Prince Harry seems to have undertaken quite a journey over the years. Gone is the young man who once dressed in a Nazi costume to a friend’s party or the soldier who once called a fellow army platoon member "a Paki". Instead we now have a man who seems to have educated himself on matters of race and racism, and is speaking out about it.
He recently talked about unconscious bias in British Vogue in an interview with conservationist Dr Jane Goodall saying:
“Despite the fact that if you go up to someone and say, 'What you’ve just said, or the way that you’ve behaved, is racist' – they’ll turn around and say, 'I’m not a racist.'
“I’m not saying that you’re a racist, I’m just saying that your unconscious bias is proving that, because of the way that you’ve been brought up, the environment you’ve been brought up in, suggests that you have this point of view – unconscious point of view – where naturally you will look at someone in a different way. And that is the point at which people start to have to understand.”
For someone who appeared pretty clueless about racism, if the antics of his younger self were anything to go by, this seems quite a leap.
It is frustrating to see one small quote from a white man in power getting so much coverage, yet many POC can talk about it till we are blue in the face and still not get heard by the mainstream.
Of course we can thank Meghan Markle for the transformation. From the statement he released when they were dating, speaking out about how racist the British press were being to her, to the staunchly diverse wedding they later had that seemed to fly in the face of Royal tradition, Markle seems to have ensured her husband is acutely aware of how racism impacts the lives of people of colour. The racism doesn’t have to be blatant, it can be, as Prince Harry points out, something people aren’t even aware they’re doing.
The impact of unconscious bias can be pretty severe. For example, research has suggested that in Australia people from non-Caucasian backgrounds must submit up to 68 per cent more job applications to get the same number of offers as those with an Anglo-Saxon background. And that’s just one example. Unconscious bias exists everywhere from the daily interactions you may have with strangers, to the friends and partners you choose to have. There are even biological reasons for it. And it’s not a new concept. POC have been talking about it for years and years. In fact our former Prime Minister Julia Gillard even spoke about it though more from a perspective of how unconscious bias impacts women.
Yet we rarely see white men talking about it. Especially white men in positions of power. Why? Because the removal of unconscious bias threatens the hierarchy that has until now ensured they remain on top. Of course not everyone is happy that Prince Harry has broken ranks and gone on the record to speak out about this. The usual right-wing culprits have taken to social media to complain and they seem to be proving Prince Harry right with each tweet on the matter.
I for one would love to have the burden of educating the masses on the impact of racism taken from my shoulders. I love to talk about lots of things that don’t have to do with race.
But there is also resistance from some POC activists who have been talking about this topic at length for years. I get that. It is frustrating to see one small quote from a white man in power getting so much coverage, yet many POC can talk about it until we are blue in the face and still not get heard by the mainstream.
As I see it however, there’s another side to the matter. For someone as famous as Prince Harry to talk about racism and unconscious bias means the conversation takes place on a much wider scale than we can possibly imagine. It means that the world stops and listens.
The wider the word gets out the more likely it is that some people out there may check their own behaviours. Maybe there’ll be one less racist in the world. If one of the most famous men out there is talking about unconscious bias then it stops being sidelined as a niche problem. It becomes a problem for society at large. More than that, maybe just maybe, it won’t just be an issue that POC have to highlight. I for one would love to have the burden of educating the masses on the impact of racism taken from my shoulders. I love to talk about lots of things that don’t have to do with race.
So please white men, talk about the impact of racism on a wider scale. Use your privilege to bring the matter out into the open, because we can’t fully combat this issue until each and every one of us makes it a matter worth speaking out about.
Saman Shad is a freelance writer. You can follow Saman on Twitter @muminprogress.