Amidst the saga of royal drama, betrayal, and intrigue that has been Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s departure from The Firm, one would assume the prince had plenty of insight to glean from his experience. However, recent comments made in an ITV interview suggest otherwise.
While promoting his fast-selling memoir Spare, Harry sat down with journalist Tom Bradby to discuss the royal institution, his family, and accounts of racism within both. Harry’s comments revealed a glaring lack of understanding and excess of privilege in the wake of his wife’s experiences—and the world noticed.
The vague, icky feelings Harry’s comments stirred within us were later confirmed as sociologists, activists, and writers took to the internet to collectively say: No, Harry, you’re actually wrong on this one.
The Start Of A Scandal
As a novel upset to the British monarchy’s long-held tradition of homogenous elitism, the start of Harry and Meghan’s relationship in 2016 (and their 2017 engagement) sent the first titillating ripples through an otherwise placid pond.
While the family maintained a welcoming appearance, this didn’t stop an influx of racist rhetoric from tabloids and royal onlookers alike. And once the couple started to pull away from the family, the widespread assumptions that their romance would prove to be a royal upset started to solidify.
In March 2021, the couple sat down with Oprah Winfrey in a jaw-dropping interview and offered an alternative cause: racism, both institutional and otherwise. From Meghan’s perspective—and with Harry at her side—she described the discrimination she felt in and outside the family.
From hateful derogatory comments to alleged conversations concerning the skin color of Harry and Meghan’s future child, it’s clear that the entire experience disturbed the biracial, 40-year-old mother. Harry, too, was getting a secondhand understanding of what it meant to be a Black woman in the spotlight.
The Royal Mansplaining Of It All
However, his comments suggest he still doesn’t really get it. Bradby brought up the skin color conversation in his recent interview with Harry and asked the prince whether he would describe the conversation as racist. “I wouldn’t,” Harry replied. “Not having lived within that family.”
“Going back to the difference between what my understanding is because of my own experience, the difference between racism and unconscious bias, the two things are different,” Harry continued.
“But once it’s been acknowledged, or pointed out to you as an individual, or as an institution, that you have unconscious bias, you, therefore, have an opportunity to learn and grow from that so that you are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Otherwise, unconscious bias then moves into the category of racism.”
Harry goes on to say that “any other mixed-race couple around the world” would likely have a scenario in which the “white side of the family [has] either openly or secretly discussed, ‘what are the kids going to look like?’” However, people were quick to point out the trouble with simply brushing these comments aside.
“There’s Zero Difference”
Though Harry’s perspective might have been innocent enough in his mind, it places an undue focus on the intent of the biased. After all, if I’m unconsciously aware of it, then how guilty can I be? This ironclad copout overshadows the experience of the individuals on the receiving end of their bias.
“You’re WRONG,” lawyer and activist Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu tweeted in response. “There’s ZERO difference between racist conscious/unconscious bias and racism. Bias is the presence of racism, & the actions/words are proof therein.”
“When Harry states that members of his family hold unconscious bias, he does not situate this within the larger context of institutional racism. This is particularly concerning when we consider who, exactly, he is talking about,” wrote Meghan Tinsley, a Presidential Fellow in Ethnicity and Inequalities at the University of Manchester.
Indeed, the trouble with Harry’s comments runs deeper than semantics. Racism and the British empire are irrevocably intertwined. The royal family is a direct byproduct of violent colonialism. All things considered, whisperings about infants’ skin color are just another extension of this age-old form of “othering.”
Unconscious Unaccountability Isn’t Good Enough
Of course, no one is perfect—not even a prince. While Harry is no stranger to tense accusations around racism, he has shown a concerted effort to stand with his wife as an ally. Does this recent interview show he has much more work to do? Certainly.
One could argue removing the rose-colored implications of “unconscious bias” would be an excellent place to start. Terms like this sugarcoat the seedy underbelly of the monarchy. It takes away the responsibility of the discriminator and places it on the discriminated to not take it the wrong way.
But it’s not that simple. A 2022 study published in the British Medical Journal cited racism as a leading cause of death in the United States—yes, including the kind of racism that stems from the unconscious bias Harry was haphazardly trying to defend. In times as contentious as these, being “not consciously racist” just won’t cut it.
Even those uninterested in the monarchy can appreciate the complexity of a public family riff interlaced with centuries’ worth of ideological tradition. (Can’t we all relate to the old ‘can’t choose your family’ bit?) Still, Harry and Meghan stand to be a powerful representation of change and inclusive progress within the institution.
Consequently, how they wield that influence—and the words they do or don’t choose—become all the more critical. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, right?