12/05/2019 9:05 AM IST

Baby Archie Is Making History, But Is The World Ready To Change With Him?

"He is hugely significant as he reflects a very modern Britain, with its culturally diverse population."

On the same day an official royal photo of the newest little member of the monarchy featuring Meghan Markle's mother, Doria Ragland, was heralded for symbolizing "multicultural Britain," a BBC radio host was fired over a racist royal tweet.

Ragland is African-American, and her appearance in the viral photo was seen as Britain embracing modernity, much like Harry's marriage to Markle, who gave birth Monday to Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor — the first royal baby of mixed-race in contemporary times.

On Wednesday, Baker, a DJ and broadcaster, tweeted a photo of a well-dressed couple holding hands with a suited chimpanzee, which he captioned: "Royal baby leaves hospital." The tweet, which has since been deleted, was swiftly criticized on social media.

For centuries, Black people have been dehumanized using similar comparative imagery and in racist slurs, in an attempt to perpetuate the notion that they are inherently inferior to white people (A well-known example: Michelle Obama was referred to as an 'ape in heels' while she was still first lady of the United States). The racist trope is well documented.

"What was this adult thinking when he tweeted that image?" said Marlene Koenig, an internationally recognized expert on British royalty. "It was beyond careless, it was an in-your-face-I-don't-deny-I-am-a-racist tweet. I would like to say it was unkind, unprofessional, and the intent was to provoke, and that is what happened. Baker provoked his bosses and he is out. He needs to attend a sensitivity training course."

"Unfortunately, there are far too many people who have serious issues with people of other races ... I can hope that things will change," said Koenig. "One couple can be an example ... but change takes time, takes education, tolerance and understanding."

WPA Pool via Getty Images
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, pose with their newborn son Prince Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle on May 8, 2019 in Windsor, England.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, pose for a photo with their newborn baby son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle in Windsor, west of London on May 8, 2019.

Bi-racial 'Blacklash'

Apparently, a couple of years isn't enough time for the change to happen. With a Black mother and white father, Meghan's ethnicity quickly became a topic of conversation when she first hit the royal scene — and the scrutiny has often been unwelcome and racist.

After the royal engagement was announced, The Daily Mail publicized one of its stories with a tweet reading, "From slaves to royalty, Meghan Markle's upwardly mobile family." In 2016, the newspaper suggested that Markle was "(almost) straight outta Compton."

"Obviously, 70 years ago, Meghan Markle would have been the kind of woman the Prince would have had for a mistress, not a wife," said The Spectator.

"The behaviour of certain elements in the British press (the tabloids) has been inexcusable, especially in their constant barrage of criticism, throwing the word "protocol" into so many stories (when it's not needed)," said Koenig, noting that stories have often referenced "protocol" in relation to Markle's attire when protocol only refers to official state events in terms who sits where, who comes in first, and so on.

In an attempt to counter these racist tones, Harry criticized the press in a rare move, condemning the racial undertones of articles reporting on their courtship, notably after one commentator wrote that Markle would bring "rich and exotic DNA" to the Windsors.

However, despite the incidents of racism directed at Markle and now her baby, many others celebrated this royal union and viewed this newest royal baby as a real moment of significance.

Royal commentator Claudia Joseph told HuffPost Canada that this baby is largely important historically because it's breaking new ground as the first African-American baby born into the royal family in contemporary times. (Some historians believe Queen Charlotte, who reigned from 1761 until 1818, may have been bi-racial, descending from a Black branch of the Portuguese royal house.)

Mixed messages

Still, others, especially those who have lived experience with racism and with multiracial heritage, aren't so sure this baby really changes the game.

"Meghan Markle and her child have helped create a continued dialogue around the mixed-race experience and issues related to it. This is a positive, of course," said Gina Oades, whose mother is Filipino and whose father is white of mixed European decent.

"However, a mixed woman and child in the royal family is not going to fix racism ... There continues be deep-rooted, racist ideas in our world that surface when a racialized person is in the forefront."

Born in Barrie, Ont., a small city north of Toronto, Oades was one of very few ethnic children at her school. Growing up mixed race wasn't an issue for her, until she started school, that is.

"As a small child, I never thought about it until I went to school and kids started mocking me in a Chinese accent and taunting me because of my darker skin. I didn't really identify myself as different until others did," Oades told HuffPost Canada.

She said when growing up, her family didn't talk about issues around being mixed race.

Without this dialogue at home, she said that she found the world of being a mixed-race person often difficult to navigate: she wasn't Filipino enough and she wasn't "just white." These feelings of not quite fitting in were present even after she moved to Toronto, a much more diverse city. She created "Mixed in the Six" with Haan Palcu-Chang to help racially mixed Torontonians build community and connect with their own unique identities.

"As I've grown and evolved, I've started to put together the pieces of my identity on my own which has been a confusing yet beautiful journey," said Oades. "I recently went on a solo trip to the Philippines where I connected to my roots, the people, and my family in ways I profoundly needed. It was a full circle moment."

Growing up multiracial was also confusing for Richard Pierre, whose father is white Canadian and whose mother is Trinidadian. He carried this confusion with him into his adulthood, which prompted him to produce the short personal documentary, "What Are You?" which explores the lives of mixed-race people.

He said he experienced overt racism when he moved from Toronto to Sarnia, Ont.

"I was in Grade 10 when we moved to Sarnia for a short time and there was so much overt racism I didn't know what to do," said the Toronto-based director. "I would verbally fight back and refute racial falsehoods or just tell people to shut up. But I also encountered some racist bullying that was really beyond my ability to fight and my school did nothing about it. Luckily, eventually we came back to Toronto."

He has come to embrace his mixed heritage and welcomes baby Archie into not only the world, but the multiracial world, with the hope that the significance of this baby will resonate and help normalize the experience of multiracial folks.

"After a long line of monoracial white people, there's finally going to be this child who is different. I think that's a big deal for any family and even more so for such a famous family. Hopefully, it will shift people's perceptions about Black people and about racialized people in general," said Pierre.

Casey Palmer, who is of Jamaican ancestry, is raising mixed-race children with his wife of Dutch heritage, and also celebrates a multiracial baby in the royal family.

"I'm a Black guy who is living in a very diverse world now so my first thought was, 'We made it, good job Meghan,'" he told HuffPost Canada.

Palmer said he and his wife plan to expose their children to both of their cultures, while having ongoing discussions about being mixed-race.

It's a plan of action Somali-Italian-Canadian Annita Ali is all about.

"My advice for parents of mixed-raced children is to prepare them for the outside world," Ali told HuffPost Canada. "Make sure you teach them to embrace both backgrounds and love themselves for who they are. It's important for a mixed-raced child to understand that they never have to pick one side — because they are both."

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