Meghan Markle is no underachiever.
She’s the breakout star of successful TV show Suits, is the Global Ambassador for World Vision Canada, has worked with the United Nations, is the Editor-in-Chief of her own lifestyle brand The Tig – oh, and she’s recently been romantically linked to a ginger man named Harry.
But she hasn’t always enjoyed such success.
In an essay published in ELLE last year, which has resurfaced over the last few days, the 35-year-old shared the sad reason she “couldn’t book a job” before legal drama Suits came along.
Why? She didn’t fit any specific box the label-driven industry of Hollywood was looking for.
“Being ‘ethnically ambiguous’, as I was pegged in the industry, meant I could audition for virtually any role. Morphing from Latina when I was dressed in red, to African American when in mustard yellow; my closet filled with fashionable frocks to make me look as racially varied as an Eighties Benetton poster,” she wrote.
“Sadly, it didn’t matter: I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job.”
Listen: Mamamia Out Loud discusses the attacks on Meghan Markle.
All this because as Markle puts it, “My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white.”
It’s a background that’s caused the actress much confusion over her identity, not necessarily for herself, but because of the definition that everyone else demands of her. To them, her mixed race put her in a “grey” area.
There’s one example Markle recounts that stands out.
She’s in her seventh grade English class filling out a mandatory census, with one of the questions requiring a ‘simple’ tick of the box to describe your ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic or Asian.
“There I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up, but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other,” she wrote.
“My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. ‘Because that’s how you look, Meghan,’ she said. I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out.
“So, I didn’t tick a box. I left my identity blank – a question mark, an absolute incomplete – much like how I felt.”
Her dad told her later, “If that happens again, you draw your own box.”
In 2011, the role of Suits’ female lead Rachel Zane came along, giving her the chance to break out of the box all together.
Unlike previous auditions, the producers weren’t looking for someone mixed, or black, or white, or any race for that matter. They just wanted to find ‘Rachel’.
“It’s the Goldilocks of my acting career – where finally I was just right,” she wrote.
This choice has significance that goes way beyond Markle, who believes it has helped shift the way pop culture defines beauty.
“The choices made in these rooms trickle into how viewers see the world, whether they’re aware of it or not. Some households may never have had a black person in their house as a guest, or someone biracial,” she wrote. (Post continues after gallery.)
“Well, now there are a lot of us on your TV and in your home with you. And with Suits, specifically, you have Rachel Zane. I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
Unfortunately, it seems there’s still a long way to go.
In season two, Rachel’s father was cast as an African-American played by actor Wendell Pierce, a decision Markle was excited by.
Some viewers disagreed.
“I remember the tweets when that first episode of the Zane family aired, they ran the gamut from: ‘Why would they make her dad black? She’s not black’ to ‘Ew, she’s black? I used to think she was hot.’ The latter was blocked and reported,” she wrote.
“The reaction was unexpected, but speaks of the undercurrent of racism that is so prevalent, especially within America.”
After years of confusion as a biracial woman, Markle has found a way to escape the ‘grey’.
“Who wants to be this indifferent colour, devoid of depth and stuck in the middle? I certainly didn’t. So you make a choice: continue living your life feeling muddled in this abyss of self-misunderstanding, or you find your identity independent of it,” she wrote.
“You push for colour-blind casting, you draw your own box. You introduce yourself as who you are, not what colour your parents happen to be.”