“Why I changed my mind about Meghan and Harry”
I’ve been looking forward to the Netflix documentary about Meaghan and Harry just like a lot of folks who are British royal family fans. It’s a harmless and pleasant pursuit during this never-ending time of “staying home with Covid” and we are all desperate for things to watch on TV. Nothing makes me feel warmer and cozier than having an entire list of shows to watch. My dark secret is the flat, black device called an IPAD which contains all sorts of entertainment for empty evenings has become my best friend. I never thought there would be a time when I would confess to that.
I have to tell you, however, that I was not a fan of Meaghan’s, as I imagined her having stolen Harry’s birthright from him and thrown it back at the royals. I know there are a lot of us in this camp. It’s a common question people ask nowadays and quite a few people express a lack of interest in her, yet they expect to watch the series.
I never expected the docuseries to change my mind about her, but it did. It wasn’t due to the subtle persuasion tactics used by the producers though there are a lot of those. It also wasn’t due to herself, telling her story (as I still find her annoying, carefully dressed in ice blue against a backdrop of a Montecito mansion, not a hair out of place).
In the end I realized that this story rang a bell with me and reminded me of the complexities of mixed-race marriage and the resulting children as I had experienced the same thing in my own life but had conveniently forgotten how deeply distressing it had been. I was shocked at the behavior of my family and friends. ;
I don’t remember not liking someone because of where they were born or what their ethnicity was. It has always seemed very interesting to get to know those who are different than I am. I have always been attracted to dark-haired men and am grateful for having inherited my mother’s olive skin.
O. K., you are thinking, that’s pretty arrogant but I’ll tell you a funny story. Some years ago, I was in Vietnam to participate in a conference there sponsored by the Watson Institute at Brown University and the Rockefeller Foundation. The purpose of the conference was to examine decisions made on both sides during the long conflict and see if examining these military decisions and assumptions would lead to better relationships between nations. It was a fascinating discussion but I’m not sure it accomplished anything.
On the one day we had free time I found the only car and guide in Hanoi and hired him for a small amount of money to show me the city. I invited two of the women from the conference to come with me and we really enjoyed ourselves. At the end of the day as we returned to our hotel, I turned to them both and asked,” I don’t get it. We are all dressed in the same conservative manner and yet everyone we pass stares at me and not the two of you!”
Susan turned to me and laughingly replied, “Lucinda, we are Asian!”
Pretty stupid of me, right? I really like telling that story even 30 years later as I was oblivious to the difference between myself and the other women. It seemed so naïve but also funny and innocent. My comrades couldn’t stop laughing.
When I was 25, I was definitely race-blind in my friendships and my love life. I was the “American Princess” of all American princesses as my grandfather had founded IBM and my dad had been on the cover of Fortune Magazine as the world’s greatest capitalist. We lived in Greenwich, Connecticut where everyone was a company, so we didn’t think we were special or different from anyone else in the world. Because of all this prestige and wealth, it was easy to be “race blind”.
We knew nothing of the real world. Our world was contained in beautiful houses, glamourous mothers and fathers who were usually traveling and drank too much when they were home There were a few people who worked in these large Greenwich houses who cooked, cleaned and even ironed for those living there. These people often became the only close and supportive friends we kids had. I went to the White House before I was 12 and met President Kennedy as my mom had dated him in high school. I met heads of state, corporate heads, actors and ski instructors in my family’s dining room as my dad loved new people. He didn’t really care who they were but only if they had a sense of humor., particularly for his jokes.
When I first met my husband to-be I was 25 and still a college student as I had dropped out earlier because of serious depression. My father wisely made me get a job so I would understand what life was like without a college degree. The only thing I knew how to do was develop photographs, so I worked for 8 months in a hospital darkroom developing photographs of cancer cells. I went back to college the following fall with a clear understanding of the kind of work I did not want in the future.
I lived a privileged life as my father’s wealth and power appealed to many. We were the American version of the British royal family. Quite a few families fell into this position at the time. The Rockefellers, for example, were well known for their generosity and civic interest. My grandfather, who started life in a two-room farmhouse in Painted Post, New York, spent his life working to be accepted as a part of that society: He was a first generation American as his parents had come over from Ireland during the potato famine and changed their name from ‘Wasson” to “Watson” in order to sound more “American”. He never wore anything but a three-piece suit, He had season tickets to the opera, the ballet and the New York symphony and he married up to Jeannette Kittredge, a stern, perpetually frowning woman. He did not drink or swear or behave at any time unlike a gentleman. He came from nothing and became a big something progressing from a simple horse and buggy full of cash registers to owning a townhouse just off fifth Avenue. His life was the American dream of rags to riches.
He was also one of the kindest men I have ever met.
When I met Alex Mehran, he took my breath away. He was devastatingly handsome, beautifully dressed and had lovely manners. He treated me as if I were a rare and lovely flower and yet he had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. He was exotic, sophisticated and knew his way around the society life of the time in New York. When we went out it was always to the best restaurant and then on to El Morocco to dance the night away. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.
His parents had immigrated from Iran in 1949 and Alex had been raised in California in the middle of white bread suburbia. He told me as I got to know him how badly he was treated by the kids at his school. He stood out in the 1950’s among these blond haired, white skinned kids and so he was belittled for being different. His parents stoically encouraged him to do well, compete to win, and get into the best college in the States. He did all of that and more but that’s another story.
When Alex asked me to marry him, I was ecstatic. My sister and adviser in the language of love, Jeannette, had told me not to go away with him for Christmas without a ring and “Not to be afraid of walking away from the bargaining table.”
As usual, she was right, and Alex proposed in time enough to arrange the Christmas trip.
The beginning of an awareness of what we were doing happened at that time. My father appeared to like Alex: he was an accomplished and hard-working young man who had excellent academic credentials and beautiful manners. He was good at fitting in anywhere and people liked him. What could go wrong?
As soon as Alex and I paid a call to my parents to announce our marriage I understood there were going to be some issues on my parents’ part. The meeting was very gracious, and Alex felt accepted and pleased with the outcome. We celebrated with champagne and “cheers” all around and much laughter. As I recall the champagne was delicious and I can’t remember feeling so happy! On our way out the door my father pulled me aside and asked me to come back in the morning to speak with him. It was odd to me, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.
The following morning, I returned and my dad was waiting in his den with a nice fire going and some bad coffee. (My parents drank Sanka, a terrible instant coffee, until the day they died) He began by telling me how much he and my mother liked Alex and how pleased they were for me. Almost immediately the questions began: “Have you thought about what your friends will think? “Do you understand how different Alex’s family is from ours” and then the final and worst, “Do you know that your children will look very different?”
I remember feeling a creeping numbness come over me and an inability to comprehend what he was saying took over my brain. I literally felt sick and frightened. I wasn’t expecting these remarks nor was I expecting to hear his prejudice which he kept reminding me was “for my own good”.
I ended the meeting by saying I appreciated hearing his thoughts and understood he was attempting to support me and left the meeting by saying, “Our children will be beautiful!”
I reflected on my father’s views on my drive home and my emotional self went from rage to fear to compassion but mostly rage. How could he have said all the things he did? All these years of demonstrated open-mindedness and then these statements. It was so perplexing and horrible. I never said one word to Alex but assured him my parents were very much in favor of the union.
Planning for the wedding began and gifts arrived. It was like a cultural show and tell. On one side of the table were the quiet WASP gifts like tiny ashtrays and on the other incredibly lovely Persian gifts with delicately painted China pieces and ornate silver. Several of my friends whispered to me there was still time to call things off. I never swayed in my conviction that Alex was the man of my dreams and the future father of my children. I was dumbfounded that everyone didn’t see how perfect he was. I blocked out any negative comments or warnings and we had a beautiful wedding and moved to California.
San Francisco is the most beautiful city in America and is also the most liberal, but there exists a social hierarchy unlike any I had known before. It is rigid and unrelenting and there are certain categories that one can be accepted in but only under certain circumstances. The “first families” of San Francisco hold the cards but outsiders will be allowed to enter if they possess money, prestige, power, beauty, notoriety or great charm. It was a hard nut to crack for Alex and me but crack it we did. Doors opened because of my family and stayed open because of Alex’s great charm with people as well as his intelligence and compassion. Everybody liked him as he was impossible not to like. We entertained all the time, had hugely entertaining parties and became one of the most popular young couples in town.
Alex knew how to acclimatize to any group or situation. He adapted the customs of WASP society and learned carefully the manners and mode of dress. He was naturally charming, intelligent and deferential. For all these reasons and more he became one of the most well-liked men in town in a very short period of time. He adapted to the customs of San Francisco and understood the need for them. He came from two immigrants who wanted more than anything to assimilate into American culture and he was aware of how to do that. San Francisco accepted him because he became like them and contributed a great deal to their cultural institutions. He was considered to be a glamourous presence and one who was thoughtful and kind, like my grandfather.
We all do this but usually unconsciously. We choose language patterns, adopt dress styles and choose our friends based on what we are used to. We naturally gravitate to those who are like us in behavior and looks. If we are newcomers in an unfamiliar place, we may stick to ourselves as it is uncomfortable to be unfamiliar with society. My Grandfather was a dirt-poor farmer determined to make it big and he learned to imitate every detail of New York society behavior in order to be accepted. My husband was the same as he wanted to be a part of a culture. I had it easy because people were predisposed to accept me. I was allowed to misbehave but Alex was not. Over time that changed.
On November fourth, 1979, 52 Americans from the United States embassy in Iran were taken hostage and held for 444 days. Iran became an enemy and all Iranians in America were under suspicion. Iranians who once were considered to be elegant, cultured and interesting became suspicious. My husband was followed home one night from the east bay and almost forced off the road. Some of our friends asked how we felt about this. “What answer was a good answer”, we wondered. The Shah was ousted, and his regime destroyed. Any chance of travel to Iran became impossible. The current shifted in our social scene. We were both uneasy about our life and our children (who were beautiful!) as things had changed overnight. We survived by continuing our life with dignity and respect.
What does this have to do with Meghan and Harry? I see many similarities but the major one is the fact that she never gave the royal family a chance to understand her or to change hundreds of years of prejudice and behavior. She is not a stupid woman and must have understood what she would face when marrying Harry. She agreed to the customs of the family with her “I do” and then immediately and very publicly made herself a victim of royal prejudice thus forcing her husband to give up his family. I believe that if she had stayed silent and sought counseling on how to handle the situation things might have turned out differently. I am not minimizing her as I have great sympathy for her bewilderment at the prejudice she experienced. It is shocking. In a different world this would not have happened, but she chose to marry into one of the oldest and most conservative of monarchies. How do you change the gait of a lumbering elephant?
I know that change does not happen overnight but happens slowly and with great patience. I know that acceptance into a new society happens by understanding and behaving in the same manner as that society. Behavioral scientists describe this in their studies of animal groups. It’s frustrating to understand this and to understand the time it takes for change to happen. I have learned myself that reactivity only produces backward movement and often more of a setback for the desired change.
I am not defending the royals but merely stating what I’ve seen. Prejudice exists everywhere and I have often experienced it as a woman in business. It used to shock and anger me which it still does but I now follow those feelings with questions focused on how I can change the opinion of biased people. Prejudice is ugly and unforgivable, but it happens. It happened in my own family to my grandfather as well as to my husband. We all have prejudices inside us whether we acknowledge them or not. We gravitate to those that are like us as the unknown is frightening.
Last year I was asked to run a class for the freshmen at a local university. The curriculum had been written by a professor and was easy to follow but incredibly boring to the students and to me. The most interesting conversations happened when we dropped the outline for the day and began a discussion of when and how the students had experienced discrimination. Initially these conversations were dull and slow as the majority of students came from middle-class Catholic families in “white bread” communities. They expressed having never experienced prejudice and could not be persuaded otherwise, which made it almost impossible to have a discussion.
Finally, one of the students began to talk about his own family. He stated he was at the college on a full scholarship provided by a local police department as his father was a cop. He described in detail the treatment he had received over the years from his peers, neighbors and others demeaning cops and criticizing them. He confided in the group his loneliness and feelings of not fitting in anywhere. He described his own fears and anger at this treatment and admitted he rarely told anyone what his father did.
It was one of the most moving moments of my life. Coming from a completely different point of view it was extremely moving and the rest of the class now had something to think about. Maybe some minds were changed or opened that day.
Though my former husband and I divorced , I have great respect for him and the life he created for his family. I also have great respect for his roots and the customs of the Persian culture. I was sad not to have been able to visit Iran as there is much to see and learn there. I’m also sad for Meaghan and Harry though I obviously don’t know them. It’s probably a bad idea to write about your family in any way shape or form though I have done so in this essay.
I think the moral of the story as I have learned it is if you want a situation to change you have to understand why it is the way it is. Then, you need to look at how long it has been in place .Respecting where we come from is necessary to build bridges with others towards new behaviors. Perhaps the situation with the royal family will eventually resolve and new behaviors on their part will evolve and adapt positively to the changing times. I have hope that the family can be reunited in a new way And that is because in my life I have seen that family is the most important thing in the world. It can be your family of origin or the family you create, but family is what keeps you going.