The passing of Prince Philip has been a mainstay in the news for the last week and a half. Not only was he Queen Elizabeth's devout husband for 73 years, making him the longest-serving royal consort in history, but he is also the first high-profile royal to die since Princess Margaret in 2002. Tributes have been pouring in from all over the world, with people applauding the late prince for his unrelenting service to his country. And while my heart goes out to his family who just lost an important figure in their family, I can't help but feel a bit torn about said tributes and the way the world views the royal family in general.
As soon as news of the Duke of Edinburgh's passing came out, people immediately began singing his praises. Both Prince William and Prince Harry issued their own statements celebrating their grandfather and Princess Eugenie also had some kind words to say. The palace also released a heartwarming photo of the Queen and her hubby surrounded by all their great-grandchildren. They were homages fitting for a man who has been the backbone of the family for three generations.
At the same time, however, there were also questions about Prince Philip's less palatable moments permeating the zeitgeist. The Duke of Edinburgh was known as the sharp-tongued, less buttoned-up compatriot to Queen Elizabeth's poise and composure. It's easy to see why these two made such a dynamic couple considering the fact that they genuinely seemed like the yin to each other's yang. However, candid as the Duke was known to be, some of his comments were offensive and outright racist. In 1986, he called Beijing "ghastly" when asked what he thought of the city during a royal visit to China. (The other comment regarding European students' long stay in China was so offensive, I can't even include it here. The Independent, however, has a compilation of some of his greatest hits.)
People have chalked up some of his statements to the fact that the Duke came up during a certain time in history. However, for someone who comes from a former British colony like me, this particular pardoning of royal gaffes conjures a tinge of resentment. I have spent the better part of the last decade fortifying my roots in New York. However, I am originally from Zimbabwe, one of Great Britain's most lucrative former colonies. My homeland didn't get its independence until 1980 and just to give some context on how close the British colonial history is to me—to us—my mother was in her late teens at that time and my older sister would be born merely five years later, in 1985. Even today, there are schools and streets named after the current monarch's relatives and her majesty herself.
This is all to say: With everything that has happened in the world since British colonial rule has loosened, it's easy to forget some of their gross transgressions with the passing of time. Their veiled existence also gives us the opportunity to forget, because they're not in the news as much as say, the Kardashians. Their public appearance is well-tailored and we really get to see them only in their best light. However, when something like the passing of Prince Philip happens and the public begins lauding him as a hero, I'm reminded that this family's rise to power is built on the backs of entire nations who haven't recovered to this day. As they saunter in their palaces and several estates and swap millions of dollars worth of diamonds from one royal to the next, there are still ever-present consequences of Britain's colonial rule. So when it comes to honoring Prince Philip as this beam of loyalty and grace, things get particularly salty for me.
Let me be clear and say that this is not a condemnation of Prince Philip or the Queen for that matter. The longstanding couple seems to have aged into beloved grandparents, not unlike any of the grandparents we all are familiar with. It's evident in the way Meghan Markle spoke about Queen Elizabeth during the infamous Oprah interview. "We were in the car going between engagements, and she has a blanket that sits across knees for warmth, and it was chilly," the Duchess of Sussex recalled of the time she and the queen attended a royal engagement together. "She was like, 'Meghan, come on.' And she put it over my knees as well...She's always been warm and inviting and welcoming."
During his appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Prince Harry also gave an anecdote about how the Duke of Edinburgh had a very specific way of closing out Zoom meetings. Instead of pressing the "Leave Meeting" button, Prince Philip would instead just slam his computer shut and call it a day, Harry told Corden. It's an anecdote that not only gave insight into how Prince Harry loved his grandfather, but it was also so damn relatable. (You can watch the endearing account here.)
So, what is the best, fairest way to honor a man who died two months shy of his 100th birthday but who lived a far-from-perfect life? As with anything else, it's important to give people the grace they deserve if they have evolved. However, when it comes to historical figures, it's paramount that we talk about their transgressions as well because real people were affected by those actions. We cannot simply perch Prince Philip on this "wholesome patriarch" pedestal without also speaking of those distasteful moments. It's all part of his legacy.