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21 January 2009

Not Too Wild About Harry



A video made in 2006 surfaced a couple of weeks ago , featuring England's Prince Harry. Evidently, the third in line to Queen Elizabeth's throne referred to a fellow cadet as a "Paki," and made another anti-Arab slur as well.

This little episode follows a previously released series of photos of the prince at a "fancy dress" party (on this side of the pond we call them costume parties), taken in January, 2005, in which the prince was attired as a Nazi, complete with swastika armband. Naturally, Harry apologized after those images of him emerged.


Both incidents occurred a few years ago. But is Harry older and wiser now? Has he "learned his lesson?" Is the prince merely thoughtless? Clueless? Laddish? Racist? Sorry?


Or was it simply an odd form of noblesse oblige?


Even though it's the twenty-first century and, in the words of William Shakespeare, the "royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, this fortress built by Nature for herself against infection and the hand of war, this happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea, which serves it in the office of a wall or as a moat defensive to a house, against the envy of less happier lands,-this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England" has become a much less insular and more ployglot kingdom -- has much really changed in the way the British royal family as an institution views those of other nations and religions?


Over the centuries among England's royals and aristocracy, anti-Semitism and anti-Arabic sentiment was perfectly acceptable. In 1189 when Richard I (the "Lionhearted") ascended the throne, and during the first few months of his reign in 1190, Jews were massacred at York and in London. Richard also led Crusades to the holy land to make war against the Infidel (of course the Muslims referred to the Christians as "the Infidel" as well!), destroy his nemesis Saladin, and take Jerusalem.



In 1290, the Jews were expelled from England by an edict of Edward I. And Prince Harry's twice-great-uncle Edward VIII, who preferred to abdicate the throne than give up his paramour, the twice-divorced American Wallis Warfield Simpson, was a notorious anti-Semite.
Isn't anyone minding the store over there? One would think that if Harry's old enough to take up a gun and go to war, he's expected to be old enough to mind his p's and q's; but that's evidently not the case. I couldn't help thinking when I read about his latest antiracial gaffe that if his mother were still alive, she would smack him across the mouth. Or wash it out with soap. After all, Diana embraced people from all nations, religions, colors, and creeds and I believe she would have been appalled by her son's behavior.



What do you think (apart from what I imagine is disgust at his intolerant remarks)? Is Harry just being an immature jerk? Or is he expressing the same beliefs of some of his royal ancestors and the issue isn't just about Harry, but is deeper and more insidious, with centuries of historical precedent?

18 Comments:

OpenID meopta said...

I think he's a boy. And a boy in the military. I think that more is expected of him than other boys because of the position he's been born into, and that all things considered, he's handled himself well.

Boys think they're clever when they shock - his Nazi costume was meant to be shocking. If he wasn't Prince Harry but just Harry, dude down the street - people would have laughed or said Not Cool depending on his social circle. He'd have learned (or not) but because he's Prince Harry it has to Mean Something.

I think he did learn from that. He didn't defend it and he didn't do it again. I don't think he's racist - he's continued his mother's work in a number of areas in a very hands on manner. I think the 'Paki' thing is blown out of proportion. Not that I think it's ok to call people racial slurs, but it did not offend anyone involved (according to all reports I've read) and it only offended people not involved, much later, when it became public. People (boys) in the military say all kinds of things to each other they wouldn't say on the street and use words in their friendships they wouldn't use to strangers.

Certainly, he could have been mindful of the camera. But I don't think Diana would have slapped him, I think she would have embraced him and told him she was sorry that with his bounty came the price, and he can't be like other boys, he has to be Prince Harry with no days off and no credit for good behavior.

Sorry to be so lengthy, but the question as posed (is Harry a racist jerk or is all of the royal family, for all time) gives no room for him just being a boy, growing up and learning.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Thanks for your response, Meopta. You did come down on the side of "laddish," which is one of the options I mentioned. True, boys will be boys but not all guys in the army (and Harry was not joshing around with his mates in uniform when he dressed as a Nazi) use what many would perceive as racial slurs. In any event, with regard to the Nazi uniform, I don't think anyone would shrug that off, no matter who wore it. Member of the royal family or not, he surely attended a history class or two in school, and if nothing else, should know what his own family experienced during the Blitz.

9:19 AM  
OpenID meopta said...

I am coming at this with a US-centric view, it's true. Dressing as Hitler is a typical stupid boy prank on Halloween. (Lately it's gone more to serial killers, but it comes and goes.) And we certainly know well what happened in WW2, since so many jewish families here were cobbled together from what remained.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

His mother would be horrified and sad at his racist remarks and I am sure she would know the right words to say to explain why to whom much is given, much is expected.

However, I can't help but think that this may be, in some part, a young man's reaction to his mother's death due (in his mind) to her relationship with a man of Arabic descent. This is not something that would show up overtly all the time, but it would come out in times of stress or anger or maybe just when he misses his mother.

Does the royal family have some racist tendencies? Sure, probably so. Many families do. Thankfully, the tendency seems to be weakening from generation to generation, just as it has - at least I hope it has - in all of our families.

I was fortunate enough to be raised by a Native American woman and a descendant of Welsh coal miners who were some of the most enlightened people I have ever known. My brothers and I lived all over the world by virtue of my Dad's military career and it was a life I would not trade for anything. We were introduced to cultures and people from a myriad of places and we learned acceptance and tolerance and an attitude of curiosity and celebration of those cultures.

Harry is a grown man. He needs to act like one. He is in a position that demands a certain standard of behavior from him. Unfortunately, his best example was taken from him at an early age. That is not an excuse, but an explanation.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

You raise an interesting point, Louisa, about Harry's possible reaction to the Dodi Fayed issue. It doesn't explain his insensitivity with regard to dressing up like a Nazi, though. Many members of the British royal family were supportive of Hitler, at least initially, until they realized what was really going on in Germany. Others were embarrassed by men such as Churchill into ascending the moral high ground. But still others, like Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, were staunch Nazi sympathizers.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Basically he's an upper class twit, not terribly bright, born to privilege, and totally out of touch. But it could be worse--he could have inherited his mother's brains and his father's looks.

The British royal family are a total waste of the taxpayers' money.

10:59 AM  
OpenID madeleinestjust said...

I would agree with wholeheartedly with meopta, and with Janet's 'upper class twit' observation: Prince Harry was born into the royal family and moves in upper class circles - aside from the army, he has hardly had a multi-racial upbringing, like a good percentage of UK children. I mean, he didn't exactly attend an inner-city state school, did he? (The same with Prince Charles and Prince Philip.)

I doubt Harry intended any offence - and the soldier involved didn't complain, it was a 'newspaper' (and I use the term lightly) who got hold of a video (now three years old) and indulged in a bit of moral-outrage mud-slinging to sell a few copies. I don't excuse Harry - and there is the possibility that the other soldier might not have dared to object - but I think this incident should be taken in context. When a radio DJ here made inappropriate comments on his show, a few listeners complained - and then the Daily Mail got wind of it, and all hell broke loose!

The fact is that Harry is young, male and not at all perfect - he should observe and respect the victims of history, as well as his fellow soldiers, and I'm sure he does for the most part, but he's also the product of a sheltered background and the 'spare' to his brother as heir. When he tries to be productive, he isn't allowed to (the newspaper, again, who revealed that he was fighting in Afghanistan and got him sent home), and yet if he spent his whole young life at parties, he would be criticised as useless.

At least the Royal family save the UK from worshipping mere politicians and 'celebrities' as icons; they represent centuries of tradition, and work hard at providing a figurehead for the country, but they, like our opinion of them, have to change with the times.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

LOL Janet, I love the "upper class twit" reference. I think that's spot-on but it also points toward an insidious, even covert or repressed form of intolerance among upper class British twits (and royals) for generations -- which also echoes madelinestjust's comment about royal family tradition (for better or worse).

I've been thinking for 2 days now about meopta's comment comparing dressing as a Nazi for Halloween (as a chic shock value thing to do) to dressing as a serial killer. Sorry, but I can't equate someone costuming themselves as a fictional film character (which is usually the case, rather than a serial killer "ripped from the headlines") to a cog in a real-life, historically genocidal wheel.

1:24 PM  
OpenID madeleinestjust said...

What about the movie 'The Producers'? Or, on a completely different level, the BBC's 'Allo Allo'?

Intolerance is one thing, but the PC brigade can take things a little too far also.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

He's a young man in his twenties. Basic common courtesy to other fellow human beings is a birth right. That he should deliberately act/speak thoughtlessly tells less about his ancestry than his character. His mother was younger than him when she initiated her public service and brought up in similar privileged surroundings. She would've been horrified at her son's behavior.

2:54 PM  
OpenID meopta said...

Re: the costuming thing - to a teenage boy (which he was) of a fairly sheltered background, things like that aren't real. they don't think they'll die in DUI crashes or making wrestling tapes, or any number of other How Could They Possibly Think That things.

Their brains are still developing, and therefore they do stupid, stupid things they often grow up to be quite ashamed of.

It bothers me deeply (actually) that this young man is judged for a stupid costume in his teens (& you're wrong in an assumption - Columbine Killer was a very popular costume for a few Halloweens, it's not always fictional ones) and a comment he made 3 years ago that no one complained about at the time.

He gets no credit for wanting to do more in the military but wear fancy clothes, for working with Sentebale to improve the life of aids orphans in africa - two stupid acts are presented as the sum of his character instead of years of decent ones. He does more than show up for photo ops and cut ribbons.

Would any of us want two highly embarrassing incidents in our youth be the measure of our whole self? It's easy to say "I never did/ said that" but we've all done something in our younger years that we know better than now.

5:46 PM  
OpenID meopta said...

btw - I googled an article that has the person referenced's statements on the matter. Just to add, in case it hasn't been seen.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article5535423.ece

5:55 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

deeper and more insidious...

Deeper, but hardly insidious, Amanda -- if one takes the word in its dictionary definitions of subtle, treacherous, deceitful, somehow hidden.

A genial, generalized tradition of antisemitism and racism among the British upper classes will only be news to those who take their social history from the Bridgerton saga (or even, perhaps, sad to say, some productions of my own). The Duke of Windsor (the one who married Wallis Simpson) had kind of a liking for Hitler before the war, and I don't believe this was a huge secret -- though the royal family's image is now mostly quite PC.

It was Diana's rare intelligence (based upon style and sensibility rather than intellect but no less intelligence for all that) to go beyond that merely PC, toward real friendship and understanding toward people who were different from herself, in the same way as she recognized the humanity of AIDS sufferers. If she'd lived, I bet she'd have been at the Obama inauguration. What a pity.

Prince Charles and Prince William certainly have the wit to recognize what a gift she had and to draw upon her legacy, whatever their own beliefs or prejudices. But I'm hardly shocked -- not to speak of shocked, SHOCKED -- that this shift of sensibility hasn't entirely permeated the whole line.

And rather oddly glad to see the tradition exposed to public scrutiny, if truth be told.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Pam, the final three paragraphs of your post say it all. I concur entirely. And yes, Edward VIII's Nazi sympathies (ditto Mussolini) were well known at the time (certainly no secret) and, as you say, par for the course among the British upper crust. I imagine that if he had not chosen abdication, the world (or at least Western Europe) might be rather different today.

8:45 AM  
OpenID madeleinestjust said...

Wait - it if is only the UK that is trailing behind in political correctness, why is Barack Obama being hailed as a saviour, finally allowing African American citizens to have a say? Is it because it was only forty years ago that black citizens there had to fight for their basic civil rights? Before condemning the UK as intolerant and undemocratic, I would first address the track record of the supposed birthplace of democracy.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Madeline, no one on this blog is "condemning the UK as intolerant and undemocratic," and I would venture to guess that many of the hoydens, myself included, are energetic Anglophiles. But the subject of the original post is whether the way Prince Harry (who was over the age of 20 at the time) expressed himself a couple of years ago with regard to Jews and Muslims has its roots in sensibilities expressed (or tacitly held and unexpressed) by previous generations of the royal family and the British aristocracy.

America and its long and unfortunate history of racism was not the subject of this post. And America still has a way to go, as many would admit, although the recent election has enabled us to make a leap of progress. But the subject of this post was not intended to compare the US to the UK.

9:39 AM  
OpenID madeleinestjust said...

I think this topic was worded in stronger terms than a theoretical debate on the social history of the Royal family - 'Isn't anyone minding the store over there? I couldn't help thinking when I read about his latest antiracial gaffe that if his mother were still alive, she would smack him across the mouth. What do you think (apart from what I imagine is disgust at his intolerant remarks)? - but I apologise for over-reacting and deviating from the main subject.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Evangeline said...

I don't let Harry off the hook b/c the boy he called a "Paki" shrugged it off. How many people shrug off ridicule both banal and serious in order to fit in? His behavior is utterly unacceptable because he is supposed to represent the British nation--in all its facets. We can trot out the old "everyone has prejudices" schtick, but someone on that public a platform should not perpetuate ignorance. You aren't supposed to be a saint, nor are you required to be 100% unbiased, but adopting the brutish manners and loutish behaviors of people who cling to their prejudices is immature and bodes ill for Harry.

1:19 AM  

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