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13 times the royal family has faced racism allegations through the years

13 times the royal family has faced racism allegations through the years
  • A Dutch version of a new royal book alleged Charles and Kate made comments about Archie's skin tone.

  • It references Meghan and Harry's 2021 Oprah interview, where they said royals had "concerns."

  • Accusations of racism in the royal family span back centuries to the British slave trade.

Allegations of racism in the British royal family span back centuries.

Several British monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, and King William III, directly supported or enabled the slave trade in the UK from the mid-1500s until it was abolished in 1833, The Guardian's David Conn reported in April. Neither the late Queen Elizabeth II nor King Charles III, the country's current monarch, has ever publicly apologized for the atrocities from which the institution has profited.

More recently, a new book about the royals, titled "Endgame: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy's Fight for Survival," by Omid Scobie shared details of recent racism allegations against some members of the royal family.

The original Dutch translation of the book was temporarily pulled after its release on November 28 as it reportedly named Kate Middleton and King Charles as the royals who made racially insensitive remarks about Prince Archie's skin tone before he was born in 2019.

The section of the book references Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, where they said family members had spoken about their "concerns" over the duo's son Archie's skin tone. At the time, Harry and Megan did not name the royals who were involved in the conversation but later confirmed it was not the late Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip.

Shortly after the interview in 2021, a palace spokesperson said the couple's concerns would be addressed privately by the family.

"The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning," the palace said in the statement. "While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously."

Buckingham Palace declined Business Insider's previous requests for comment regarding the identities of the royals. Representatives of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Kensington Palace did not respond to BI's requests for comment.

The royal family has been under the public microscope in recent years, facing allegations of problematic language and behavior that stretch into the business side of the institution. For example, a 2021 investigation conducted by The Guardian showed that Buckingham Palace once prohibited "colored immigrants or foreigners" from office roles and a July 2023 report by The Independent said that racist language had been used in the royal family's art collection.

The late Queen Elizabeth II never apologized for the monarchy's role in the slave trade.

The queen in her dress, holding the orb and sceptre.
Queen Elizabeth II after her coronation on June 2, 1953.Bettmann

As Business Insider previously reported, millions of enslaved African people were transported from Britain to its then-colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America, and other countries during the 16th century until 1807 in exchange for goods.

The Guardian's David Conn reported in April that a number of British monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth I and James I, supported or profited from Britain's slave trade.

The late Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned from 1952 until 2022, never publicly apologized for the monarchy's involvement.

King Charles III has also never officially apologized for the monarchy's role in the atrocity, though he has condemned the slave trade and issued his public support for a research project looking into the monarchy's links to slavery, according to another Guardian report from April.

Queen Elizabeth's late husband, Prince Philip, made controversial racial remarks during royal engagements over the years.

Prince William, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry, and Prince Philip in 2004.
Prince William, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry, and Prince Philip photographed in 2004.Tim Graham / Contributor / Getty Images

Prince Philip was married to Queen Elizabeth for 73 years, making him the longest-serving British consort before his death in 2021.

Philip was known for his controversial humor through the years and often made comments that are considered racist.

For example, he told the President of Nigeria that he looked like he was "ready for bed" when he wore national dress during their meeting in 2003, according to a 2015 report by The Mirror.

During a visit to China in 1986, he also told a British student that if he stayed much longer, "you'll go home with slitty eyes," according to the same report.

Although many of his past comments weren't acknowledged by the palace, Philip did offer an apology after a 1999 visit to an electronics factory in Scotland, where he said a messy fuse box looked "as though it was put in by an Indian," The Independent reported at the time.

"The Duke of Edinburgh regrets any offense which may have been caused by remarks he is reported as making earlier today. With hindsight, he accepts what were intended as light-hearted comments were inappropriate," a palace spokesperson said on behalf of the prince at the time.

Prince Harry said wearing a Nazi uniform was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

prince harry nazi
The front page of The Sun newspaper shows Prince Harry in a Nazi costume in 2005.Bruno Vincent / Getty Images

Prince Harry was photographed in 2005 wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party when he was 20.

British newspaper The Sun published a photo of Harry in the uniform on its front page on January 13, 2005, with the headline: "Harry the Nazi."

A spokesperson for the prince issued a public apology at the time, saying he "apologized for any offense or embarrassment he has caused," BBC News reported.

Harry reflected on the incident in his 2022 Netflix docuseries, "Harry and Meghan," which aired in December.

"It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I felt so ashamed afterwards," Harry said in a solo confessional. "All I wanted to do was make it right."

Harry gave further details about the party and his costume in his memoir, "Spare," which was published in January. He wrote that the party was a "natives and colonials" theme which he found to be "cringy" and that he was encouraged to pick the Nazi costume by Prince William and Kate Middleton. Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace did not respond to BI's request for comment regarding allegations made in the memoir.

 

Harry was criticized for using a racial slur when talking to an Asian army colleague in 2006.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Captain General Royal Marines visits 42 Commando Royal Marines at their base in Bickleigh to carry out a Green Beret presentation at Dartmoor National Park on February 20, 2019 in Plymouth, England.
Prince Harry visits 42 Commando Royal Marines at their base in Bickleigh to carry out a Green Beret presentation at Dartmoor National Park on February 20, 2019.Finnbarr Webster - WPA Pool/Getty Images

In 2009, News of the World published a video taken in 2006 of Harry using a racial term toward an Asian army colleague, Reuters reported at the time.

"Prince Harry fully understands how offensive this term can be, and is extremely sorry for any offense his words might cause," a spokesperson for the prince said in response to the video, according to Reuters.

"However, on this occasion three years ago, Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon," the spokesperson added. "There is no question that Prince Harry was in any way seeking to insult his friend."

Princess Michael of Kent wore a Blackamoor brooch to meet Meghan Markle in 2017.

Left: Meghan Markle. Right: Princess Michael of Kent wearing a blackamoor brooch.
Meghan Markle, left, attended a Christmas lunch with Princess Michael of Kent, right, in 2017.Christ Jackson/Getty Images ; Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

Princess Michael of Kent wore a Blackamoor brooch to a Christmas banquet at Buckingham Palace that was attended by Meghan Markle in 2017, BBC News reported at the time.

As BI's Talia Lakritz reported in 2022, Blackamoor art dates back to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and often depicts people with dark skin in subservient positions.

"The brooch was a gift and had been worn many times before. Princess Michael is very sorry and distressed that it has caused offense," a spokesperson for the princess said at the time, according to BBC News.

Afua Hirsch, a journalist and author of "Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging," said in Harry and Meghan's 2022 docuseries that he wasn't surprised to hear about the brooch because "you are likely to be faced with racist imagery" in any palace or stately home that represents tradition in Britain.

The late Queen faced backlash for not publicly showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

Queen Elizabeth II departs the Easter Sunday service at St George's Chapel on April 21, 2019
Queen Elizabeth II departs the Easter Sunday service at St George's Chapel on April 21, 2019.Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Thousands of people showed up to Black Lives Matter protests around the world after George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.

Prince Harry and Meghan, who resigned from royal duties in January 2020, were the only British royals to speak publicly about the topic.

Meghan addressed Floyd's death in a video message to the graduating students of her former school, Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. Her speech was followed by a video message from Harry at the Diana Awards, where he described racism as "endemic."

Meanwhile, the late Queen Elizabeth II stayed silent on the subject. Royal commentators previously told BI that the royal family likely avoided it because it could be a "political issue."

Although it is considered against protocol for the royal family to speak publicly about politics, they have broken this rule on several occasions. For example, William brought up Brexit during a royal engagement in Northern England in 2019 and Queen Elizabeth II encouraged the public to vote after a low voter turnout in Wales in 2003.

Sir Ken Olisa, the first Black Lord-Lieutenant for London who served as the late queen's representative for the capital, said in the 2021 documentary, "Black to Front," that Her Majesty supported BLM, The Guardian reported at the time.

"I have discussed with the royal household this whole issue of race, particularly in the last 12 months since the George Floyd incident," Olisa said, adding that the royals "care passionately about making this one nation bound by the same values.

Prince Harry told Oprah Winfrey that the royal family never acknowledged the tabloids' racist treatment of Markle.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex are seen on September 05, 2022 in London, England.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are seen on September 5, 2022, in London, England.MEGA/GC Images via Getty Images

Speaking in a CBS tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired on March 7, 2021, Harry and Meghan discussed Meghan's experience with racism via the British tabloids.

Harry said that many newspaper headlines and stories about Meghan had "colonial undertones" and that the tabloids' treatment of his wife was widely condemned by British Members of Parliament (MPs) in 2019.

"Yet no one from my family ever said anything over those three years. And that hurts," Harry said.

The couple also told Winfrey that unnamed royals had conversations about their son Archie's skin tone before he was born.

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and their son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor in South Africa in 2019.
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and their son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor in South Africa in 2019.Toby Melville - Pool/Getty Images

Meghan told Winfrey that there were "concerns and conversations" among the royal family over how dark their son Archie's skin tone would be before he was born in 2019.

Meghan said the conversation revolved around "what that would mean or look like" if their baby had dark skin.

While the couple wouldn't reveal who was involved in the conversations, Winfrey clarified in an interview with "CBS This Morning" that Harry told her that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were not involved.

In a statement issued after the interview, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said that "the whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan."

"The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately," it continued.

Meanwhile, Prince William told reporters that the royals are "very much not a racist family" during a royal engagement several days after the interview aired.

Harry clarified his and Meghan's comments during a January 2023 sit-down interview with ITV's Tom Bradby to promote his memoir. The prince said he and Meghan don't believe the royal family is racist and that there is a difference between racism and unconscious bias.

In 2021, the palace reportedly ditched plans to hire a diversity chief despite having a low percentage of non-white employees.

Buckingham Palace in 2023.
Buckingham Palace in 2023.Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Mail On Sunday reported in March 2021 that Queen Elizabeth intended to hire a "diversity czar" following Harry and Meghan's interview with Winfrey.

However, in June 2021 royal author Omid Scobie reported for Harper's Bazaar that the royal family shelved plans for the role despite having lower-than-average diversity employment statistics.

For the first time in 2021, the royal family's Sovereign Grant Report disclosed the number of ethnic-minority employees working at the palace, which was 8.5% with a target of 10% by the end of the year.

However, that target is yet to be reached as the number of ethnic-minority employees was reported at 9.7% in the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 Sovereign Grant reports, The Independent reported in June 2023.

A 2021 investigation, conducted by The Guardian, revealed that the palace once banned "colored immigrants or foreigners" from office roles.

King Charles and Queen Camilla on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
King Charles and Queen Camilla on the Buckingham Palace balcony.Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Buckingham Palace banned "colored immigrants or foreigners" from being employed in office roles until at least the late 1960s, according to documents obtained by The Guardian's David Pegg and Rob Evans.

According to the documents, which were released in June 2021, the Queen's chief financial manager said in 1968 that people from ethnic minority backgrounds were allowed to be employed as domestic servants in the royal household, but were banned from holding clerical jobs.

The Guardian report also stated that the late Queen Elizabeth was exempt from race and gender equality laws since they were introduced in the UK in the 1970s. This means women and people from ethnic minorities working for the royal household have been unable to complain to the courts if they believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of race.

Speaking to BI in 2021, a palace spokesperson said that the royal household complies with the provisions of the Equality Act, which protects people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society.

"Claims based on a second-hand account of conversations from over 50 years ago should not be used to draw or infer conclusions about modern-day events or operations," the spokesperson said.

Queen Elizabeth's former lady-in-waiting Susan Hussey made racist remarks towards a charity founder at a palace event in 2022.

Lady Susan Hussey, a lady-in-waiting, accompanies the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament held in the House of Lords in November 2004.
Lady Susan Hussey, a lady-in-waiting, accompanies Queen Elizabeth II at the State Opening of Parliament held in the House of Lords in November 2004.Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Ngozi Fulani, the founder of Sistah Space, a charity that supports African and Caribbean women affected by domestic violence, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she was asked by a member of palace staff where she "really came from" at a palace reception in November 2022.

In the initial tweet, Fulani identified the staff member as "Lady SH," however the employee's identity was later revealed to be Lady Susan Hussey, former lady-in-waiting.

In a statement shared with BI at the time, a palace spokesperson said that "unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made" and that the staff member "would like to express her profound apologies for the hurt caused" and had resigned from her honorary role.

Speaking to BI after the resignation was announced, Fulani elaborated on Hussey's questioning and said it made her "so uncomfortable" and that she felt "violated."

In December 2022, the palace shared a photo of Hussey and Fulani that was taken during a meeting to address the incident, according to a press release.

The press release stated that Hussey had personally apologized to Fulani, who had accepted.

Most recently, The Royal Collection Trust was accused of using racist language in official documents.

Kensington Palace in 2021.
Kensington Palace in 2021.Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

The Royal Collection Trust is a department within the royal household that is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection, an art collection that documents the "personal tastes" of royalty from the past 500 years, according to the royal website.

The Trust also manages official royal residences that act as tourist attractions, including Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, the website adds.

The Independent's race correspondent Nadine White reported in July that a 2008 catalog, published by the Trust titled "Ancient and Modern Gems and Jewels," contained more than 40 mentions of offensive racial terms.

White added that the catalog was previously on the Trust's website and only removed after being flagged by The Independent. A spokesperson for The Royal Collection Trust confirmed to BI via email that it was removed.

"Publicly available object records are continually under review in order to improve the information presented on an object and/or subject," the spokesperson told BI.

The spokesperson added that the 2008 catalog is now out of print and that its corresponding object records were updated several years ago with new terminology on the Trust's website.

Buckingham Palace did not respond to BI's request for comment on the matter.

A Dutch translation of a new royal book alleged that Kate Middleton and King Charles were involved in conversations about Archie's skin tone.

Prince Andrew, Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Prince William, Kate Middleton, King Charles III, Queen Camilla, and the late Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in London on March 11, 2019.

More than two years after Meghan and Harry's Oprah Winfrey interview, a new royal book, titled "Endgame: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy's Fight for Survival," by Scobie shared further details about the racism allegations.

As BI previously reported, the Dutch edition of the book was temporarily removed from bookstores after its release on November 28 as Dutch journalists said it named Kate Middleton and King Charles as the royals who made comments about Prince Archie's skin tone before his birth.

In a statement previously sent to BI, Xander Uitgevers, Scobie's publisher in the Netherlands, confirmed that the book had been temporarily removed from stores after an "error" in the translation and that an updated version would be available from Friday.

The identities weren't included in the original English-language edition of the book for legal reasons, Scobie wrote in the book. In an interview with the Dutch chat show "Boulevard," Scobie said he wasn't responsible for the errors as he didn't include names in the original English edition of the book, The Guardian reported.

"The book is in several languages, and unfortunately I do not speak Dutch. But if there are translation errors, the publisher will correct them," he said. "I wrote the English version. There was no version from me in which names were mentioned."

Representatives for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are yet to comment on the matter publicly. However, it's worth noting that Prince Harry said in his Tom Bradby interview with ITV in January that he had no intention of ever naming the individuals who made the comments.

He also said that he and Meghan believed the comments were a product of unconscious bias as opposed to racism.

Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace did not respond to BI's previous requests for comment on the matter.

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