‘Very much not a racist family’

What Prince William could have said instead

Having your family’s problems aired on global television is tough for anyone to respond to. When presumably long ago scheduling a trip to a school, Prince William would have had no idea that it was going to be quite such a draw for the media.

Harry and Meghans’ Oprah interview had aired a couple of days earlier and the press was keen for a reaction. The prince and his team must have known they were likely to be ‘door-stepped’ at the school and had a plans to deal with it.

Shouty inquisitor’ Inzamam Rashid, knew what he was doing. He first drew the prince in with an underarm bowl: “Have you spoken to your brother since the interview?”.

William couldn’t resist taking a swing. “No, I haven’t spoke to him yet but I will do.”

If Michael Spicer had been in the next room door, he would have been imploring the prince to keep quiet. Answering the first question made leaving Rashid’s second one harder.

“Is the royal family a racist family, sir?”. The prince could plausibly have got away with silence as he had got further from earshot by this point. Not a lot of media would have got mileage with that kind of footage. But ignoring people is a hard human thing to do, especially when confronted with provocative questions. Plus it’s 2021 and it might have looked heartless and aloof.

“We’re very much not a racist family”, was what the prince managed to get out. He must have known it wasn’t good enough as soon as he said it, and if not, his advisors would soon have told him.

This soundbite wasn’t just played across the world, it was headline news. It came after the initial news cycle of the Oprah interview had calmed slightly so the press were looking for fresh wind. This provided it.

The quote was everywhere — BBC, ITV, CNN, Wahington Post, France 24. It splashed as far and deep as the Winnipeg Sun (who put ‘NOT A RACIST FAMILY’ in caps lock) and the Hollywood Reporter. The Daily Telegraph prefaced their headline with “Prince William hits back…. We are very much not a racist family”.

As a snap back though, it was “very much” ineffective. If you’re in the headlines pleading that you’re not racist, the thing you have to know is that when reading these headlines, people are associating two subjects — racism and you. They will forget the “not” even if it’s “very much” not.

What could Prince William have said instead? If we learned anything from the Black Lives Matter movement in the last year, it’s no longer good enough to not be racist — we have to be anti-racist. We live in a world shaped by the actions and attitudes of the past and we all have a role to play in lifting ongoing injustice.

The prince could therefore have said that his family was “very much anti-racist”. This language would have been much more active and would have given his critics some pause for thought. Royal aides would hopefully be able to point to convincing proof points.

But this is still responding to a question rather than dealing with the issue. What we are talking about here is a family in clear conflict. The human thing to say in this circumstance is “I care deeply for my brother and sister-in-law. We will speak and we will get through this as a family”.

This would have displayed the empathy which his family has been criticised for lacking so many times over the years. It would have been the big brotherly thing to say. It would have cast him as a leader and future monarch. Ideally, it would also have been sincere and helped his family to heal.

Families fall out and families sometimes become estranged. Thankfully, the rest of us don’t have to do it in front of the cameras. All of us though can choose words which bring us closer together.

Strategist and communicator. Former comms chief at Amnesty International and Al Jazeera.