Welcome home. I read where you and your family will come to the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving with your mother. I think this is a good time to send you a few thoughts. I want you to know about the power of radical gratitude and to know that “the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
I am writing to encourage you after seeing your comments in the documentary –Harry and Meghan: The African Journey.
I am one of the millions of people who watched your wedding and celebrated with you and Prince Harry. I must confess that I was an adult, married with children when I woke early in the morning to watch Diana Spencer marry Prince Charles. I am not a close royal watcher, but I am aware of the major events in the lives of the Mountbatten-Windsors. Their lives were background noise as I lived my own life, rearing my children, going through the joys and sorrows of my own crumbling marriage, a decision to go to graduate school and the decade it took for me to complete a PhD. I saw the news of the births of William and Harry with passing interest. I felt bad for them and for Diana as this Princess did not get her happily- ever-after. I felt bad for this family having to go through the difficulties of divorce with the whole world watching.
When Diana died, it was one of those world events when one remembers exactly where one was and what one was doing upon hearing the news. I was at my computer writing my dissertation. My first thought was what this would mean for her sons. The magnitude of the grief for Diana astonished me. At the time, I thought it was much too much. It was as if her death had uncorked a kind of universal grief where some Transcendence had given people permission to openly, shamelessly weep. There was not a requirement to be strong for one’s own family.
It was clear, even in my world in the United States, that the English people were unhappy with the Queen’s response. They wanted her to participate in their public grief. To my mind, then and now, the Queen was correct to make her grandsons her first priority.
On the day of Diana’s funeral, I woke up early to attend via television. My heart broke for her sons as they walked behind her coffin. I whispered a prayer for their strength. They acquitted themselves well.
Time passed. I watched William’s wedding, and I was happy for him, but after the event I did not pay much attention. When the news reported that you and Harry were dating, I found it mildly interesting, and I was not at all surprised to hear of the racism that the papers in the UK shot your way. Harry’s response, however, commanded my attention. “Yeah Harry!” I thought.
Still, I really didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in your life. Then, you and Harry announced your engagement. Now, I started paying close attention. I watched your engagement interview and thought that this is a woman who can handle the situation, especially since I heard you say that you had decided not to read the British press at all.
This is a wise decision. For the press, you are not a human being. You are click bait. You are someone’s meal ticket. The paparazzi chased Harry’s mother to death. Literally. They feed on Harry and William more than the other members of the British royal family, and now they have added you to the menu.
However, there are people all over the world who are cheering for you and Harry. When you married, The East St. Louis Monitor, an African-American newspaper in an African-American town, featured your engagement picture on its front page. I was up early again to watch your wedding. This time with English muffins and mimosas.
When Harry and you announced your primary portfolio would be the Commonwealth, I thought what an enormous gift you are to the family. I know that you are now vice-president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and Harry is its president. The Queen has once again shown herself to be a very wise woman. The Queen’s Trust exists to encourage young people in the Commonwealth to work for positive change, and who better to spear-head this work than you and Harry given your popularity both as individuals and as a couple.
Moreover, you, being a mixed race woman, have both a biological and a historical connection to most of the Commonwealth because most of its nations are composed of people of color. A collection of 53 nations, the Commonwealth represents one third of the world’s population and 40 per cent of the world’s population who are under 30 years of age.
The Queen has been watching world politics closely since World War II, and she knows that the former British colonies are going to be important in all kinds of ways in the future. She also knows that the only power that the royal family has is soft power, or what I call positive power. Soft power/positive power is the power of influence, the power of persuasion opposed to hard power/negative power that enforces its will through the extreme violence of military force. The things that hold the Commonwealth together are language, tradition, common values and goals, including human rights which include women’s rights and ecological goals that will meet the challenge of climate change. Soft/positive power.
And then there is trade. Free trade among Commonwealth nations is important, and as the Uk prepares to leave the European Union (maybe), trade with the Commonwealth will be even more necessary. Commonwealth nations and the rate of their economic growth will be significant for future trade with the UK. The Queen is looking forward to a time that she will never live to see. This is a hard pill to swallow for people in the UK who still live in the white supremacist fantasy of colonialism, the British Empire on which the sun never sets, and the conceit of the white man’s burden.
So, the racism you face from the British press, the relentless criticism and lies that come your way from God only knows how many sources both public and private are not about you personally. It is about the disequilibrium people are feeling in a world changing beyond their control and changing much too rapidly. They do not want to see you succeed because if you do their white supremacy is yet again proved wrong. Moreover, when anyone wants to make you feel less than because you are a descendant of enslaved human beings, they only showcase their own ignorance. If anyone looks deep enough into their own ancestry, they will find an enslaved human being. Because once upon a time in human history, slavery was a human improvement. When societies developed surplus food, defeated enemies in war were enslaved to provide cheap labor rather than being killed. Chattel slavery of the Atlantic Slave trade became a different thing as it became knotted with the invention of the concept of race and racial inferiority tied to the global economy. Once upon a time, the idea of white supremacy corrupted everything from religion to philosophy to law to politics to science and more.
Rather than shame, I say that we ought to remember and honor our enslaved ancestors. We ought to remember and call on Black Woman Power. This is a source of strength. I know your mother teaches yoga, so I expect you are familiar with yogic breathing techniques and meditation. I encourage you to breath in the spirits of the ancestors when you practice your meditative breathing,
The spirit lives in the breath. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in the spirit of survival of our ancestors who lived through the horrors of the Middle Passage, but you are not on a slave ship. Breath the spirit of determination to maintain one’s human dignity while standing on an auction block being inspected and sold as if one were a farm animal, but you are not standing on an auction block. Breathe in the fortitude of our ancestors who lived as enslaved people and who made a conscious decision to stay alive and to live in the faith that their children could live and live free, but you are not enslaved. Breathe in the courage and the stamina of our ancestors who ran away from slavery, who followed Harriet Tubman and other conductors of the Underground Railroad, but you are not a runaway slave. Breathe in the strength, the guts, heart, spine, of our sharecropper ancestors who dragged cotton sacks from caint to caint, from the time of day when one cannot see in the morning to the time when one cannot see in the evening, but you are not dragging a cotton sack. Breathe in the will power of Ida B. Wells-Barnett who refused to obey the decision of American suffragists who agreed to a segregated march in Washington for the women’s vote. Wells-Barnett marched with her white sisters in the Illinois delegation, but you are not Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Breathe in the indomitable resilience of Fannie Lou Hamer who took a crippling beating in a Mississippi jail for the crime of trying to register to vote, but you are not Fannie Lou Hamer. Breathe in the spirits of your own ancestors who your mother and father have told you about, but you are not them.
You are you, and the way you meet this moment will be spiritual strength for those who are not yet born. Your Royal Highness, with due respect to the British royal family, your worth as a human being does not come from your marriage to Harry. When I was a little girl, my Sunday School teachers told me that I was a child of the King, and I believed them. The King to whom they referred was King Jesus. An African-American spiritual sings: “Ride on King Jesus, no one can hinder him.”
Today, I understand the King to be the Mother/Father God, Black Madonna, Black Mater, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Divine Love, Black Mystery, Creator God who knows me and who loves me personally and unconditionally. God who is Divine Love loves each of us as its child. This is the source of our royalty, the source of our human worth. We are all connected through the breath, through Divine Love, and I suppose it was this connection that caused your interview to resonate with me to the extent that I wanted to write you this letter.
I think you may have been suffering from post-partum depression. I know that I suffered from it before I knew there was a name for what I was feeling. After the births of my children, I questioned myself and questioned whether there was any point at all to human existence in general and to my own existence in particular. Each time I descended to this depth of depression, my baby would cry, and since I do not believe that one ought to allow an infant to cry, I came out of myself to see to the needs of the child. Then, when the baby slept, I would meditate. And breathe.
One day, sitting quietly behind my closed eyes in blessed darkness, I heard God Almighty, God the mater, God the Mother, God the Holy Spirit sing to me in the voice of Jean Carn singing a song written by Wayne Shorter “Infant Eyes.” (I commend the entire album to you: Infant Eyes by Doug Carn)
“Little girl, you must try to be strong,
For being strong is the one thing in the whole world that will save you.”
I knew, again from Sunday School, that the joy of the LORD is my strength. This LORD in all caps is the God of Being, of Is-ness, the God that is the I AM, the God that is the I Will BE WHO I WILL BE. This wisdom comes from the command to celebrate life with a feast. (Nehemiah 8:10)
This is consistent with my own thinking, a womanist ethics of commensality. It is a mode of thought that says the ethical goals of life are sustenance and joy represented by the symbolic elements of bread (sustenance) and wine (joy). I know you understand this because in your interview you told Tom Bradby that life ought to be more than existence, that one ought to thrive. This is correct. Life is about sustenance and joy. It is also about radical gratitude.
However, I want to pass to you the wisdom my mother gave to me when she told me not to put my joy in the hands of any human being. If you do, you will be “most miserable.” People will disappoint us. They will misunderstand us. They will leave us. They will die. This is true even for people who love us. Our joy must come from what we ourselves have the power to do. We have the power to give love, and we have the power of radical gratitude. Give thanks even in the midst of your tears, knowing that Transcendence/Immanence, Divine Love, in whatever way you understand your relationship to this, whether or not you consider it holy, is with you, and within you. You are not alone. I say again that our tears are another way to pray, to communicate with an ineffable Being.
Finally, I say: when times are hard listen to Nina Simone, the high priestess of soul, sing anything. She sings a song that brings together two songs: “Ain’t Got No” and “I Got Life”. (The Essential Nina Simone) This will pull you out of the doldrums and back to radical gratitude. Then, listen to her rendition of “My Way” on The Essential Nina Simone: Vol. 2. Turn the sound up as loud as it will go. Then, dance. Dance into the world to face it with the power of radical gratitude.
I wish nothing but the best for you and for your family. I trust you and yours will have a blessed holiday season both in the Unites States and in the United Kingdom.
Valerie Elverton Dixon