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“Linked, not ranked,” are the words encircling Meghan Markle’s wrist, spelled out by a bracelet gifted to her by 86-year-old American activist Gloria Steinem. The hierarchy-smashing phrase coined by Steinem is at the heart of a ground-breaking conversation on voting Meghan had with the feminist icon in her backyard.
Black representation in politics, voter suppression, and women of colour were front-and-centre of the conversation between the Duchess of Sussex and the iconic feminist Steinem. This is Meghan’s second public appearance encouraging Americans to vote in the upcoming US presidential election.
While Meghan refrains from endorsing any candidates by name in the Q&A, produced exclusively for HuffPost’s sister brand, MAKERS, the 39-year-old ex-royal doesn’t hesitate from opening up to Steinem about how “excited” she is to potentially see Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat Joe Biden’s running mate and a divisive figure among Black communities, become vice-president.
“You know, for me, being biracial growing up — whether it was a doll or a person in office, you need to see someone who looks like you in some capacity. As many of us believe, you can only be what you can see,” Markle told Steinem. “And in the absence of that, how can you aspire to something greater than what you see in your own world?”
Meghan’s homecoming encourages women of colour to vote
In between surprise visits from Meghan’s lovable dogs Guy and Pula — who, along with Prince Harry and their young son Archie, moved into a home in Santa Barbara, California last month — much of the socially distanced outdoor chat covered how voter suppression prevents people of colour, particularly women, from filling ballot boxes.
“If you don’t vote, you don’t exist. It’s the only place where we are all equal: In the voting booth,” Steinem said. She pointed out that she herself has seen voting lines last for eight hours, a luxury of time marginalised people can’t afford.
“You know, for me, being biracial growing up – whether it was a doll or a person in office, you need to see someone who looks like you in some capacity. As many of us believe, you can only be what you can see.”
Meghan agreed, adding that people of colour may be verbally intimidated while waiting in line. “And then you think, ‘You know, it’s not worth it.’ You decide to step out of line and relinquish your right to vote. That’s bad enough, but then there’s a ripple effect because whoever is in the back of the line says, ‘Whatever they did to them, I don’t want that to happen to me.’ That, I think, is so frightening.”
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Women’s rights figured heavily in their conversation, with both making sure to point out that not all American women won the right to vote in 1920.
“I remember you were saying, ’Well of course it’s a recognition, but it’s only the right to vote for white women,” Markle recalled to Steinem.
Both took care to credit women of colour, who took their right to vote decades later. Not only that, but women have looked out for the civil rights of all: Anti-discrimination only became US law thanks to an Alaskan Indigenous woman named Elizabeth Peratrovich, Steinem said.
“It was about a circular idea of consensus, circles of consensus going up rather than hierarchy, which is the source of the linked not ranked,” Steinem said.
Steinem referenced this in a 2017 interview in Toronto held by all-girls’ school Branksome Hall, where she acknowledged how Indigenous women have influenced her views on social change.
“Speaking personally, it’s been very helpful to me to understand that the kind of hierarchical structure we have with gender and race and class ... is relatively new in human history,” Steinem said at the time, later repeating that people are “linked, not ranked; we can have a paradigm of society that’s a circle, not a pyramid.”
As someone who’s used every opportunity since leaving her royal duties to call out power and encourage the democratic process in her home country, the phrase hit home for Markle. “It means everything to me on every level; we are linked, not ranked,” Meghan echoed.