It’s a truth not universally acknowledged, that when anti-discrimination laws morph from proscribing harms to appeasing those who take offence at words, the ranks of the offendarati swell in the resulting republic of hurt sentiments. Thus it came to pass that the elderly Lady Susan Hussey’s curiosity tripped over the fast-expanding list of sensibilities that must not be touched for fear of spontaneous combustion. No amount of ritualistic self-flagellation will undo the damage. A woman of Caribbean ancestry born and living in the U.K., adopts an African name, wears African apparel and jewellery, has an MA in African studies, boasts of African ancestry, but is offended when asked where in Africa she’s from? On any objective reading, the Royals’ treatment of Lady Hussey seems nastier than her transgression. Of the three principals in the sorry affair, a habitual race-baiter who has made a professional career out of victimhood has behaved the most despicably. The Royals have betrayed the loyalty of an aide and godmother to Prince William. Lady Hussey has shown dignity despite having the most cause to feel hurt, bewildered and traumatised after decades of service to Queen and country. If there was justice in this increasingly weird world, Lady Hussey – subjected to a “ritual humiliation masquerading as social justice” (Sebastian Milbank) – would receive a public royal apology and Ngozi Fulani would be cut from society after such publicity seeking antics.
In March 2021, after the infamous Ophrah Winfrey interview, Fulani tweeted her admiration for Meghan Markle: “According to clear definition, it seems Meghan is a survivor of domestic violence from her in-laws.” Yet now she flatly denies this, whether intentionally lying or from memory lapse. Given this view of the Royal Family, why did she not decline the invitation? In an interview with Sky News U.K. she described how learning about Africa from “middle-class white people” was “traumatic”. She holds that “violence isn’t always physical, it can be verbal”. Her charity collaborates with Black Liberation Movement U.K., the local counterpart to Black Lives Matter.
On the night of November 29th, Queen Camilla hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace to mark the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Fulani, resplendent in African dress, headgear and necklace, was asked by Lady Hussey, after reading her name badge, where she was from. She wouldn’t have needed to ask the question multiple times if Fulani had simply answered this common ice-breaking opening gambit at cocktail parties to start with, instead of dancing all around it. Lady Hussey repeatedly asked where Fulani and “your people” were “really from”. Fulani labelled this experience as “abuse” and “overt racism” and tweeted the transcript of the conversation in the early hours of the morning.
Fulani does protest too much. Her complaint has served to suck all oxygen out of the cause behind the palace reception. The 61 year-old ‘Ngozi Fulani’ was previously Marlene Headley. She describes herself as “of African heritage, Caribbean descent and British nationality”. Her charity Sistah Space caters to black African and Caribbean domestic abuse victims. Would it be permissible to set up a charity for white victims of domestic abuse? In any case, as Charles Moore comments, “I am not a Scot, but if I walked into a party wearing a kilt and sporran, and a name badge saying ‘Hamish McTavish’, I could not reasonably take offence if someone asked me from which part of the Highlands I hailed.” It was within Fulani’s choice to have adroitly turned the exchange into a friendly conversation, even to have politely but privately and firmly pointed out to Lady Hussey later the hidden traps in this line of questioning, using words that are clumsy and infelicitous in the newly invented Kingdom of Woke, but not obviously racist. But no, there wouldn’t be mass publicity, media demands for interviews to expand on her victimhood status and further invitations to gala events.
With the most cursory of investigations, Buckingham and Kensington Palaces publicly chastised her for the “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments” because “racism has no place in our society”. She was thrown under the bus with not a word of public tribute for 62 years of selfless service to the Royals. Seriously? Have I been asked where I am from? Often. Was this offensive? Sometimes, but mostly it reflects genuine curiosity or friendly interest in learning more about me. Usually I respond by asking if they wish to know where I am from originally (India, which then leads to the follow-up question, ‘Which part’?), or which was the last country from where I moved to Australia, or which city I live in now in Australia? The most patronising comment was after a lecture in the U.S. when a man prefaced his question by saying he’d first like to compliment me on my English. “Yes, I came here one day early especially to learn the language,” I said. I hope I wouldn’t be as instantly judgemental and publicly cruel today.
In playing by Fulani’s rules of confected grievance and victimhood, the two palaces have given more oxygen to the fuel of racism hurled liberally at British society when it clearly ain’t so. The backlash shows they misread the public mood and may have further weakened the institution they represent. “Loyalty is undermined when monarchy defers to its enemies and neglects its friends,” writes Moore. The sensitivity owed to racial and cultural differences does not require an abandonment of the duty of due diligence on any charge of misconduct, nor duty of care to those who serve the Royal Family.
The incident under discussion was about a roughly 150-word exchange between two women in a crowded room. With impressive near-perfect recall despite describing the rest of the evening as a “blur” because of the distress that Lady Hussey’s “interrogation” allegedly caused her, Fulani published a “transcript” a few hours later. Either Fulani is relying on always contestable memory (‘different recollections’ and all that) which cannot be contradicted because of Lady Hussey’s dignified silence, or else the conversation was recorded in breach of etiquette. If the latter, suspicions of a set-up will only harden. Life would be vastly more pleasant without a dedicated corps of people looking everywhere for offence. We should all relearn the importance of lightening up and assuming that goodwill and not ill-will is the default mode of social intercourse.
Ramesh Thakur is Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy and a former UN Assistant Secretary-General. This article was first published in Spectator Australia.
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