Prince Harry Says He Understood Implicit Bias By 'Living In My Wife's Shoes'

In a new interview, he credits Meghan Markle with helping him grasp unconscious bias.

Prince Harry didn’t grow up in an environment that taught him to think about or challenge the racist ideas he didn’t even realize he held, he said in a candid new conversation. But his marriage to Meghan Markle has helped him realize just how much injustice is a part of the structure of our world.

For British GQ, the Duke of Sussex sat down with Patrick Hutchinson, the London man hailed as a hero when photos emerged of him carrying a white counter-protester to safety at a Black Lives Matter protest in June.

Their entire conversation is worth a read (or watch), as it provides more context about the life of a man mostly known through that one photo — for example, Hutchinson is a father of four and a fitness instructor.

Harry doesn’t hold back with his questions, asking Hutchinson how he explains structural racism to his kids. The prince asked if he talks “about unconscious bias and the fact that some people may treat you differently,” adding that “in some instances, it’s intentional, but in a lot of cases it’s actually accidental.”

Hutchinson replied that his eight-year-old daughter has already seen what bias looks like, just in experiences at her former gymnastics club. He also said he tells her repeatedly how pretty she is, because he knows that “her dark skin, to some people, may not be as beautiful as it is to me.”

It’s important to recognize that unconscious bias exists in everyone, even people who strive to be anti-racist, Harry said.

“No one’s blaming anybody. That’s the way that I look at it,” he said. “You can’t really point fingers, especially when it comes to unconscious bias. But once you realize or you feel a little bit uncomfortable, then the onus is on you to go out and educate yourself, because ignorance is no longer an excuse.”

His privileged childhood didn’t prepare him to understand this, he said.

“Unconscious bias... having the upbringing and the education that I had, I had no idea what it was. I had no idea it existed. And then, sad as it is to say, it took me many, many years to realize it, especially then living a day or a week in my wife’s shoes.”

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle in Dubbo, Australia as part of their royal tour last fall.
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle in Dubbo, Australia as part of their royal tour last fall.

While some may of racism as an overt and international act — someone openly stating they think white people are better than Black people, and shouting racial slurs to prove it — in reality, this is much less common than people picking up and internalizing racist stereotypes unintentionally, often without realizing it.

“In my experience, calling me the n-word or wearing blackface, those aren’t the ways that I face racism day-to-day,” social worker Heather Effah, who is Black, told HuffPost Canada earlier this year. “Those overt methods aren’t the only issues that Black people are referring to when we use that word.”

Unconscious bias could mean hiring people with similar backgrounds to yours, because you connect with them more than someone who grew up as part of a different culture. It could mean thinking, subconsciously, that a male doctor is probably more qualified than a female one, or that a Black lawyer isn’t as good at their job as their white colleague. It’s the reason an “Emily” is more likely to get a callback for a job than an identically-qualified “Lakisha.”

Meghan Markle meeting with South Africans youth during their Sept. 2019 visit to Cape Town, South Africa.
Meghan Markle meeting with South Africans youth during their Sept. 2019 visit to Cape Town, South Africa.

In the interview, Harry noted that because so many people who hold power are white, and don’t know what white privilege or unconscious bias means, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

“Whether it’s politics or whether it’s the media, where if you’re not aware of your own bias and you’re not aware of the culture within your system, then how are we ever going to progress? How are we ever going to get to that point where there is more fairness?” he said.

“It’s not actually up for debate. These are the facts. This is what’s happening,” he said. “And it’s been very interesting for me to sit through or live through this in America.”

Unconscious bias resources

If you want to learn more about how unconscious bias works and what you can do to combat it in yourself, here are some ways to do that.