Lady Susan Hussey (left) and Ngozi Fulani (right)
“Racism has no place in our society,” according to a spokesperson for Prince William. But it seems some people are less willing to take this stance.
“She’s 83” has been trending on Twitter, following the resignation of Lady Susan Hussey from her position in the royal household.
Lady Hussey has apologised after she repeatedly questioned Ngozi Fulani, of the charity Sistah Space, at a Buckingham Palace reception, asking her where she “really came from”.
The British-born charity founder claimed Lady Susan Hussey also moved her hair to see her name badge at the event, asking: “What part of Africa are you from?”
The palace described the remarks as “unacceptable and deeply regrettable” and though most on social media seem to agree, there are some who seem to think Lady Hussey should be let off the hook, because of her age.
Chair of the social media commission, Katharine Birbalsingh, even tweeted: “Lady Susan Hussey is 83. Where has forgiveness gone?”
But campaigners and charity workers have told HuffPost UK age is no excuse for racism – and we need to stop repeating this tired and inaccurate line.
Lady Susan Hussey was lady-in-waiting to the late Queen.
Rini Jones, a public policy adviser and anti-racism campaigner, says almost all people of colour will have been on the receiving end of Lady Hussey’s line of questioning. The age of those making comments is “irrelevant”, she says.
“When a white person, of any age, makes blatantly racist comments, the mental gymnastics their peers engage in to absolve them is astoundingly predictable. They’re either ‘too young to understand,’ in an inert state of ‘listening and learning,’ or they ‘grew up in a different time.’” she tells HuffPost UK.
“At 83, Hussey will have lived through some of the most seminal civil rights movements of the 20th century and yet ostensibly chose to learn nothing.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Paul Kearns, deputy chief executive of the charity Show Racism the Red Card.
“The rationale used that ‘She is 83’ is no excuse at all, at every age and stage in our lives, we all have the opportunity to learn more and educate ourselves,” he tells us.
“At Show Racism the Red Card we provide anti-racism education to over 10,000 adults a year, being open to learning is an attitude and not age related. We would welcome the opportunity to work with staff at Buckingham Palace as with any organisation wanting to create a diverse and inclusive culture, we sincerely hope that this unfortunate and regrettable incident provides that opportunity.”
Not only is age not an excuse for racism, but Jones also points out this line is an insult to the older people who are allies and willing to engage in anti-racism learning.
“To write off her racist comments because ‘she is 83’ is not only a gross insult to her generation, it’s indicative of the widespread infantilisation of older people and assumptions regarding their cognitive state,” she says.
“These kinds of comments give older people ‘permission’ to self-select out of engaging in anti-racism learning, they can also prevent those who are keen to take action from doing so.”
Though there are plenty of older people who’d be shocked by Lady Hussey’s comments, Rose Simkins, the chief executive at Stop Hate UK, highlights the very real need to engage more older people in anti-racism education.
“We feel that age should never be seen as an excuse for racism and through our 24 hour helpline we listen regularly to people who are subject to abuse from elderly neighbours and members of wider society,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Our elders have much to teach us from their own lived experience, and it is patronising to dismiss hateful behaviour from some, with a ‘catch all’ excuse. At the same time, we recognise that not enough focus is placed upon encouraging conversations that address the significant shifts in attitudes, opinions, and wider societal values that have taken place in the decades since our elders left education, and that leaves some vulnerable, in particular when it comes to their tentative use of social media and the often toxic online space.
“This recent incident and the coming festive season therefore allows opportunities for us all to initiate such conversations with our older friends, relatives and neighbours.”