From the professor’s desk:
If you’re a royal watcher (or even if you’re not), you’re most likely aware of the recent television special where Oprah Winfrey interviewed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, aka Harry and Meghan. During the interview, the couple mentioned that some members of the royal family had been concerned about how dark their children’s complexions might be.
Some royal watchers believe the family was concerned about the composition of the “royal bloodline.” Others attribute a more benevolent motive, and believe the family is concerned about how the children might be perceived by the community around them.
“Mixed” children are more readily accepted in American culture these days than they used to be (even when I was a child), but there are enduring stigmas as well. It’s helpful to remember that “race” is a socially constructed idea.
Think back to the early 20th century, when immigration to the U.S. was at a peak. Did you know there was a time when Jews weren’t considered “white?” When Italians weren’t considered “white?” Are you aware of the “one drop rule,” which meant that a person was considered “black” if there was one person of color in their ancestry? All of these attitudes point to the idea that race is a social construct. Whiteness (or blackness) is a social status, as much as it is a skin tone.
The concerns surrounding Harry and Meghan’s marriage, and their children, emphasize the social construction of race. Meghan is considered “black” by most of her culture, despite the light tone of her skin. Baby Archie has “white” skin, but has a black grandparent (Meghan’s mother), so by some cultural standards he would be considered “black” or “mixed.” The question is, where does this end?
I encourage my students (and all of us) to be aware of social constructs and cultural mores, and to open our eyes to what’s happening around us every day. Our cultural attitudes about race aren’t about biology, they’re about social status, the way we classify one another, and create communities based on those classifications.
Let’s do better.