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.
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.