Prince William has backed the decision of his godmother Lady Susan Hussey to apologise and resign from the royal household after she repeatedly questioned a Black charity boss about where she “really came from”.
The incident, which left the monarchy being accused of “institutional racism”, has overshadowed the first day of William and Kate’s visit to America to stage the prince’s Earthshot Prize award ceremony. William and Kate’s three-day trip to Boston has been overshadowed by the growing race row.
William’s godmother, who served as the late Queen’s lady in waiting for more than 60 years, resigned from her honorary role as one of three Ladies of the Household and apologised for making the “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments” to Ngozi Fulani.
The prince is understood to have agreed it was right for Lady Susan to step down from her role with the royal household, with a Kensington Palace spokesman telling reporters in the US ahead of the Waleses’ three-day trip to Boston: “Racism has no place in our society.”
The spokesman said he spoke to William before he boarded his commercial flight and the heir to the throne was aware of the comments he would later make to the media.
Speaking about Lady Susan, the spokesman added: “The comments were unacceptable, and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.” But what did Lady Susan Hussey say, and what impact has the race row had?.
What did Lady Susan Hussey say?
Lady Susan met Ngozi Fulani, chief executive of Sistah Space, at a royal reception on Tuesday, and the domestic abuse charity boss later shared on social media a rundown of their conversation, which took place at a major gathering hosted by the Queen Consort to highlight violence against women and girls.
The full exchange of the conversation is:
Lady SH: “Where are you from?”
Ms Fulani: “Sistah Space.”
SH: “No where do you come from?
Ms Fulani: “We’re based in Hackney.”
SH: “No, what part of Africa are YOU from?”
Ms Fulani: “I don’t know, they didn’t leave any records.”
SH: “Well, you must know where you’re from, I spent time in France. Where are you from?”
Ms Fulani: “Here, UK”
SH: “No, but what Nationality are you?”
Ms Fulani: “I am born here and am British.”
SH: “No, but where do you really come from, where do your people come from?”
Ms Fulani: “‘My people’, lady, what is this?”
SH: “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?”
Ms Fulani: “Lady! I am a British national, my parents came here in the 50’s when…”
SH: “Oh, I knew we’d get there in the end, you’re Caribbean!”
Ms Fulani: “No lady, I am of African heritage, Caribbean descent and British nationality.”
SH: “Oh so you’re from….”
What happened after?
The Palace moved swiftly to respond to Ms Fulani’s tweets on Wednesday morning, saying it took the incident “extremely seriously” and had investigated immediately. The King, who acceded to the throne less than three months ago, and Camilla have been made aware of the situation, the Palace said.
The Palace said, not naming Lady Susan, that the individual concerned had resigned and apologised and that the comments were “unacceptable and deeply regrettable”. A statement from the Palace said: “In this instance, unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made. We have reached out to Ngozi Fulani on this matter, and are inviting her to discuss all elements of her experience in person if she wishes.
“In the meantime, the individual concerned would like to express her profound apologies for the hurt caused and has stepped aside from her honorary role with immediate effect. All members of the Household are being reminded of the diversity and inclusivity policies which they are required to uphold at all times.”
Fulani told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Let us be clear what this is. I’ve heard so many suggestions it’s about her age and stuff like that. And I think that’s a kind of a disrespect about ageism. Are we saying that because of your age you can’t be racist or you can’t be inappropriate?
“If you invite people to an event, as I said, against domestic abuse, and there are people there from different demographics, I don’t see the relevance of whether I’m British or not British. You’re trying to make me unwelcome in my own space.”
The domestic abuse campaigner, who said she’s yet to be contacted by Buckingham Palace to discuss the incident, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Although I didn’t experience physical violence, what I feel I experienced was a form of abuse.”
She went on to say: “I was stood next to two other women – black women – and she (Lady Susan) 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. But you consider that this lady is of senior years, I have to consider many things – is she OK?- and also my environment, and who I represent – Sistah Space – and so I was a bit taken aback.”
Fulani stressed that the focus should remain on domestic abuse survivors rather than the race row and subsequent resignation of the late Queen’s lady in waiting.
Fulani has also said that despite the “overt racism” she believes she was subjected to, she did not wish for Lady Susan to resign over the incident. She told The Guardian: “It’s tragic for me that it has ended that way. I would have preferred that she had been spoken to or reeducated.”
What impact has the race row had?
Buckingham Palace is facing accusations of “institutional racism” over the incident. While questions have been raised over “casual racism” in society. A government minister has said there is “a lot of casual racism” around when asked about Lady Susan’s remarks. Tech minister Paul Scully, when asked if the remarks were racist, told Sky News’ The Take with Sophy Ridge: “I think there’s a lot of casual racism. I say that as someone who’s half-Burmese, that there’s often this kind of idea that people say: ‘Yeah, but where are you really from?’
“Unfortunately we’re still having to educate people. I think there is this casual sort of approach sometimes which you have to be careful, because I’m all for free speech, but why on earth would you want to offend someone?”
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, told The Take: “I think it is an example of casual racism. There is a lot of casual racism in society and we always have to stand firm against it.”