Prince Philip, the departed Duke of Edinburgh, will be laid to rest at the weekend, in what will be the culmination of week-long national mourning in the United Kingdom. Since his death on April 9, the former Royal Consort has been celebrated all across the world.
Prominent among the choir of commemorations were the words of African leaders. Interestingly, when Philip married into the Windsor dynasty that rules Great Britain, no African country, with the exceptions of the never-colonized Ethiopia and Liberia, were sovereign nations. Just like the British Crown itself, what most Africans saw in Philip changed with their independence and a commitment to the British Commonwealth. He was no longer a part of the overlordship; he was now a friend.
The African perspective on Philip changed but we cannot necessarily say Philip the man did. Throughout his 74 years in the eye of the global public, the prince was known to utter controversial and outright racist comments. This feature was considered a part of his character and the leeway was bigger for two reasons: one, the moral awakening that is often dismissively called political correctness was largely not in force and two, he was royalty and was allowed to get away with it.
But history is there to be learned for the purpose of the present and the future. So here, down memory lane are some of the things that Philip said to Black people:
You are a woman, aren’t you?
In 1984, on a state visit to Kenya, Philip was presented with a gift by a Kenyan woman dressed in traditional attire. Then in his 60s, Philip took a look at his gift and then the woman and asked: “You are a woman, aren’t you?”. It barely made a scratch on global headlines but it was one of the things the British press memorialized.
Still throwing spears?
We may not call Australian Aborigines Africans but they no less suffered the exploitation of Britain when it decided that landmass was its to possess, to the detriment of the natives. They are also people with dark skin, just about most Africans and people of African origin.
In 2002, Philip did not spare them his words as on a visit to Australia, he walked up to some Aboriginal men and asked: “Still throwing spears?”
Exotic part of the world
John Taylor is a Conservative politician and one of the few titled Black people you would see in the UK. In public, he is known as The Lord Taylor of Warwick. For the British, this sort of honor – peerage – comes with respect from all but maybe superiors.
In 1999, Prince Philip, superior to Lord Taylor, asked the Black man who was a guest at the Buckingham Palace: “Young man, what exotic part of the world do you come from?”. Lord Taylor responded, “I am from Birmingham. Here in England.”
Can you tell the difference?
In 2009, then-United States president Barack Obama met Prince Philip for the first time. Obama proceeded to make a conversation with the elderly gentleman, recounting his new experience of meeting world leaders and top diplomats from China, Russia and even Britain.
Philip reportedly interrupted Obama to ask: “Can you tell the difference between them?”. To date, it is not clear whether he was hinting that all these people looked similar – which would be ridiculous, if not racist – or whether they were too many for Obama to recollect who is who. Some also think Philip could have been mocking Obama’s intelligence.
You look ready for bed
In 2003, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Nigeria. They were received by President Olusegun Obasanjo who was in a trademark agbada, a traditional garb. Upon seeing Obasanjo, Philip quipped: “You look like you’re ready for bed.”
Obasanjo could only laugh.