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Harry And The Culture Of Casual Racism

Oh, Harry …

Having once been pictured wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party, you would think Britain's younger prince would have learned something about offense, and how to avoid causing it.

But in another example of casual, stupid thoughtlessness, Prince Harry offers up a further example in a running commentary in a home video he shot.

The video was obtained by the British tabloid newspaper News of the World and posted on their Web site.

In it he focuses the camera on a Pakistani comrade across an airport waiting lounge (named Outstanding Overseas Soldier by the Princes' grandmother the Queen at their Sandhurst graduation) and says, "Ah, Ahmed, our little 'Paki' friend."

During a night training exercise, he tells another soldier decked out in camouflage headgear, "F*** me, you look like a 'raghead.'" ("Raghead" is a racist slur used to describe Arabs.)

A royal aide at Clarence House issued an apology, saying Prince Harry "was in no way seeking to insult his friend," and that he used the word Paki "without malice."

This royal spokesman, a supposedly thinking and certainly well-paid PR professional, then added that the term raghead had been used by the prince to describe a "Taliban or Iraqi insurgent."

So, That's All Right Then. Racist slurs are perfectly acceptable if a) they are not meant to be racist, or b) they are applied to an enemy.

No one thinks Harry is a racist, at least in the visceral Ku Klux Klan sense of the word. But he is part of a culture where this casual, everyday racism is prevalent and no one seems to pay much attention.

Harry himself is the product of some of Britain's finest schools (even if he could not be accused of being overly intellectual), he has his family (and his grandfather, Prince Phillip, is famous for some stupid and racist remarks of his own), and he is a graduate of Sandhurst Military Academy. Somehow, no one has bothered to communicate to him, and probably to his fellows, that — even if not meant with "malice" — this kind of derogatory and racist language is hateful, hurtful and unacceptable.

Colleen Harris, a former press secretary to Harry, his brother William and his father, Prince Charles (and herself black), writes in today's Telegraph about the wider problem within Britain's armed forces.

"The Army has been trying for years to stamp out the impression that bullying and racism are institutionalised within its ranks. There have been several inquiries, lots of training on racism awareness and dozens of initiatives. And yet the attitudes that were there do not seem to be shifting."
I called Britain's Ministry of Defense to see what would happen to any soldier, not just Prince Harry, if there was an accusation of racism. The most the spokesman would say was that there would be an investigation, and that Harry (like any soldier) would be called in for "an interview." He was also at pains to point out that "racism and bullying is not endemic" in the military.

But the scope of the army's problem can be found in the statistics. Sixty-one million people live in Britain, with about ten percent claiming membership in an ethnic minority. In Oct 2008, according to the Defence Analytical Services Agency, 186,170 men and women served in all branches of the UK's military, with 10, 961 claiming membership in a non-white ethnic group. Certainly less than ten percent of the population, but perhaps not terribly unrepresentative …

… Until you get to the officer corps. The army, with 31,700 officers, had only 752 officers from ethnic minority groups. That's less than 2.5%.

As Harris writes, "Why would a young man or woman want to join an organization where they think they will be unwelcome or treated in a disdainful way?"

The palace and royal aides may try to defuse yet another unwelcome Harry row by pointing out that the video was shot three years ago, and that the Prince is now much older and wiser.

What they cannot excuse away is the racism demonstrated by their own spokesman, or the telling numbers of the Army's officer corps.

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