As the world mourns the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh, royal followers also wonder if Prince Philip was racist and if reports about his history of problematic comments are true. Buckingham Palace confirmed on April 9, 2021, that Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, had died at 99 years old.
“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement at the time. “His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.”
The Queen and Prince Philip, who wed on November 20, 1947, were married for almost 74 years. The couple share four children: Prince Charles, 72, Princess Anne, 70, Prince Andrew, 61, and Prince Edward, 57. In a statement on April 12, Prince Harry, Prince Philip’s grandson, talked about his late grandfather’s “cheeky” sense of “humor” and how he was known as the “legend of banter” within the British royal family.
“My grandfather was a man of service, honour and great humour. He was authentically himself, with a seriously sharp wit, and could hold the attention of any room due to his charm—and also because you never knew what he might say next,” Harry said at the time. “He will be remembered as the longest reigning consort to the Monarch, a decorated serviceman, a Prince and a Duke. But to me, like many of you who have lost a loved one or grandparent over the pain of this past year, he was my grandpa: master of the barbecue, legend of banter, and cheeky right ’til the end.”
However, for many royal followers, Prince Philip’s “cheeky” jokes were often offensive or racist comments that were often laughed off as “gaffes.” According to Insider, Philip once described Beijin as “ghastly” while on a visit to China in 1986. He reportedly told British students at the time, “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”
Insider also reported that Philip made another insensitive comment about Cantonese food that year while speaking at a World Wildlife Fund meeting. “If it has four legs and is not a chair, has wings and is not an airplane, or swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it,” he said.
Other instances of offensive comments include when he told a student who was traveling through Papua New Guinera in 1988, “You managed not to get eaten then,” and when he asked Cayman island residents in 1994 if they “descended from pirates.” In 2002, Insider reports that Philip told an aboriginal leader in Queensland, Australia, “Do you still throw spears at each other?”
Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, told CNN in April 2021 that Philip’s sense of humor was an example of “old-school racism” at he time. “He was a throwback to old-school racism. Painting him as a benign, cuddly uncle of the nation is simply untrue,” Andrews said.
Philip is also reported to have made several sexist remarks throughout his life, including one time when he asked a Kenyan woman in 1984, “You are a woman, aren’t you?” after she gave him a gift. According to Mashable, Philip also said in 1988, “I don’t think a prostitute is more moral than a wife, but they are doing the same thing.” The site also reports that, in 2009, Philip met a female Sea Cadet who once worked at a nightclub, to which Philip responded, “Is it a strip club?”
Another offensive comment came in 2002 when Philip pointed to a 14-year-old member of a Bangladeshi youth club and asked, “So who’s on drugs here?… HE looks as if he’s on drugs.” According to Insider, Philip also told the president of Nigeria that he looked “ready for bed” because he was dressed in a traditional robe. The site also reports that Philip once told a 13-year-old who wanted to become an astronaut that he should lose weight.
Philip’s resurfaced comments also come after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle told Oprah Winfrey in a CBS interview in March 2021 that a member of the royal family told them about their concern over wheat their son Archie’s skin tone would look like when he was born. “There [were] conversations with Harry about how dark your baby is going to be and what that would mean or look like,” Meghan said at the time. Oprah then followed up by asking, “They were concerned that if he were too brown that that would be a problem?” to which Meghan responded, “I wasn’t able to follow up. If that’s the assumption you’re making…that would be a safe one.”
Harry and Meghan declined to name the royal. In an interview on CBS This Morning, Oprah told host Gayle King that Meghan and Harry never told her the identities of the royal but confirmed that it was not the Queen or Prince Philip who had “concerns” over Archie’s skin color.
“He did not share the identity with me,” Oprah said at the time. “But he wanted to make sure that I knew, and if I had an opportunity to share it, that it was not his grandmother, nor his grandfather that were part of those conversations….He did not tell me who were a part of those conversations. As you could see I tried to get that answer, on-camera and off.”
For more about Prince Philip’s life, check out Ingrid Seward’s biography about the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip Revealed, Seward, a Majesty magazine editor who has been covering the British royal family for decades for, unravels the “enigma” that we know as Prince Philip. From his early childhood in Paris to his mother’s battle with schizophrenia to his military service in World War II, Seward covers topics that many royal followers may not know about or haven’t seen on The Crown. The book also discusses how Prince Philip was “initially distrusted” by the royal court before he found his place in Buckingham Palace.
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