While members of the British royal family are no strangers when it comes to controversy over biased and even racist comments and behaviour (just ask Megan Markle), Prince William’s latest tone-deaf remarks about Ukraine show, at best, a lack of awareness for someone of his age, position and life circumstances. And, as many people have pointed out amid the backlash, Prince William’s comments are harmful.
What Prince William said about the war in Ukraine
The remarks in question occurred on March 9 when Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his wife, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited London’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre.
During a visit to the Ukrainian Cultural Centre yesterday, Prince William said: “Everyone is horrified by what they are seeing. The news every day, it’s almost unfathomable. For our generation, it’s very alien to see this in Europe. We’re all right behind you.” Watch here👇🏻 pic.twitter.com/kQFbcivgvK
— Lizzie Robinson (@LizzieITV) March 10, 2022
Footage posted on Twitter from ITV News producer Lizzie Robinson captured Prince William discussing Ukraine. “Everyone is horrified by what they are seeing… The news every day, it’s almost unfathomable to actually witness it, to see it,” Prince William said. “For our generation, it’s very alien to see this in Europe. We’re all right behind you.”
Was Prince William misquoted about Ukraine?
While the comments we can hear the prince saying are cause for pause (more on this next), it’s important to note that initial reports about the incident partially misquoted him and erroneously added additional — and more overtly racist — words about conflict in Africa and Asia to Prince William’s remarks, as explained via Global News.
Why Prince William’s actual comments on Ukraine are still harmful
While one could argue that the prince was trying to show support for Ukraine and didn’t mean harm by his comments — and it’s true that the war in Ukraine is horrifying, unfathomable and a devastating crisis for people of his generation — it’s also important to address the underlying assumptions that remarks like his make.
The idea that war is “alien” to Europe implies that modern war is something that happens mostly not in Europe. This is false and, as many have pointed out, ahistorical — even if we discount the obvious examples of WWI and WWII, and thousands of years of British colonialism as being atrocities of past generations, conflicts in Europe during Prince William’s lifetime include the Bosnian War, Kosovo War and the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Taking into account the largely Caucasian population of Britain and western Europe (86 per cent of the population of England and Wales is white, according to the 2011 census), we can read subtle racial bias in perpetuating the untrue narrative that war is not something that happens in Europe, but does happen elsewhere.
This type of bias is not exclusive to the prince, and the war in Ukraine has brought out examples of how these troubling narratives are perhaps more widely accepted than we might have thought. For example, though he later apologized, CBS News’ senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata said on air of the war in Ukraine that it couldn’t be compared to conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, as the European country is more “civilized.”
If we accept comments like Prince William’s as true, we perpetuate harmful false narratives. And, being a public figure, Prince William should understand that.
Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice King, captured the issue of someone of the prince’s stature making these comments in a tweet:
“I believe that language matters in that work. And that it is harmful for a global figure to express war as ‘alien to Europe,'” she stated.
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