A guest post today from Dr Noreen Mirza* with a personal reflection on this weekend’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Watching the royal wedding with my mother, sister and niece this weekend, my attention was firmly fixed on Doria Ragland, the mother of the bride. The wedding itself taught me two things: We have come so far, yet we have a lot to learn. Ms Ragland taught me so much more.
Not in her wildest dreams would her own mother – the grandmother of the bride – a black woman in a racially segregated society, forced to sit on a racially segregated bus, imagine that one day her daughter would be linking arms with the future King of England at the wedding ceremony of their children. The grace and decorum Ms Ragland possessed was truly inspiring and humbling. Raw emotions of love, pride and happiness were etched on her face. These are human emotions which are real, universal and transcend culture, religion, ethnicity and class.
I am a second generation British-Pakistani woman, who grew up in a white working-class suburb of Manchester. I am all too familiar with prejudice and stereotypes. I am talking about class prejudice as well as racial.
On social media, this past week, there have been plenty of ignorant comments that Meghan was not from the ‘right stock’; not worthy of marrying a prince. Not solely because of her bi-racial identity but also because of her family background, made worse by the lack of class displayed by her half siblings – and not because they are working-class. Meghan’s parents may have had working-class origins, but her mother has demonstrated class and finesse that even those with blue blood do not always muster.
Meghan, in fact, had a middle-class upbringing, attended private school, a prestigious university and travelled to Europe as a teenager. This was because her parents worked hard to provide a life and opportunities for their daughter that they did not have themselves. These are the qualities we ought to admire as commendable, and not the fact that someone is from a privileged background.
Growing up I was among people doing exactly the same, including my own parents. They worked hard to provide a better life for their children, taking an interest in their education, saving for family holidays abroad, for their children’s wedding and payment towards their children’s first house. I remember my parent’s neighbours telling me that now they were empty-nesters they could afford to live in an affluent area but preferred to live among likeminded people who put humility and integrity above wealth and status.
As I watched Ms Ragland this weekend, she taught me that whatever insecurities I may have because the area I grew up in has a certain reputation, or because women, like me, of ethnic minority backgrounds are subject to negative stereotypes: prejudice and bigotry can only be silenced by dignity and integrity.
Ms Ragland and Meghan Markle rose above the spectacle and backstabbing created by family members who should have been well-wishers. At the wedding, Ms Ragland exuded authenticity: she did not remove her dreadlocks or nose stud to appease a certain audience. She wore them with pride to express her identity and individuality. I reckon it is Meghan Markle’s grace, strength, authenticity and humility that made Harry fall in love with her. These attributes were not accidental but passed down by her mother.
Thank you Ms Ragland – you are an inspiration, not only to women of colour, or from a working-class background, but to all mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers passing down values to the next generation.
*Dr Noreen Mirza was recently awarded her PhD from the Anthropology department at the University of Manchester. Her research focused on the experiences of middle class British Pakistani women in Manchester. You can read about her research and her own experiences as a middle class British-Pakistani here on the blog. Her PhD thesis will soon be available to read in our library.