Tom Bradby several months ago; it was a confession that led us to the January announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they would be stepping back from royal duties.
For those of us who grew up idolizing Princess Diana, who saw her demise; for black women like myself, there has been fear of how Meghan might fare as a biracial duchess in a white regime. The announcement from the Sussexes validated that fear and also gave those of us who had worried about them permission to move likewise to protect our own well-being.
Shonda Rhimes has coined the term “First Only Different,” a self-explanatory phrase that defines the responsibility and challenges one faces being the first, the only, and the different in their respective work or societal setting. Cue Markle, a golden brown woman from America with a loc’d mother, estranged father, and nefarious half-sister, entering a historically white British monarchy. She’s First Only Different on a pedestal.
For many black women, being First Only Different isn’t a unique experience. I’d experience this firsthand in my prestigious, predominately white, all-girls high school where I’d often be the “only” in our small classes, part of the “first” class to enroll the most black girls, and “different” in every single way, down to my creative writing classes where I wrote about girls who wore Jordans and braids. It’s an experience that continued past my HBCU experience, when I was the First Only Different on my first corporate American team, code-switching in every way possible in my first job.
Meghan has shown us that it is OK to change direction and prioritize your well-being over shiny, coveted, and breakthrough titles that are not in your best interest.
It wasn’t until after giving birth — a coincidence of age, experience, and putting my child first — that I became too exhausted to code switch, and began to lean into experiences and environments that were equipped to allow me to do so. For me, this meant leaving jobs and setting boundaries that made others uncomfortable. They were not easy choices, but they were essential to protecting my peace, and my daughters’ peace.
Markle has become a role model for women everywhere with her ground-breaking decision to step back from a senior role in the monarchy to make way for a better lifestyle for their family, which includes son Archie. As women continue to advocate for a stronger focus on self-care — and as black women in particular continue to shatter glass ceilings and conquer continued “firsts” — Meghan has become another First Only Different to lean into the weight, and responsibility, that comes along with it.
More importantly, Meghan has shown us that it is OK to change direction and prioritize your well-being over shiny, coveted, and breakthrough titles that are not in your best interest. In a world that takes so much from black women, we become most powerful when we take the power back into our hands and walk away from doing and being everything to everyone, and put ourselves, and, hence, our families first.