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As Meghan Markle’s Sunday night interview with Oprah Winfrey continues to break the internet, some are taking to social media to call out the specific brand of racist, sexist treatment she discussed having endured during her time with the royal family as "misogynoir."
That "is really the most easily observed outcome for her marrying into the royal family," says Meredith Clark of the Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies, explaining that "[Black folks] talk about the differences between how Black women are treated in media and how that differs from the way white women and really women of all backgrounds are treated, [but] with Meghan Markle, we don't have to make those comparisons fictitiously. We can make those comparisons by looking at the different headlines [about Kate Middleton vs. Meghan]."
The term, coined in 2008 by Northeastern University women's studies professor Moya Bailey, author of the forthcoming Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women's Digital Resistance, and Trudy (aka @thetrudz), a one-named writer, artist and social critic, has only recently been gaining ground in popular culture. It describes “the specific combination of anti-Black and misogynistic representation in visual culture and digital spaces that shapes broader ideas about Black women.”
Clark tells Yahoo Life, "Critiques aside about whether Megan self-identifies as Black or not, it is obvious to see how differently she is treated by the press. From a scientific perspective, there are other things that I would have to consider as a researcher, like the fact that she's American, but bottom line: We can see very clearly that race has something to do with the mistreatment of this young woman."
Following the revealing interview between Markle and Winfrey (and eventually Prince Harry) — in which Markle called out her "character assassination," senior royals expressing "concerns" over baby Archie's possible skin tone and how she'd felt so low over the situation that she began to ideate suicide — the portmanteau has now resurfaced on social media.
Misogynoir is a combination of the words “misogyny” and “noir” ("black" in French), and the originators created it to give appropriate language for “the anti-Black racist misogyny” that is specific to the experience of Black women everywhere, regardless of social status. The concept is one that has recently been discussed in response to the media's biased treatment of others, including Serena Williams, Megan Thee Stallion, Maxine Waters and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Clark says: "It's important to go back to something that [New York Times critic] Wesley Morris has said [in Framing Britney Spears]: 'The U.S. doesn't have royals. We have celebrities.' And so the way that we make that comparison is how we treat our celebrities in the press in the U.S., and when you look at [the treatment of] dark-skin actresses, I will never forget a New York Times writer saying that Viola Davis was less classically beautiful than other Black women."
Regarding Vice President Harris, a 2020 report published by Time's Up Now found that “61 percent of the analyzed coverage of Harris referred to her race and gender, [yet] only 5 percent of the 2016 coverage of [vice presidential nominees Mike] Pence and [Tim] Kaine mentioned their race and gender, underscoring the widespread acceptance of white men as the ‘default’ model for leaders.” This phenomenon, along with the term misogynoir, is encompassed by yet another concept that has gained widespread use over the past few years — "intersectionality," a term coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, to describe “how race, class, gender and other individual characteristics 'intersect' with one another and overlap.”
"Black women are less likely to be believed, less likely to call the police, and there’s this idea that we shouldn’t air dirty laundry,” C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Yahoo Life in July, in reference to Stallion, adding that misogynoir is “a part of American culture” and responsible for “literally killing Black women.”
Clark adds that colorism is deeply entangled in this web of discrimination, noting that "it's not hard to see that yes, if Meghan Markle were a dark-skinned Black woman, I can't imagine honestly that she would have been 'permitted' to marry into the royal family first, but then I just cannot imagine what the treatment from the press would be."
By sharing her personal story, however, Markle continues to push back. "I’m not going to live my life in fear,” she told Winfrey. “To answer your question, I don’t know how they could expect that after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there was an active role that "The Firm" is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us. At a certain point, you’re going to go, ‘Guys, just tell the truth.’ If that comes with risk of losing things, there’s a lot that’s been lost already. I’ve lost my father. I lost a baby. I nearly lost my name.”
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