The Prince of Wales sharing a joke with Ngozi Fulani from the Emashi traditional African dance ensemble, via Alamy

Where are you REALLY coming from?

Taking offence is a high status profession, especially where royals are involved

Artillery Row

“It’s political correctness gone mad” is a trope beloved of certain Daily Mail columnists, and has rightly become a sort of humorous cliche — forever being applied to unimportant incidences of progressive eccentricity, like “brainstorms” being renamed “thought showers” or whatever.

Still, there is a sense in which political correctness can make us mad. The fear of being offensive, and of being perceived as such, can make people lose all sense of context and proportion. Take the unfortunate case of 83-year-old royal aide Lady Susan Hussey, who has resigned after grilling charity boss Ngozi Fulani on where she was “really” from at an event in Buckingham Palace.

Her connection to Africa is her “lifelong story”

Ms Fulani included a transcript of their dialogue in a tweet about the case. (It is written from memory but its general accuracy has not been disputed.) Lady Hussey repeatedly questioned Fulani about her heritage — “where do you really come from, where do your people come from” — as an uncomfortable Fulani repeated that she was British. Undoubtedly, pressing the point, and conflating nationality and heritage, was poor behaviour on the part of Prince William’s godmother. She should have been more careful with her language — and with her awareness of social cues.

But did she have to be forced out (if, as I assume, her resignation was not entirely voluntary)? Did Prince William have to release a statement saying that “racism has no place in our society” without a hint of room for nuance about what his own godmother might have intended? Somehow, an old woman’s lack of conversational grace has become a scandal that has blown Ukraine, China and even the World Cup out of the water.

Look — as much as Lady Hussey was boorish, being interested in someone’s heritage is not itself wrong. Ms Fulani wears Pan-African colours. Her BA and MA are in African Studies. In a memoiristic piece for “Future Hackney”, she wrote about attending an “African dance group” when she was young. “To hear Africans with strong accents, learn about the food and the drumming touched my heart,” she wrote:

It was all so beautiful, the clothes, the beads, the cowrie shells, and the stories. My connection with Africa became my lifelong story. It’s identity, because ours was robbed from us. Overtime, Black people have been forced to try and be something they are not.

She also discussed being a teacher in Hackney. “We took young people to Africa every year to learn about their culture and their roots,” she wrote, “It was also important to me that my own children visited Africa … I wanted to share my culture with them in my way.” If her connection to Africa is her “lifelong story” — and represents, to her, “my culture” — of course people can ask about it. Saying otherwise is like saying that I can wear a Man United shirt and a Man United scarf and take offence if people say, “Oh, do you like Man United?”

She referred to “Lady SH”

Further questions arise when you read a Guardian interview with Ms Fulani from 2020. In the interview, Fulani criticised the term BAME — Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic — which, she says, means “the identity, beauty and history of every culture is being lumped into one which is, in itself, discrimination”. Sounds fair enough to me! But, again, you can’t blame people for taking an interest in that “identity, beauty and history”, even if you might object to how they go about it. (In the same interview, Faluni suggested that black women do not report domestic violence because they “do not want to risk their abusers being hurt or murdered” by the police, which, if true, is an insight into cripplingly dangerous delusions that the Guardian did not raise a word about.)

Ms Fulani has said that she didn’t mean for Lady Hussey to be singled out — which seems disingenuous. “It wasn’t my intention that her name should be out there,” she said. Okay, but she referred to “Lady SH”. How many people at Buckingham Palace could “Lady SH” refer to? If I claimed that someone in the Critic offices pinched my crisps and called out an “SM” I could hardly feign innocence if Sebastian Milbank was dragged through the mud rather than Paul Lay or Graham Stewart. (To be clear, I work remotely, so Sebastian has never had the chance to pinch my crisps.) 

Fulani has also said that she does not think Hussey should have to step down, but simultaneously calls her conversational insensitivity “abuse”. If it had been abuse then Hussey should have stepped down, but that stretches the definition of a serious term way beyond sensible limits. 

In fact, it is curious to hear a woman whose charity helps victims of domestic violence speak like that. But her charity also described Meghan Markle — in a tweet from 2021 — as “a survivor of DV from her in-laws”. I don’t think I have to make the case that this is a preposterous allegation, but it is interesting that she wanted to be around people that she, or her colleagues, thought had perpetrated domestic violence. 

Again, Hussey should have been more careful with her words — and known where to stop. The fact that you find something interesting about a person does not mean that they should feel compelled to speak about it. Still, the royals should be ashamed of pushing her out the door to protect their public image. She spent her life serving them and seems to have received as much support as a ball boy who trips up a tennis player in the closing game of a final at Wimbledon.

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