On the evening of June 3, the Duchess of Sussex shared a speech with Immaculate High School’s graduating seniors. It wasn’t the one she originally planned, which was cheerful and congratulatory. But as the country roiled over the death of George Floyd, she knew she couldn’t stay silent.
So, dressed in a plain white shirt with a pared-back ponytail, the Duchess delivered an emotional address against a nondescript wall. She emphasized that Black lives mattered. She named more victims of systemic police brutality: Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice. She shared her own painful memories from growing up as a biracial child during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, an event she said was also triggered by “a senseless act of racism.” (“I remember the curfew, and I remember rushing back home and on that drive home seeing ash fall from the sky and smelling the smoke and seeing the smoke billow out of buildings,” she recalled.) Then, she urged action: “I know that this is not the graduation that you envisioned. And this is not the celebration that you imagined. But I also know that there’s a way for us to reframe this for you and to not see this as the end of something but instead to see this as the beginning of you harnessing all the work, all the values, and all the skills that you have embodied over the last four years.”
This story was not first reported in The Times of London, The Mail on Sunday, or any of the British-based publications that comprise the royal rota. (Traditionally, the U.K. press is given exclusive media access to royal events and official engagements.) Instead, Essence, the U.S.-based Black women’s lifestyle outlet, got the scoop. Earlier this year, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their intention to provide more “diverse and open” access to their work, and they stuck by their word.
Days later, it emerged that Harry and Meghan plan to get involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. Currently, they’re talking to community leaders and grassroots advocates to listen, to learn, and to figure out how they can be most impactful.
When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their decision to step back from royal life on January 8, they did so with this message: “After many months of reflection and internal discussion, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.” While “within this institution” was wishful thinking—a week later, Buckingham Palace stated the couple no longer represented the monarchy—a progressive new role, it seems, was not. In fact, if the Immaculate Heart Speech was any indication, the world is about to see the new dawn of Meghan Markle.
It’s the role she always wanted to play. In a November 2017 interview with the BBC after her engagement, she spoke with sincere idealism about her future: “One of the first things we started talking about when we met was just the different things that we wanted to do in the world and how passionate we were about seeing change,” she said of herself and Harry. After her wedding, she hit the ground running: she released a cookbook to benefit the Hubb Community Kitchen, and gathered universal laudation during the couple’s two week tour of Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, and Fiji. (A highlight? Her speech on women’s rights in Wellington.) The Queen was reportedly impressed by her work ethic, especially while pregnant.
However despite her significant time on the world stage, it does feel like Markle, and her “sparkle” (as the press called it), had been suppressed. Once upon a time, she was a U.N. Women’s Advocate for Women’s Political Participation and Leadership. She was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, calling him a misogynist. In 2017, she told her Instagram followers to read Noam Chomsky. She blogged a plethora of musings on The Tig. But when she joined the royal family, that all went away—the social media, the lifestyle blog, and, well, her opinions.
The members of the monarchy must go through great lengths to remain apolitical. As Head of State, Queen does not vote in elections, and “has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters.” The feeling is that the Windsors must represent all of the United Kingdom, and, as unelected public officials, cannot use their power for undue influence.
Yet this steadfast commitment to neutrality also serves as a public muzzle—even when it comes to arguably universal causes. Many were disappointed when the Duchess of Cambridge, for example, wore green to the 2018 BAFTAs, where most actors donned black to support Time’s Up. Prince Charles was accused of meddling in government policy after sending letters to Labour government leaders about climate change and . . . Patagonian toothfish. (In case you were wondering, it’s sometimes mislabeled as Chilean sea bass.) Markle endured a minor scandal when a reporter tweeted that she approved of Ireland’s abortion referendum. They later clarified “she was interested and very measured, not political at all.” The damage, however, was done. If Meghan was still part of the royal family, could she have made the same passionate speech about Black Lives Matter, now the largest civil rights movement in history? Or would it have been reduced to a watered-down statement, or social media post, of support?
That’s now a mere hypothetical question. With a returned freedom of self-expression, an expanded global platform, and a new “no-engagement” policy with several British tabloids, Meghan no longer needs to uniformly abide by the constraints of the monarchy. She can support Black Lives Matter, any cause of her choosing. She can talk to any media outlet she wants. She can be politically outspoken—and, rumor has it, come the 2020 election, she will be.
The Duke and Duchess haven’t revealed their full plans for the Black Lives Matter movement yet. But it does seem like we’ve arrived at the moment when Meghan Markle, and her “sparkle,” can truly shine. Maybe, one day, she’ll even start posting about Noam Chomsky again.