The British Royal Family found itself at the center of another race row this week, with The Queen’s former lady-in-waiting being forced to resign over comments made at a reception at Buckingham Palace, organized to celebrate some of Britain’s charity work.
Lady Susan Hussey, a member of the Royal Family’s workforce since 1960, was a close personal friend of the late Queen Elizabeth II, being appointed as godmother to William, Prince of Wales, and was chosen to accompany Her Majesty to the funeral of Prince Phillip in 2021.
At a charity event on November 29, Lady Hussey partook in conversation with Ngozi Fulani, a black British woman, and chief executive of Sistah Space, a charity that seeks to help African and Caribbean heritage women and girls who have been victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
A report by The Guardian stated that Lady Hussey had asked “what part of Africa are YOU from?”, even after Fulani had told her that she was from Hackney and was a British citizen. In a fractious exchange, the former lady-in-waiting persisted with her demand to know where Fulani’s “people” came from, language which upset and offended the Sistah Space founder.
Mandu Reid, a founder of the Women’s Equality Party, corroborated Fulanis' account and told Sky News that it was almost an “interrogation”. Fulani took to Twitter and, in reply to messages of solidarity, indicated the effect that this event had on her: “it is essential to acknowledge that trauma has occurred and being invited and then insulted has caused much damage.”
Her experience was not limited to only the verbal altercation, with Lady Hussey also taking it upon herself to touch Fulani’s hair: “you feel like you have the right to approach me, put your hand in my hair, and insist I don’t have the right to British nationality. In a space like that, what do you do?”.
Lady Hussey has since resigned from her position, apologizing for any offense caused and acknowledging the gravity of the situation. Commentators from both The Spectator and The Telegraph jumped to Lady Hussey’s aid, claiming her sacking to be “ritual humiliation”, and stating that it was an example of a leftist witch hunt rather than racism.
Hussey’s outburst is the latest in a long string of racism accusations levelled at The Royal Family and the surrounding institution thereof. Most obviously, Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry shone the light directly onto potentially racist behavior within the Royal Family.
Harry and Meghan claimed that there had been conversations during the couple’s first pregnancy revolving around concerns as to how dark their baby’s skin might be. On December 8, 2022, the first half of a Netflix documentary following the couple and uncovering further revelations about what they went through during their time at the heart of the Royal Family was released.
Whilst race doesn’t feature prominently in the first three episodes, Harry does commit to tackling structural racism for the sake of his wife and children: “When my kids grow up and they look back at this moment, and they turn to me and say, "What did you do at this moment?" I want to be able to give them an answer.”
Part of this structural racism exists within the legacy of colonialism, within which the Royal Family and British government more widely play a central role. In the aforementioned interview with Oprah Winfrey, Harry acknowledged the “colonial undertones” of press coverage surrounding his relationship with Markle. He stated that his family, whose close relationship to tabloid media is well-documented, did not comment or take note of racialised or colonial language within headlines or articles.
The relationship between colonialism and the Royal Family, today at least, is predominantly maintained through the Commonwealth. Royal visits to nations formerly under British ownership are a central part of royal duty, one that has brought to the fore a continuing sense of racial difference that exists within the royal family. The late Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, provided many clear examples of this.
Whilst many were not necessarily overtly racist, they showed ignorance of cultural differences which was at the heart of British colonial governance. In a 2003 meeting between the Queen, Prince Phillip, and former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, the Duke remarked that President Obasanjo’s traditional robes made him look as if he was “ready for bed”.
The year before, he had asked a group of Australian Aborigines: “Do you still throw spears at each other?” Many commentators and high-powered figures laughed off such comments, calling them “gaffes” rather than what they were: racially insensitive and inappropriate.
The Royal Family has yet to shake off claims, made by Meghan Markle as well as others, that there is a problem with racism within the institution. The resignation of Lady Hussey may well alter the relationship between the Royals and people of colour both within the UK and beyond, showing a degree of solidarity and understanding with Ngozi Fulani and the rest of Britain’s black population.
As we await the second installment of Harry and Meghan’s documentary, however, we do not yet fully know the severity of the situation. As a result, it may be that this saga has yet more twists and turns to play out before its conclusion.
Cover image availbe from BBC.co.uk
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