LONDON — Renewed allegations of racism at Buckingham Palace threatened to overshadow Prince William’s trip to the United States after campaigners said the palace needed to acknowledge a wider problem that goes beyond one member of staff.
The controversy erupted Wednesday when a Black advocate for survivors of domestic abuse said a senior member of the royal household interrogated her about her origins during a reception at the palace for people working to end violence against women.
Coverage of the issue filled British media on Thursday, clouding a much-anticipated visit the prince hoped will highlight his environmental credentials and show that the monarchy is still relevant in a multi-cultural world.
Shortly after the Prince and Princess of Wales arrived in Boston for a three-day visit, a royal spokesman said racism has “no place in our society” and noted that the household member involved had resigned and apologized “for the hurt caused.”
But Mandu Reid, who witnessed the exchange, said she feared the response was an attempt to blame one individual and avoid responsibility for the culture at the palace. She said the latest incident validated allegations made last year by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who said a member of the royal family had asked about the color of her unborn baby’s skin when she was pregnant with her first child. Meghan, Prince Harry’s wife, is biracial.
“I want to see the royal household as a whole acknowledge that institutional racism is part of the culture, and I want to see them tackle that head on…,” Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, told Sky News. “I think what’s needed is something bigger, something more substantive.”
The stakes were clear Thursday as Netflix released the first official trailer for “Harry & Meghan,” a behind-the-scenes docuseries that is certain to contain more criticism of the monarchy. Harry and Meghan stepped away from royal duties almost three years ago, citing the racist attitudes of the British media. Since relocating to Southern California, they have used a series of media interviews to air their concerns about the royal family.
The one-minute, 12-second teaser opens with tender scenes of the happy couple and ends with Meghan appearing to wipe away tears with both hands and Harry throwing his head back, seemingly in distress.
“No one sees what’s happening behind closed doors,” Harry says. “I had to do everything I could to protect my family.”
Concerns about racism at the palace flared after Tuesday’s reception at Buckingham Palace.
Ngozi Fulani, chief executive of Sistah Space, an east London refuge for women of African and Caribbean heritage, said she was stunned by her exchange with Lady Susan Hussey, 83, William’s godmother and a long-time lady-in-waiting to the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Fulani said the conversation began when Hussey reached out and moved her hair out of the way to read Fulani’s name tag.
“I don’t know who you are, but it is not OK to put your hand in my hair, whoever you are,” she told the BBC.
Hussey then asked her over and over about where she came from, Fulani said. When she said she was from east London, the older woman responded, “No, what part of Africa are you from?”
Fulani said that what she experienced was racism, regardless of Hussey’s age or how uncomfortable it may make other people feel to hear that term.
Hussey has apologized for “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.
Author and playwright Bonnie Greer said part of the problem is that many members of the royal household are older and “live in a bubble” isolated from broader British society. It’s time to recognize their service to the crown is over, she told Times Radio.
“It’s really not acceptable and an example of how his family better hurry up and modernize and do it fast,” she said.
The timing could not be worse for the Prince and Princess of Wales. The trip is a big moment for William and Kate — the couple’s first visit to the U.S. in eight years, and their first overseas trip since becoming Prince and Princess of Wales following the death of the queen. President Joe Biden plans to meet with the couple during their stay.
The highlight of the three-day visit to Boston will come on Friday, when William hosts the Earthshot Prize awards ceremony, headlined by entertainers including Billie Eilish.
But the trip will also include visits to an anti-poverty program, child development researchers and local flood defenses.
The visit comes less than three months after the death of Elizabeth, whose personal popularity damped criticism of the crown during her 70-year reign. King Charles III, William’s father, has made clear that his will be a slimmed-down monarchy, with less pomp and ceremony than its predecessors.
William and Kate arrived Wednesday at Boston Logan International Airport, where they were greeted by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. The couple later attended a Boston Celtics basketball game.
Upon landing, William thanked local residents “for their many tributes paid to the late queen,” noting that his grandmother recalled her 1976 bicentennial visit to Boston “with great fondness.”