Casual racism of a dead prince

Britain's Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh leaves the National Army Museum in London, Britain March 16 2017. Picture: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Britain's Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh leaves the National Army Museum in London, Britain March 16 2017. Picture: Hannah McKay/Reuters


Prince Philip’s generous servings of bigotry foreground the still colonially slanted British aristocracy.

“Prince Philip carries out final official engagement,” the BBC informed the world on August 2 2017.

“The Duke of Edinburgh met Royal Marines in his final solo public engagement before he retires from royal duties.”

There is an air of historic solemnity in the tone of the BBC.

“The 96-year-old announced his retirement in May, after decades of supporting the Queen as well as attending events for his own charities and organisations. Prince Philip has completed 22 219 solo engagements since 1952.”

Prince Philip – how shall we put it gently here – is a rank racist.
Hamid Dabashi

In 1952, I was one year old. The year after that, MI6, the military intelligence outfit of the Duke of Edinburgh’s government, helped the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stage a coup in my homeland, Iran. The BBC would not say which one of those 22 219 royal duties coincided with that occasion.

Instead, on this occasion, the BBC did what it does best – pointed to a truth but camouflaged it with a number of choice euphemisms that completely distorted what it seemed to mark.

Prince Philip – how shall we put it gently here – is a rank racist. His racism is a public secret. Everyone knows it. The prince himself habitually stages it. So the BBC needs to report it, though in a typically BBC kind of a way – by making it frivolous and innocuous.

“Prince Philip’s gaffes from decades on royal duty,” the BBC headlines it.

So the good Prince’s astonishing utterances are not what they are – symptomatic of a deeply racist mind. They are just gaffes; unintentional and unfortunate remarks causing embarrassment, things he should not have said, and did not really mean, but unfortunately did say.

‘Still throwing spears’

The BBC then moves to colour these vintage racist utterances with even thicker brushes as “memorable one-liners that can make some people chuckle and others cringe”. That is meant to cancel out the cringe with a chuckle and come up with a neutralising cough.

The rest is entirely standard BBC lore chiselling at brutish facts with etymological gymnastics: “Prince Philip is renowned for speaking his mind – often explained as his attempt to lighten the mood – and that outspoken nature has at times led to controversy, with some of those remarks teetering on the edge of being offensive.”

READ: Mondli Makhanya | The fake news pandemic

Now let’s look at some of these “attempts to lighten the mood”:

. “British women can’t cook”;

. “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed” – during the 1981 recession;

. “You are a woman, aren’t you?” – in Kenya, after accepting a small gift from a local woman;

. “If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed” – to a group of British students during a royal visit to China;

. “You can’t have been here that long, you haven’t got a pot belly” – to a Briton he met in Hungary;

. “Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?” –to a wealthy islander in the Cayman Islands;

. “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?” – to a Scottish driving instructor;

. “It looks as if it was put in by an Indian” – referring to an old-fashioned fuse box in a factory near Edinburgh;

. “Still throwing spears?” – to an Aboriginal Australian during a visit;

. “There’s a lot of your family in tonight” – after looking at the name badge of businessperson Atul Patel at a palace reception for British Indians; and

. “The Philippines must be half-empty as you’re all here running the NHS” – on meeting a Filipino nurse at Luton and Dunstable Hospital.

Prince Philip is to European aristocracy what Donald Trump is to American liberal democracy – an embarrassment; the men who flaunt the ugly truth from under the thin veneer of their bourgeois etiquette.

There are other even more remarkable gems that the BBC has (of course) not listed, but others have. But the ones already mentioned should suffice.

Priceless racism

The BBC’s transparent attempt at whitewashing notwithstanding, Prince Philip’s racism is actually quite priceless because it comes so naturally to him. He is not faking it. He is not trying to offend anyone. He is offensive.

This is he. This is who he is – and the long panoply of his racist, sexist, elitist, misogynistic, class-privileged and unhinged prejudices is a mobile museum of European bigotry on display.

The Duke of Edinburgh has done the world an extraordinary service by being who he is, by staging generous servings of his bigoted disposition and he is retiring happily with having catalogued all or at least most of his priceless inventory for posterity to read and learn.

Our dearly beloved Duke of Edinburgh is blissfully old. He has lived a long, rich, and fulfilling life. His xenophobic bigotry is pure, his sense of class entitlement undiluted, unencumbered, uncensored, liberated from any inkling of bourgeois inhibitions.

He does not mean to be offensive. He just is. He is a walking embodiment of every layered lava of European racism summed up inside one royal head.

Today people of the privileged class have learnt how to camouflage their racism in varied codes and convoluted bourgeois euphemism. The kind of bigotry that Prince Philip exudes and stages is now considered rude and vulgar, old-fashioned and outmoded.

The racist provincialism of both Prince Philip and Trump is irresistibly charming to their admirers and embarrassing to their detractors, but identically revelatory to the world at large.
Hamid Dabashi

The precious advantage of Prince Philip is that he is a royal from the heart of British (and European) aristocracy. He tells it as he sees fit.

The prince is the repository of all the colonial past and all the class privileges of the present. His racist remarks should not be whitewashed or camouflaged.

They need to be properly, accurately and verbatim catalogued in the British Library, and made available to future generations of scholars and critical thinkers, anthropologists of the racist foregrounding of European imperialism for careful and close analysis. They are the insignia of an entire semiology of colonial racism in full-blown aristocratic diction.

From the rampant racism now dominant in Israel to pernicious xenophobia evident in Trump’s America, it’s all there, rooted in these unhinged expletives in polite, aristocratic British English.

Expressions of Prince Philip’s racism are not gaffes, as the BBC and other British outlets embarrassed by their vulgarity brand them, although one can see why the BBC is rushing to term them as such and brush them quickly under the carpet.

For the world at large, however, at the receiving end of British and European racist colonialism, these “gaffes” are in fact priceless relics of an age now deeply camouflaged under lovely-looking and liberal euphemisms.

We, as a result, need to treat them as archaeologists treat any other relic and fragment they find – based on such remains, they reconstruct bygone ages and the forgotten truths they reveal and conceal at the same time.

READ: Kay Sexwale | I’m tired of all this racism and racial tension

The racist provincialism of both Prince Philip and Trump is irresistibly charming to their admirers and embarrassing to their detractors, but identically revelatory to the world at large.

Their racism is so against the grain of recently manufactured liberal tolerance that they don’t know where to hide it.

Until such time that we reach a point when we do not “tolerate” each other, but see the truth and the beauty of the world from each other’s perspective, Prince Philip, bless his splendidly racist soul, exposes the hypocrisy of liberal tolerance. I love him for it.

He screams out loud what other racists like him have learnt how to conceal and camouflage in what they think and project as civilised demeanour, as they load their fighter jets with bombs to drop on brown and black people to send them “back to the Stone Age”.

There is a beautiful barbarity of truth to Prince Philip’s racism, exposing the ugly hypocrisy at the very foundation of “Western civilisation”. – Al Jazeera. This piece was first published in 2017

Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, US


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