What comments led to racism charge and royal resignation?

The Guardian
The Guardian
Ngozi Fulani GMB Photograph: GMB | ITV

The royal family has been embroiled in another racism scandal following the resignation of Lady Susan Hussey after making “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments” to a black charity boss during a Buckingham Palace reception.

Ngozi Fulani, the founder of the charity Sistah Space, said Hussey left her feeling violated after she allegedly took her lock and moved it away from her badge, then repeatedly questioned her about where she “really came from”.

The palace described the remarks as “unacceptable and deeply regretable”. A spokesperson for Prince William said “racism has no place in our society”.

Fulani described the encounter as abusive and an attempt by Hussey to try to make her denounce her British citizenship . The incident on Tuesday, at a reception on gender-based violence, was witnessed by Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, and another charity representative.

Fulani posted about the interaction on social media. Here is a breakdown of the exchange and an explanation of why it has led to accusations of racism.

‘Moved my hair to see my name badge’

Fulani alleged that Hussey took her lock and moved it out of the way to see the name on her badge. Anti-racist campaigners have long argued that touching someone’s hair without their permission, particularly a black person’s hair, is offensive and discriminatory as it feeds into the “othering” of black people.

The academic and writer Emma Dabiri wrote about this in her first book Don’t Touch My Hair: “Generally, black people know our hair takes time and effort to do so they don’t usually try and put their grubby hands up in it. I think there is also more of an awareness of boundaries and personal space, as well as the enduring, if these days mostly implicit, awareness that our hair has a spiritual significance.”

Fulani felt the same. She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “She just made a beeline for me, and she took my locks and moved it out of the way so that she could see my name badge. That’s a no-no. I wouldn’t put my hands in someone’s hair, and culturally it’s not appropriate.”

‘No, what part of Africa are you from?’

Fulani claimed after she was repeatedly asked about her origins, that Hussey asked her what part of the African continent she was from. It is offensive and ignorant to assume that because someone is black, they have come from the African continent.

‘Well, you must know where you’re from’

Related: Charity boss felt palace’s Lady Hussey tried to make her ‘denounce citizenship’

In response to being asked which African country she was from, Fulani responded that she didn’t know as “they didn’t leave any records”. She was pointing to the slave trade, in which millions of Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas and the Caribbean. It was the largest forced migration in human history. Many descendants of enslaved people are unaware of their ancestors’ origins as detailed records of people’s names and origins were not kept.

‘No, but what nationality are you?’

When Fulani said she was from the UK, she alleged Hussey then asked her to clarify her nationality. A nationality is the sovereign country a person belongs to. The implication is that Fulani is not a British national and because of her appearance and skin colour she must be a national of another country.

‘No, but where do you really come from? Where do your people come from?’

Asking someone where they are from can be a harmless question, but it depends on the context: how it is asked, to whom, and the response given. In this case, Fulani alleged she was asked where she is “really from” and where “your people” come from.

This line of questioning again suggests that because of their skin colour or appearance, they cannot genuinely be from the UK. It can make someone feel as if they don’t belong or have a right to be in the country. These feelings can be compounded when asking someone about their “people” when they have made it clear they are British and identify as such. When later interviewed, Fulani echoed this when she said she felt the questions were “trying to make me unwelcome in my own space”.

It is also particularly racially insensitive to ask where someone is from once they have already answered the question.

‘Oh, I can see I am going to have a challenge getting you to say where you’re from. When did you first come here?’

The refusal to accept the answer given to this at-times fraught question can lead to allegations of racism.

Fulani also alleged that she was asked when she first came to the UK, which many feel is a galling question to be asked when you are from the country.

Comments / 4

Evelena Scott

She does have an accent that isn't indicative of the UK tho. Sometimes kids ask these types of questions, and it's a learning/ teaching moment. It should still be one for adults as well. No need to be offended. Like, "Did God paint you" - yes, because God loves wondrous varieties. --- Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves 1991.


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