William and Kate, Prince and Princess of Wales, begin U.S. visit under cloud of palace racism uproar

London – As the Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate, visit the United States — their first royal visit since Queen Elizabeth II died in September — a racist incident involving a member of the royal household at a Buckingham Palace reception is overshadowing their trip.

The royal couple arrived in Boston only hours after William’s godmother, who was as a lady-in-waiting to the queen for 60 years, resigned as a palace aide for interrogating a Black woman who heads a domestic violence charity. Ngozi Fulani was attending an event at Buckingham Palace and was asked repeatedly to explain where she was “really” from.

Fulani, the head London-based domestic violence service provider Sistah Space, shared an account of her exchange with 83-year-old Lady Susan Hussey on Twitter, which went viral. Fulani told CBS News partner network BBC News it was “abuse.”

“First thing she does is she takes my hair and moves it out of the way so that she could see my name badge. That was a surprise. And then she proceeded to ask me where I’m from. Now, because it’s an environment where we are advocates against domestic abuse, I assume she’s asking me what agency or what charity I’m from, so I said Sistah Space. ‘No, where are you from?’ So I say, ‘Hackney’ (a neighborhood in London). This goes on for some time.”

Fulani said Hussey continued to ask her where she was from for about five minutes, not accepting London or the U.K. as answers.

Lady Susan Hussey, Baroness Hussey of North Bradley (then a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth II) attends a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey on March 29, 2022 in London, England.

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

“At that time, I’m thinking to myself, is it actually — because she keeps asking me the same question — could it be that she can’t hear me well? Because you have to consider so many things when you’re talking to someone who may be older than you… But it dawned on me very quickly that this has nothing to do with her capacity to understand, but this is her trying to make me really denounce my British citizenship. I’ve never, I mean, there was three of us standing there completely stunned,” Fulani told the BBC. “I have to really question how this can happen in a space that’s supposed to protect women against all kinds of violence… Although it’s not physical violence, it is an abuse.”

One of the witnesses to the exchange was the head of Britain’s Women’s Equality Party, Mandu Reid, who said it was a sign of a wider problem within the monarchy.

“[Hussey] has been a royal aide in the household for 60 years. So in fact, she’s quite a good barometer of that institution. And for her, it was perfectly ordinary to greet and engage with us in that way,” Reid told the BBC’s Newsnight program. “She had no self-awareness. She didn’t respond to any cues we were giving about how uncomfortable it was making us. I think that does signify that we are talking about an institutional problem.”

A spokesperson for Prince William and Kate condemned the exchange, saying that “racism has no place in our society. The comments were unacceptable, and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”

Buckingham Palace said in a statement that they “take this incident extremely seriously and have investigated immediately to establish the full details. 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.”

Reid said it wasn’t enough that Hussey had resigned from her post, because the problem of racism within the British monarchy was greater than just one person.

“I think, in a way, zooming in on the individual in question, Lady Susan, it reminds me of that bad apple approach to dealing with issues like this… ‘Let’s try to frame it as some sort of isolated incident,'” Reid said. “Well actually, let’s look at Meghan’s account. Meghan herself said that her experiences in the royal household brought her to the brink of suicide. Now, we were at this gathering for just one afternoon. We spent a couple of hours there, and it really left its mark on me and it left its mark on Ngozi. Imagine having to deal with that day in and day out.”

The Prince and Princess of Wales attended a ceremony at Boston City Hall Wednesday night, before watching a Celtics game. On Thursday, they visit a climate change technology incubator and on Friday, they’ll hand out awards worth more than $1 million to entrepreneurs trying to combat climate change, CBS News’ Ben Tracy reports. The White House has confirmed the couple will also meet President Joe Biden later this week.

“This is a really important few days for the Waleses to get their message over about what the royal family is for,” Roya Nikkhah, royal editor for Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, told Tracy. She said the incident at the palace was “not helpful at the start of this trip. I think they’ll try very hard now to move the conversation on over the next few days.”

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