Here’s a thing that happens to me a lot, average about once a week.
I’m engaging with a fellow American, in a store of office. He—more commonly she, for some reason—says: ”I love your accent. Where are you from?”
My standard reply is: ”I’m from Long Island.” I’m not trying to be obnoxious there, just having a little fun. The other party always takes it in that spirit, with a smile. ”OK, but where are you from originally?”
I tell him I’m originally from England, and we get into a brief conversation about places he knows in England, which soccer team I support, what exactly are crumpets, and so on. It’s not Socrates and Protagoras, just idle banter to lubricate a minor social exchange.
Thence to this week’s storm in a teacup. The dramatis personae here are Ngozi Fulani, a 61-year-old black female, and 83-year-old Lady Susan Hussey. They met at an event held at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday to raise awareness about violence against women.
Ms. Fulani is a social worker. She has a university degree in… let me see… what’s her degree in?… computer science?… mechanical engineering?… geomorphology? … Oh no, here it is: African Studies.
Lady Susan Hussey is a courtier on the staff of Buckingham Palace.
She was a lady-in-waiting to the late Queen’s mother and a lady of the bedchamber to the late Queen herself. She is also a godmother to Prince William, the Prince of Wales.
So Lady Susan is milling around in the crowd of women at this event when she spots Ms Fulani. Ms Fulani was hard to miss: she was wearing what looks like a leopard-skin dress, her hair in a tangle of braids, and a necklace of what looks like shark’s teeth.
Lady Susan goes over and the following conversation takes place, at any rate according to Ms. Fulani. ”She” here is Lady Susan, ”me” is Ms. Fulani.
She: Where are you from?
Me Sistah Space. [That’s the name of her social-work outfit.]
She: No, where do you come from?
Me We’re based in Hackney. [That’s a region of North London.]
She: No, what part of Africa are you from?
Me I don’t know. They didn’t leave any records.
She: Well, you must know where you’re from. I spent time in France. Where are you from?
Me Here, U.K.
She: No, but what nationality are you?
Me I am born here and am British.
She: No, but where do you really come from? Where do your people come from?
Me ”My people,” lady? What is this?
She: 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?
Me Lady! I am a British national. My parents came here in the 50s when …
She: Oh, I knew we’d get there in the end. You’re Caribbean.
Me No lady, I am of African heritage, Caribbean descent, and British nationality.
She: Oh, so you’re from…
And that’s as much of the conversation as Ms. Fulani tweeted. She described itas ”an insulting conversation.” When it went public a Buckingham Palace spokes-bot told the press that ”unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments” had been made. Lady Susan resigned on Wednesday, with an apology.
What do we learn from this, Comrades?
What we learn is that to if you’re thinking to lubricate a minor social exchange with an African Studies major in full war paint… think again.