For most of my life, I’m proud to say, I successfully avoided caring about the British royal family, but Harry and Meghan have ruined all that. Now I see their experience, their story, our exhaustion with their story, all of it, as an opportunity to usefully blur the line between past and present; to discover uncomfortable connections between various historical dots, and to redraw those connections in new, healthier ways. I know that’s a lot to say about people many of us are tired of hearing about, and who often seem so self-absorbed. And yet I’m still a bit surprised at how much I’ve been drawn in.
Let me start at the beginning for me. In the late summer of 1997, I was in mourning, and I was in debt. I was heading into my junior year at Harvard. The mourning began earlier that summer when I learned that two of my classmates—young, brilliant Black men—were killed in the same car accident. The loss of any young life is a tragedy. The loss of these young lives was devastating for me, the class of 1999, and particularly our small Black community. The debt began two years earlier when my mother and I both took out loans to pay for this higher educational experience. (In truth, the debt began centuries earlier, with the theft of land and people that, down the line, required loans taken out by both parent and child to further that child’s education, but that’s an essay for another time).
Picture a young Baratunde—part nerd with his Palm Pilot, part cool kid with his cornrows, part janitor with his mop bucket (paying down that debt required many odd jobs including literally cleaning and prepping campus housing as part of the “Dorm Crew” work-study program). I’m walking through the courtyard of Mather House, a rare Brutalist dorm sitting along the Charles River amongst more traditional Gothic Revival architecture striving to stir some Oxbridge flavor. It was here that one of my closest friends, a Trinidadian woman, broke the news that Princess Diana had died.