An easy mistake to make

Lady Susan Hussey, the late Queen’s lady-in-waiting (and close friend) and godmother to Prince William, has been made to resign her honorary post at the Palace.

Ngozi Fulani could have fooled me too

Now, Lady Hussey dedicated 62 of her 83 years to royal service and never once put a foot wrong. Hence, for her to be – not to cut too fine a point – thrown out on her ear, she had to do something truly awful.

And so she did, by the standards of our heightened sensitivity. Lady Hussey was mingling with a crowd at a Palace function devoted to stamping out domestic abuse. Even though I wasn’t present, I can guess what she was saying to the attendees: sweet noncommittal nothings delivered with half a smile and heard with half an ear.

Then she ran into Ngozi Fulani, the founder of the domestic-abuse charity Sistah Space and a good friend to Harry and Meghan. The encounter proved to be Lady Hussey’s undoing.

That was an international occasion, with three queens, a princess, a countess and two First Ladies in attendance, flanked by a regiment (well, a battalion) of foreign visitors.

Though the do was officially hosted by Queen Camilla, it was Lady Hussey’s job to keep the social gears meshing smoothly, partly by introducing guests to one another. To do so competently, she had to have some snippets of information about their bios.

Such was the backdrop against which Lady Hussey saw before her a black woman having an African name, sporting an African hairdo, wearing African clothes and speaking with traces of the gangsta accent that Lady Hussey had probably never heard before in her cossetted life, but could be forgiven for identifying as African.

Though the combination of those accoutrements must have taken the courtier out of her comfort zone, she nonetheless asked a question she doubtless thought was both another polite nothing and a request for useful information: “What part of Africa are you from?”

Little did she know that asking that question amounted to what Miss Fulani then described on the TV show Good Morning Britain as “racial abuse”. That crime was aggravated by Lady Hussey repeating the question even though Miss Fulani had assured her she was as British as they came.

Activists like Miss Fulani want to have it both ways. They want us to notice they walk a different walk and talk a different walk from the rest of us – but also not to notice it at the same time.

And if we fail to comply with either of those unspoken demands, we are guilty of ‘racism’, which has over time expanded its original meaning (and lost its original British name, racialism). It used to mean the belief that some races are superior. Now it does the extra job of describing the belief that races are different.   

If Miss Fulani doesn’t want to be abused in such an egregious fashion, perhaps she should stop shoving her African heritage, distant though it may be, into our faces. And if she cherishes it so much she must wear it on her sleeve, then by all means she should do so. But then she shouldn’t be surprised if some people may be uncertain about her Britishness.

It’s not about skin colour, by the way. I’ve worked with several black people, both men and women. And it would never have occurred to anyone to ask them where they were from. But then their clothes, accents and hairdos were normal for Britons of a similar geographic, educational and social background. They didn’t insist on coming across as walking campaign slogans.

National identity is communicated by any number of semiotic signals. When such signals send an obtrusive message of foreign origin, then surely someone like Lady Hussey can be forgiven for being ever so slightly confused.

What no sane person would accuse her of on the basis of that incident is racial bigotry. Yet sanity is in short supply everywhere these days, including the rarefied atmosphere of the Palace. Thus Prince William’s spokesman thundered that: “Racism has no place in our society. The comments were unacceptable and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”

Thank you for 62 years of loyal service, Lady Hussey. Now get lost – and ponder at your new leisure the fine points of modern sensibilities.

In a parallel development, the director Richard Curtis’s next project seems to go by the provisional title of Woke Actually.

Speaking to Diane Sawyer in the ABC special on his 2003 film Love Actually, Mr Curtis offered effusive mea culpas, indirectly demonstrating the lightning speed at which aforementioned modern sensibilities are plummeting into the woke gutter.

Most of the stars of that film are still with us, except Alan Rickman (d. 2016) and half of Martine McCutcheon, who ought to be complimented on her diet and exercise regimen. And yet what was par for the course 20 years ago – a film with no black characters – has become the stuff of which racial abuse is made.

“There are things you’d change, but thank God, society is, you know, changing. So, my film is bound, in some moments, to feel, you know, out of date,” explained Mr Curtis, suitably contrite.

When Miss Sawyer asked for specifics, the director added: “I mean, there are things about the film, you know, the lack of diversity makes me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid.”

The world is indeed, you know, changing, but mostly, you know, for the worse. But at least Mr Curtis can find comfort in the fact that hardly a film or a TV commercial made these days makes the same omission he so bitterly regrets.

Positive discrimination, what Americans call affirmative action, is in full bloom. But it bears poisoned fruit.

12 thoughts on “An easy mistake to make”

  1. Let the dead bury the dead. Had the English exhibited a determined in-group preference they wouldn’t be in this predicament, but then they wouldn’t be very English.

  2. Excellent post, but here’s a slightly different take.

    Lady Susan was the Queen’s companion and Lady-in-Waiting, would probably have accompanied Her Majesty on African visits, and would certainly been familiar with African dignitaries visiting the UK. And I imagine that a person of her wealth and social position (Marmaduke Hussey’s widow) would have travelled to Africa in her own right.

    So, familiar with African culture, dress, and good manners, she is confronted by a person who is dressed as if she is taking part in a South London primary school adaptation of The Lion King. Dirty, unwashed hair, animal teeth necklace, and leopard-print top. Only an assegai tucked under her arm would have improved this as a ridiculous and insulting pastiche of African dress. Her name badge says that she is Nigerian, but she talks like an uneducated London teenager.

    Anyone would be confused. In fact, I suspect that real Africans would have shown Marlene Headley the door after laughing at her pretensions and calling her out for cultural appropriation.

    I wonder how I as a white man would be treated if I turned up at the palace in a homespun tunic, with a metal helmet covering matted shoulder-length hair, claiming to be called Odin or Aethelbert.

    “Hello, my good man, and where are you from?”

    1. I do wonder how much of the ‘transcript’ is actually a faithful rendition of the (illegal) recording. I haven’t seen it posted online.

      To be honest, what sickens me most is Ms Fulani’s unctuous sorrow that Buckingham Palace actually dismissed Lady Susan Hussey. Hypocrite!

  3. Thank you, Mr Boot, for an excellent article.

    Does anybody know where this odious abuser of kindly old ladies *is* really from? A quick search tells me that she’s a notorious liar and troublemaker, but she seems keen to conceal her origins – eating her racially privileged cake without having it.

    Even the real name of the abuser seems uncertain, but there’s no doubt about the name of the innocent victim: she’s Lady Hussey, not Lady Susan Hussey. She was Lady Susan Waldegrave from 1939 to 1959, she became Lady Susan Hussey when she married Mr Marmaduke Hussey, and she became Lady Hussey when her husband became a life peer in 1996, because a courtesy title derived from a husband supersedes a courtesy title derived from a father. Such details used to be important, and we can dream of a time when they will be important again.

    Meanwhile, this may be remembered as the week in which the final purge of decent people from public life began.

  4. Born and bred in England but comes to such an event dressed that she could easily pass as an African. And YES recording illegal too.

  5. I am not familiar with the offended party, but from what I gather she seems to be on the prowl looking for chances to be offended (and thus get her name in the papers).

    I was asked yesterday if I am Nicholas’ grandfather. He is my 8 year old son. Should I seek to have fired the young man who asked the question?

    On the same day I happened to catch some of the 1936 film “Mary of Scotland”, starring Katherine Hepburn . While filmed in black and white, there were no actors of color. The same for one of my favorites, “The Lion in Winter” (Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole). Cancel all involved. Any depiction of the English Court must contain the correct percentage of Chinese, Aboriginal, and Muslim actors. For shame!

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