Prince William and Kate Middleton arrived in the U.S. for the first time in eight years Wednesday. But their trip has already been overshadowed by fresh accusations of racist conduct by the royal institution and scenes of NBA fans booing the couple and chanting “USA, USA” as they sat court-side at a Celtics vs Miami Heat game in Boston.
William and Kate arrived in the city for a three-day visit ahead of the Earthshot Prize, the prince’s environmental awards ceremony taking place Friday. It is also their first overseas trip since Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September, which granted them their new titles as Prince and Princess of Wales, after King Charles III assumed the throne.
It’s not the first royal trip that has garnered controversy for Prince William and Kate. In March, they made headlines when their tour of former British colonies in the Caribbean sparked republican demonstrations. The couple was forced to cancel the first stop in Belize due to protests, and were met by demonstrations in Jamaica and the Bahamas—with many demanding reparations and apologies from the crown. All three nations have since announced plans to re-evaluate their place in the Commonwealth.
Below, what to know about William and Kate’s royal trip to Boston, and why racism allegations back home may cast a shadow over the success of their trip.
Why were Americans booing Prince William and Kate?
The basketball snub occurred just hours after the royal family’s latest controversy unfolded on home soil; Lady Susan Hussey, William’s 83-year-old godmother and a long-standing lady of the household, resigned from her royal duties amid allegations of racist conduct that saw her repeatedly ask Ngozi Fulani, a Black British charity worker, “where she really came from” during an event on Tuesday.
The event led by Camilla, the Queen Consort, saw around 300 guests invited to Buckingham Palace to support her campaign against domestic violence. Fulani, an attendee, heads up Sistah Space, the U.K.’s only domestic abuse charity specifically for women and girls of African and Caribbean heritage.
According to the BBC, Fulani recounted the full conversation she had with Hussey, including repeated attempts to know where she was “really” from despite the charity worker reminding her that she is British. In a subsequent interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Fulani described the exchange as a “violation” and an “interrogation.”
“I have to really question how this can happen in a space that’s supposed to protect women against all kinds of violence,” Fulani told the radio hosts.
In a statement forwarded to TIME, a Kensington Palace spokesperson yesterday said they are “really disappointed” to hear about Fulani’s experience. They added that “racism has no place in our society” and that it was right for Hussey to resign over her “unacceptable” comments.
Why are the Prince and Princess of Wales in the U.S.?
Amid the controversy, William remained focused on the Earthshot Prize—his primary reason for being in the U.S. He and Kate joined the mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu, and U.S. ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, at an event ahead of the awards. William told attendees, “We are both looking forward to spending the next few days learning about the innovative ways the people of Massachusetts are tackling climate change.”
Since its inception in October 2022, Earthshot has offered £1 million ($1.2 million) in prize money across five environmental categories: nature protection, clean air, ocean revival, waste elimination, and climate change. Winners—who will be announced at Boston’s MGM Music Hall on Friday—and all 15 finalists will also receive help to expand their green projects.
In a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also confirmed that William and Kate will meet with President Joe Biden during their trip but added that they are still “finalizing and working through the details.”
The trip marks a return to the U.S. for William and Kate, who last visited the country during a three-day trip to New York City in 2014. Prior to this, they made their American debut as a married couple during a 2011 trip to California.
What does the race controversy mean for Britain’s royal family?
The royal family have been embroiled in a number of recent racism scandals, including a 2021 exposé that showed the Queen’s courtiers banned “coloured immigrants or foreigners” from serving in clerical roles in the royal household until at least the late 1960s.
The royal family is also still recovering from the reputational fallout of Harry and Meghan’s resignation as working royals in March 2020, followed by a two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021. The couple notably told Winfrey the royal family had “concerns and conversations” over the skin color of their son Archie before he was born in 2019. This prompted comments from Prince William to Sky News that they are “very much not a racist family.”
On Tuesday, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are also due to attend the Robert F Kennedy Ripple of Hope awards, where they will be honored for their work on social change.