For some African-Americans, Meghan Markle is cause for celebration

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) - Ishea Brown and more than a dozen of her black friends will gather around the TV set in her Seattle home on Saturday to watch the biracial actress Meghan Markle marry Britain's Prince Harry and to toast a union the hostess never imagined possible.

Brown is not a longtime devotee of all things royal, and she was not particularly interested in the House of Windsor before November. All that changed with the announcement of the wedding of the queen's grandson to Markle, whose mother is black.

"These are things that growing up I never would have thought that we would see," Brown, 33, said, referring to a woman with African-American heritage becoming a royal in the United Kingdom.

"I hope that women, but particularly black women, are able to see themselves in her and her mother, and know that there are no spaces that are not meant for us," she said.

Brown has dubbed her party "Black A.F. Royal Wedding Brunch" and is using the hashtag of #WakandaWeddingWeekend, a reference to the fictional African country Wakanda featured in the blockbuster movie "Black Panther."

Hundreds of thousands of royal watchers around the world will tune into the royal nuptials on May 19, and interest is particularly intense in the United States, with its historical, cultural and linguistic ties to Great Britain.

There has been a surge of interest and excitement among some black Americans, especially black women, who are inspired by Meghan Markle's new-found status, said Sarah Gaither, a Duke University psychology professor who has focused on diversity issues and race relations.

"Most communities of color really aspire to have representation or role models, said Gaither, who is also a biracial woman. "That's what I think is really unique of Meghan Markle - because she's biracial."

That said, Gaither pointed out some people within the black community do not fully identify with Markle because she is a biracial woman.

Kim Love, a black American with a large Twitter and YouTube following who frequently comments on social mobility issues, raised that point in an online post on Tuesday.

"Meghan Markle's marriage does not represent a win for black women," Love said in a tweet. "Besides, she doesn't even self-identify as a 'black woman,' so please stop forcing it."

In New York City, Claire Osborne, a 34-year-old stage manager and a fan of "Suits," the USA Network television series that starred Markle, is one of those black women fascinated by the wedding. In fact, her interest runs so deep, she says she now spends much of her free time on Twitter to learn more about the festivities.

"A lot of my friends, we all weren't that interested in the royal family but now she's in there, as a person of color, we want to follow now," Osborne said, who also plans on waking up early to watch the wedding on television. "We're kind of rooting for her because you see someone in that world who looks like you and representation matters."

The wedding service starts at 1200 GMT (5 a.m. PDT), and to get in the spirit, Brown and her friends will wear tiaras or fascinators, a style of headwear favored by women at British weddings. But in a nod to the bride's heritage, the Seattle women will lace their hats with African prints.

In Seattle, Brown initially scheduled her get-together to start before dawn, but too many of her friends had schedule conflicts, so she changed the party time for noon, when guests will watch the festivities on delay.

Brown and her friends will sip glasses of English rose champagne and Hennessy refresh tea, a mix of the cognac and English Earl Grey black tea, which she said "is the best of both worlds."

"We're going to do cucumber sandwiches to be traditional, but we'll also have fried chicken sandwiches," Brown said. "We know that his favorite stuff is bacon and pizza, so we may have a breakfast pizza."

While the party is mostly about having fun, Brown says her identification with Markle runs deep. Like the royal bride, she also went through a divorce and is currently in an interracial relationship.

Brown says Markle represents the kind of woman whose life was not limited by preconceptions and arbitrary social boundaries.

"I find it inspiring," she said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)

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