Prince Philip’s Legacy Includes ‘Old-School Racism’

Prince Philip has died at the age of 99 leaving the world remembering the royal and his past. From adorable anecdotes about his life and dedication to royal duties to a close examination of whether his relationship with Queen Elizabeth — his distant cousin who he began dating at a very young age — was endearing or creepy, there are plenty of retrospectives and hot takes available. 

Some of these tidbits are simply amusing while others add to the growing debate over the role of the British royal family in modern times, but one thing that certainly will come forward as Prince Philip’s death makes us collectively reflect on the past century will be his legacy as a symbol of human progress. In that way, Prince Philip’s history of “old-school racism” matters. 

Prince Philip smiles during a visit to the headquarters of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force's 603 Squadron in Edinburgh, Scotland
Prince Philip | Danny Lawson – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prince Philip led a remarkable life

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Prince Philip was born in 1921, and his life was remarkable and tumultuous from the very beginning. His father was brother to the King of Greece, but Prince Philip’s uncle’s reign would not last long.

By the time Prince Philip turned one, the entire family was in exile. As U.S. News reports, a military coup during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 forced the family to flee, and baby Prince Philip was carried out of the country in a fruit crate.

His family life was also marked with tragedy. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, abandoned the family to live with his mistress in France. His mother, Alice Battenberg, suffered from mental health issues that saw her institutionalized when Prince Philip was just nine years old.

In addition, he had four much-older sisters, all of whom married German aristocrats, including Nazis — a fact that kept the prince’s family members from attending the wedding when he married Queen Elizabeth. 

To put it simply, Prince Philip’s life unfolds like a first-person account from a history book. 

Prince Philip had a charming public persona

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The British royal family spends a lot of time in the public eye. In fact, many of their royal duties center around being representatives of the culture. In this regard, Prince Philip has enjoyed a charming public persona — especially in recent years.

Much of the recent press around the British royal family has been negative and overwhelmingly dark. Prince Andrew, Prince Philip’s son, has been accused of horrendous crimes associated with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex have accused the family of racist comments against their son Archie — Prince Philip’s great-grandson. 

In light of these more pressing scandals, Prince Philip has mostly been seen as a genial and good-natured man enjoying the late years of his life. 

Prince Philip’s legacy includes dark dips into racism 

While everyone leaves behind a complex legacy that includes both good and bad moments, experts are warning about the harm of glossing over Prince Philip’s more salacious incidents. As Insider reports, Prince Philip has a well-documented history of blatantly racist comments.

In 1986, Prince Philip told a group of British students studying in China: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”

In 1994, he asked an aboriginal leader in Queensland, “Do you still throw spears at each other?” 

Many of these comments — especially the ones in more recent years as Prince Philip got up in age — have been passed off as gaffes and even laughed away.

As CNN reports, these unscripted moments were even used to paint Prince Philip as kind of delightfully unpredictable. They note Prince Philip is “leaving behind a lengthy catalog of provocative remarks that cemented his reputation as an outspoken royal, untamed by the family’s carefully rehearsed public image.” 

This lackadaisical approach to understanding Prince Philip’s views is dangerous, however. As Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University explained to CNN: “He was a throwback to old-school racism. Painting him as a benign, cuddly uncle of the nation is simply untrue. When he says things about Chinese people’s eyes and chucking spears, it’s very ugly and would not be tolerated anywhere else nor from anyone else.”