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The Prince and the person: Can Harry be redeemed?

Should I reconsider Harry? The prince, I mean. Or, I guess, both the man and the symbol.

The person I refer to is at least two people: Henry Charles Albert David, fifth in line to the British throne, and Harry, who lost his mum when he was just a boy. They're inseparable, obviously, but not exactly the same, and after all this time, I might be willing to come around. Maybe.

So Harry: For ages I've refused to accept him as portrayed, a fun-loving rogue with a better body and more hair than his buttoned-up brother. At least since 2005, when he wore a Nazi swastika to a "colonials and natives" party I've considered him a lout, made arrogant by inherited power.

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But okay, that was 12 years ago, and Harry seems to have grown up in the last little bit. This week, he spoke frankly on an episode of the Telegraph podcast Mad World about his mental health struggles in facing the sudden, public death of his mother Diana.

Discussing the origin of his mental health charity Heads Together, Harry alluded to coping with alcohol and spoke casually and frankly of working with a "shrink." It's brave to talk about these things so publicly, and the reception he's received has been rightly warm and supportive.

It's the latest bit of realism from the 32-year-old Harry, who is dating actor Meghan Markle. Last November, in another break from family tradition, he directly addressed harassment aimed at Ms. Markle, an American with a black mom and white dad. A statement out of Kensington Palace expressed Harry's "disappointment" at "the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls…."

But this is where I get stuck at the Harry/Henry border, unwilling to accept one's good deeds as the other's right to go on. It's deceptive for Harry to say "stop being mean to my black girlfriend" without acknowledging that Henry's ancestors helped build racial hierarchies worldwide.

The family name "Charles" that's in his long handle also belonged to Charles II, king of England in the mid-1600s. A direct ancestor of Henry's mother Diana, King Charles actively encouraged the transatlantic slave trade: his brother James, then the Duke of York, branded "DY" into the skin of black men he personally owned.

Yes, that was a long time ago, but Henry's current status is directly derivative from it; why else is he a prince, if not his family tree? The current Duke of York is his uncle Andrew; Harry/Henry gets an annual income from the Duchy of Cornwall, owned by the British monarch for over 600 years.

If land holdings, prestige and titles are up for inheritance, so too are the ongoing legacies of age-old crimes. Especially since those legacies contribute to mental health suffering every day in this very country, namely among the Indigenous peoples repeatedly betrayed by the British and Canadian Crown.

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This past week has also seen excitement at the announcement that Henry's dad (also named Charles) will be here to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. I find it doubtful that Charles will criticize, or even address, a century and a half of treaty evasion – or link it to the fact that Indigenous people are much more likely to suffer psychological distress than other people in Canada, including suicidal ideation.

These legacies are also why protests dogged Harry's trip last fall to the Caribbean – yet another set of countries where indigenous people were displaced by British settlers exploiting the enslaved. All over the Commonwealth, study after study shows that racism contributes to mental illness: while Harry noted in the Telegraph interview that his privilege helped him source and afford help, the trouble goes deeper than his own pockets.

Back to the original question: Given his recent maturity, should I reconsider Prince Henry of Wales? Yes and no. I allow the young man Harry Windsor the right to make mistakes; as an individual, I encourage him to deal with his troubles, all the better for a chance at a nice life with a nice girlfriend.

But his honesty about his struggles or his personal experiences with prejudice don't get him off the hook. You're not just a person but a prince, Henry Charles, and as the latter, there's a lot more to do.

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About the Author
Journalist and editor

Denise Balkissoon is an editor in the Globe’s Life section and a columnist in Comment. The National Magazine Award-winning writer is also a co-founder of The Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race and ethnicity in the Greater Toronto Area. More


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