Friday, January 27, 2023

Buckingham Palace Staff Member Resigns Over Remarks to Black Guest

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LONDON — When Ngozi Fulani was invited to a glittering reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday hosted by Camilla, the queen consort and wife of King Charles III, she did not expect to find herself being repeatedly questioned by a member of the household staff about where she was from.

Ms. Fulani, who is Black and was born in Britain, documented the exchange with the staff member, whom she identified as “Lady SH,” on Twitter. The encounter, in which the employee seemed unwilling to believe Ms. Fulani was British, rattled her, she said. And it left her with “mixed feelings” about the gathering, which was dedicated to raising awareness about violence against women and girls, showcasing Camilla’s involvement in this cause.

“The rest of the event is a blur,” wrote Ms. Fulani, who runs a charitable group, Sistah Space, that helps women of African and Caribbean descent who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Less than 24 hours later, Buckingham Palace said the staff member had resigned and offered her “profound apologies for the hurt caused.” The BBC and London newspapers identified her as Susan Hussey, 83, a close friend of Queen Elizabeth II who served her for six decades as a lady-in-waiting and is godmother to Prince William. The palace did not confirm the staff member’s identity.

“We take this incident extremely seriously and have investigated immediately to establish the full details,” the palace said in a statement on Wednesday. “In this instance, unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made.”

The swift action and strong language suggested that Charles, who took the British throne three months ago after the death of his mother, was intent on showing he would not tolerate any perception of racist behavior in the royal household. It also seemed calculated to avoid having the incident overshadow a trip to the United States this week by Prince William, the king’s elder son and heir.

William reacted even more bluntly, saying through a spokesman, “Racism has no place in our society. The comments were unacceptable, and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”

The incident carried a distinct echo of accusations of racism in the royal family leveled by Meghan, a biracial American-born actress and the wife of Prince Harry, William’s brother. In a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, Meghan said that a royal family member, whom she did not name, had expressed concern about the skin color of her unborn child.

At the time, the palace said in a more delayed and muted statement that the allegations of racism were “concerning,” and that “while some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”

William later told reporters, “We’re very much not a racist family.” No one has publicly identified the family member said to have made the comment, and the incident remains shrouded in mystery.

“This is exactly what they needed to do — at speed,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC, referring to the palace’s statement on Wednesday. He noted that the palace in this instance was acting more like “a modern corporation and not an ancient institution.”

“It is in stark contrast to how long it took to respond to the allegations that Meghan made in the Oprah interview,” Mr. Hunt said.

Unlike in the case of Meghan’s allegation, there were witnesses to the exchange between the staff member and Ms. Fulani, which occurred as 300 guests milled beneath oil paintings and twinkling chandeliers in a reception room. Mandu Reid, leader of the British Women’s Equality Party, who was present, told the BBC that the comments were “offensive, racist, and unwelcoming.”

In the account offered by Ms. Fulani on Twitter, the staff member first moved aside her hair so she could read her name tag.

“Where are you from?” she said the woman asked, pressing repeatedly when Ms. Fulani said she had been born in Britain and held British nationality. “No, but where do you come from, where do your people come from?”

When Ms. Fulani finally answered that her parents had immigrated to Britain in the 1950s, she said, the woman exclaimed, “I knew we’d get there in the end, you’re Caribbean!”

Ms. Fulani said she then pushed back, telling the woman she was of “African heritage, Caribbean descent, and British nationality.”

Dismissing Ms. Hussey is a difficult move for Charles, given her long association with his mother, who died in September. She rode in the car with the queen at the funeral of Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, in 2021. Ms. Hussey was considered the queen’s most senior lady-in-waiting, with the formal title of woman-of-the-bedchamber.

She also has close ties to the king and queen consort through her daughter, Katharine Brooke, who was recently named by Camilla as one of six “companions,” an updated title for ladies-in-waiting.

Ms. Hussey’s late husband, Marmaduke, was chairman of the BBC at the time that it aired a celebrated interview of Princess Diana about her broken marriage to Charles. He opposed the decision to broadcast it.

Despite all these links, Mr. Hunt said the palace may have acted so quickly because William and his wife, Princess Catherine, are traveling to Boston this week to present awards given out by the Earthshot Prize, an organization founded by William to help entrepreneurs with solutions to climate change and environmental issues.

It is the first visit to the United States in eight years by the new prince and princess of Wales, and it may include a meeting with President Biden in Boston on Friday, where Mr. Biden is scheduled to attend fund-raisers.

“William’s role in this is key,” Mr. Hunt said. “They just don’t need this before his visit to the States.”

William and Charles are working in tandem to reshape the royal family after the long reign of Elizabeth. In keeping with his new role, the king has taken a less visible stance on issues like climate change. He did not attend the United Nations climate change summit in Egypt, for example, though he did play host at a reception at the palace beforehand. William has picked up his father’s mantle on this issue.

Charles also welcomed the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, to the palace for a state dinner, at which he expressed regret for Britain’s colonial legacy. There were “elements of that history which provoke profound sorrow,” he said.

Last March, William and Catherine made a trouble-prone tour of the Caribbean, where the shadow of colonialism and calls for reparations dogged the couple at every stop. William spoke candidly about the stain of slavery.

“I want to express my profound sorrow,” the prince said in Jamaica. “Slavery was abhorrent, and it should never have happened.”

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Disclaimer: This story is generated from RSS Feed and has not been created or edited by Waba News. Publisher: The New York Times


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