Petition Demands Sunday Times Apologize for Claiming Public Enjoyed Prince Philip's 'Slitty Eyes' Gaffe

A new petition demands that The Sunday Times retract and apologize for a front-page story that claimed the public enjoyed the late Prince Philip's "slitty eye" comment about Asian people.

"Thank you all so much for signing and showing us your support, it has been overwhelming and comforting to have seen a community come together to denounce this racism," the petition's organizer, the ESEA Network, said in the petition, which was published April 20 on Change.org.

"As East and South East Asian folks in the West, we are unfortunately used to this kind of commentary, but it doesn't make it hurt any less. To know that we have people who agree it is unacceptable has been incredibly affirming," the statement added.

The petition concerns an April 18 front-page report on the prince's funeral by Times Chief Foreign Correspondent Christina Lamb. She wrote: "Prince Philip was the longest-serving royal consort in British history—an often crotchety figure, offending people with gaffes about slitty eyes, even if secretly we rather enjoyed them."

During a 1986 visit to China, Prince Philip told a group of British students, "If you stay here much longer you'll all be slitty-eyed," according to the South China Morning Post.

The Sunday Times
A petition is demanding that The Sunday Times retract and apologize for a story about Prince Philip that includes an offensive remark about Asian people. Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images

Outrage spread in reaction to the article, and readers demanded the paper provide an explanation, with tensions especially high amid a period of increased physical and verbal violence against Asian people in the U.K., according to Al Jazeera.

"I'm shocked at @thesundaytimes for printing something so racist at a time when Anti-Asian hate crimes have sky rocketed. we shouldn't need a petition to get an official retraction and apology from @christinalamb but here we are," Japanese-British singer Rina Sawayama said in a Tweet, sharing the petition.

#SlittyEyesSundayTimes

I'm shocked at @thesundaytimes for printing something so racist at a time when Anti-Asian hate crimes have sky rocketed. we shouldn't need a petition to get an official retraction and apology from @christinalamb but here we are:https://t.co/7UgJWXpUUn

— RINA SAWAYAMA (@rinasawayama) April 20, 2021

The petition's creators said that multiple readers received stock responses from Stephen Bleach, the Times' letters editor, when they contacted him about the story. Bleach explained that the "intention" of Lamb's reporting was to "reflect the affection in which Prince Philip was held by so many, despite his imperfections."

To trivialise casual racism of this kind *right now* - whilst the Asian diaspora has been enduring a surge of attacks - is particularly irresponsible @thesundaytimes @christinalamb. I am disappointed and hope if it was a mistake you are able to apologise and learn from it. https://t.co/m7pYUYK6fI

— Gemma Chan (@gemma_chan) April 19, 2021

He added that the report was not meant to "suggest approval" for the "slitty eyes" remark and expressed "regret" that readers were offended by story.

The Times removed the wording from its digital edition, but it remains in the print version.

"It was noted by us on Saturday night that the sentence was offensive and it was not published in digital editions,” she said." And yet for 48 hours when complaints were made @stephenbleach returned cookie cutter responses that it was the reader's fault for being offended

— Kat 💙 (@SaysKat) April 20, 2021

Then, on April 20, Times Editor Emma Tucker released an apology to the Press Gazette, an online media trade magazine.

"The Sunday Times apologises for the offence caused in a piece about the Duke of Edinburgh, published in our print edition," Tucker wrote. "This so-called 'gaffe' made by Prince Philip was a well-known aspect of his life story. The Sunday Times did not intend to condone it. It was noted by us on Saturday night that the sentence was offensive and it was not published in digital editions."

In defense of the story's writer, Tucker added, "Christina Lamb has spent her whole career reporting on discrimination and injustices against people in every part of the world and never intended to make light of his remark in any way."

But to the petition's organizers, Bleach's responses and Tucker's apology "dismiss" the pain of Asian people and "send a message that our pain is not valid." The organizers also took issue with the way Lamb's "previous work has been used as a way to dismiss and deflect from this very valid criticism," according to the petition.

"Christina Lamb has made light of the remark, and has also given her tacit approval," the petition goes on. "Whether or not The Sunday Times believes this accurately reflects their views is irrelevant—they have given her the position of the front page of the newspaper, and let her work pass through the hands of the Editors, sub-editors, and copy editors to send this to print."

The petition calls on supporters to write letters to the Times demanding accountability. It includes templates to send to the paper's leadership and directions to reference the paper's Editors' Code of Practice. According to the code, "The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability."

The petition claims Lamb violated this standard as well as the paper's code of accuracy, which states that "the Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact."

The Guardian reported Tuesday that an open letter from Asian journalists and activists directed supporters to the petition and condemned "the constant framing of these comments as a lighthearted joke" and an "egregious nullification of racism, giving legitimacy to the false belief that using derogatory terms to describe the features of ethnic groups is nothing more than humour and entertainment. Intent does not negate the impact, whether in regurgitating or approving the 'gaffes.'"

The letter added, "Portraying the nation as a collective 'we' that 'secretly' enjoys racist and derogatory slurs at the expense of ethnic groups is insensitive at best, and encouraging racist violence at worst."

Over 20,000 signatures were recorded on the petition as of Tuesday afternoon, expressing increased public frustration with the British paper's editorial decision.

Newsweek reached out to the Times and Change.org for comment but did not hear back before publication.