During the eight days of official national mourning, the British have begun to take measure of Prince Philip.
To his critics, he was a relic, a throwback, who propped up an faintly ridiculous, soap-operatic House of Windsor — an overindulged man who represented the extremes of White male privilege and fronted for a family that traces its lineage to Queen Victoria, back to the days of Britain’s empire, and its attendant colonialism and exploitation. The detractors see a snob, a bigot and worse.
But his many fans see a different prince, who spent his life earning his unearned titles, who steadfastly served his wife and queen — and 800 different charities and organizations.
“Oh, you know how fickle the British people can be. Having spent years criticizing him for being rude, even racist, now they love him,” said Ingrid Seward, a royal biographer and author of “Prince Philip Revealed.”
“It is true that he occasionally drove a coach and horses through the finer points of diplomatic protocol,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who himself is known to regularly offend — said in parliament. “The world did not hold it against him. On the contrary, they overwhelmingly understood that he was trying to break the ice, to get things moving, to get people laughing and to forget their nerves.”
“He didn’t really have a filter for his racism, and I suppose for that honesty we should be grateful,” said Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University.
“I mean, come on, saying Chinese people are slitty-eyed isn’t being ‘a bit rude.’ Who gets away with that kind of thing today, except a member of the royal family?” said Andrews, whose Jamaican grandmother hung a portrait of the queen on her living room wall. “Imagine what he said when he wasn’t in public.”
For many, Andrews said, Philip is popular because of his “gaffes,” not despite them. He was a potent symbol, “a throwback to empire … bound up with Whiteness and colonial nostalgia,” to a past when Britannia ruled the waves.
“The royal family’s job is to represent Whiteness,” he said. “And Philip was on brand.”