LONDON – Prince William insisted Thursday that his family is not racist as he became the first British royal to speak out about accusations of bigotry made by Prince Harry and Meghan, his brother and sister-in-law.
William made the comments in response to questions shouted at him by reporters during a visit to an East London school. While members of the royal family often ignore such queries, William used the opportunity to address the explosive allegations that have rocked the monarchy.
“We’re very much not a racist family,” William, 38, said as his wife, Kate, walked by his side.
Buckingham Palace is struggling to quiet criticism after Harry and Meghan alleged that the duchess was the victim of racism and callous treatment during her time as a working member of the royal family. The palace tried to respond to the charges, made during an interview with U.S. TV host Oprah Winfrey, with a 61-word statement that critics called “too little, too late.”
William, second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, made the comments during a visit to School21 to mark students’ return to classrooms following a national lockdown.
Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, walked away from royal duties last year and moved to California, saying they wanted to escape the intrusive British media and live a normal life.
Meghan, who is biracial, said in the interview that she was so isolated and miserable as a working member of the royal family that she had suicidal thoughts. She also said Harry told her that member of the royal family had expressed “concerns” about the colour of her baby’s skin before the birth of their son, Archie.
Thirty-six hours after the comments were first aired Sunday, the palace issued a written statement in the name of Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother.
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the palace said. “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.”
The allegations — and the palace’s response — have touched off conversations around the world about racism, mental health and even the relationship between Britain and its former colonies. The revelations stood in stark contrast to the hopes many had when Harry and Meghan wed that the glamorous former actress would help the monarchy relate to young people in an increasingly multicultural nation.
And William’s brief remarks further disappointed commentators like Nikesh Shukla, author of “Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home.” Shukla said William’s comments offer “a defensive bulletproof shield rather than a discussion about racism.”
“Having something that you’ve said be pointed out as racist is really uncomfortable, but it’s what you do next that counts,” he told The Associated Press. “And what I’ve seen the royal family has done … is instead of interrogate that racism, they’ve said, `We are not a racist family,’ which is a very hard thing to move forward from.”
Others have criticized the palace for trying to handle the issue privately, saying the monarchy is supported by taxpayer money and such an important issue should be dealt with in public.
Britain is a constitutional monarchy, and the royal family is legally barred from trying to influence public policy. But the monarchy continues to be a symbol of national unity, especially under the leadership of the queen, who has reigned since 1952.
The interview also revealed tensions between Harry and William, who had long been seen as close and who supported each other after the death of their mother, Princess Diana.
When asked about his relationship with William, Harry said: “Time heals all things, hopefully.”
William said Thursday that he hadn’t yet spoken to his younger brother since the interview, “but I will do.”