A right royal racist row: it’s time for emotional justice in Britain

Buckingham Palace

A racist incident at Buckingham Palace towards a Black woman has ignited a public firestorm in the UK. It is an instructional on the institutional racism within the UK, specifically the Monarchy, and how it is upheld by particular white media outlets.

What happened? Ngozi Fulani, the Black British Founder of the organization, Sistah Space, was interrogated and violated by Lady Susan Hussey, a white British senior royal aide. The incident? Lady Hussey approached Ngozi, put her hands on Ngozi’s dreadlocks, and interrogated her for several minutes about ‘where she was really from’, rejecting her initial answer, and repeating the question – where are you really from? – again, and again, and again. The incident was witnessed by two other people. Each was stunned, hurt, and ultimately angry. Each of them was at Buckingham Palace by invitation of Camilla, the Queen Consort, as part of the international campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.  The incident became public via Twitter, igniting ongoing outrage. Buckingham Palace issued a statement, Lady Susan Hussey resigned.

The tide quickly turned. Ngozi Fulani was put under the spotlight. Sections of the white media argued that Lady Hussey was really the victim and Ngozi Fulani was the violator. One declared Ngozi was a fraud who had orchestrated and planned the entire thing. Think about that? A Black British woman is invited to Buckingham Palace in honor and acknowledgement of the work her organization does for Black and immigrant women Domestic Violence survivors. And she attends this Royal event with the sole purpose of framing a white senior royal aide. It is ludicrous. It is obscene. It is enraging. It is reflective of the lengths Britain goes to in order to negate, deflect, and deny racism rather than reckon with it, in order to truly transform.

In the British media, Black women activists, writers, and artists including Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Kelechi Okafor and writer Nova Reid did multiple media appearances and interviews articulating and contextualizing the racist incident in the playbook of British institutional racism that features the history of the Monarchy, gaslighting those who speak up about racism, and sections of the Media that relentlessly excuse and reject the incident as racist. On social media Black people – again, and again, and again – explained why this was reflective of an institutionally racist Monarchy, and country. That activism is expanding with complaints being made about broadcasters who are attacking Ngozi Fulani, repeating claims that she is fraud, mocking and disparaging her, fueling racist trolls on social media who are also attacking Ngozi, while offering no such vitriol to the institutional racism of Britain’s monarchy and media.

The solutions to the racist incident that came from the British media, and across social media, all required additional labor by Ngozi Fulani. There is always an expectation that Black people do labor – in this case, and so often, emotional labor – on behalf of white people, and whiteness. There is a loud, unrelenting pressure for Black people to cater to, center and privilege the feelings of white people no matter the cost or toll to Black women and their worlds.

We saw that play out with this incident. The world was witness to the exhausting, depleting, debilitating racialized emotional labor that Black women do in defense of their bodies, their being, their belonging and against Britain’s racism. Part of how institutional racism manifests is the sheer weight of this racialized emotional labor, that is mischaracterized, unacknowledged, misunderstood. This labor takes a huge toll on Black people. It affects our bodies, our profession, our health, our lives. It is a slow emotional dying that needs naming, addressing and transforming by institutionalizing wellness, by culturalizing rest and replenishment.

Here in Ghana, there is deep affection for the Monarchy. There are conflicted feelings – a mix of affection, respect, and reverence particularly by those of a certain generation, that is matched by a disdain from a younger generation – one that points out the privilege, the money, the history, the power and the racism, and so calls for its abolition.

There are several issues here that require exploration, examination and interrogation. I write about them expansively in my book, ‘Emotional Justice: A Roadmap for Racial Healing’.  I was in London recently for the launch of my book and one of the things I spoke about – and that I write about – is how Britain’s racism comes in measured tones, cut-glass accents, starched shirts and a perfectly brewed cup of tea. Britain’s racism is lethal, unrelenting, and always – and only – in defense of its own right to be racist while simultaneously denying that it is. It is this bizarre, brutal dance of racism masquerading as reason, and claiming that Black people are being unreasonable. This is part of the legacy of untreated trauma from oppressive systems that have shaped how we see ourselves and each other as white and Black people. The legacy that lingers is a dual deadly fiction of white superiority and Black inferiority.

I am a self-described global Black chick – by that I mean I was born in London, lived and worked in New York, and currently live and work in Ghana. I approach the world through a global Black lens. There is a dangerous narrative that the racism in America is worse than it is in the UK. As someone who has lived in both countries, this is a dangerous lie. It is part of a language of whiteness designed to segregate British whiteness from that of America, to deflect Britain’s racist history, and it’s white supremacy from that of America.

Britain’s brand of white supremacy is the relentless insistence that British people are not racist, and that Black British people are unwilling to work with and walk with white people to enable us all to better get along. This is making Black British people responsible for resolving white supremacy, and ensuring white people do not feel personally maligned due to their own racism. This is what I call requiring Black people to be an ‘emotional mammy .‘ This is an Emotional Justice term that describes how Black people – especially Black women – are expected and required to soothe, affirm, and reassure white people of their inherent goodness and niceness as people, no matter the harm they have caused, and the toll on Black women. It is a dangerous practice with historical roots – it must end.

It is time for Emotional Justice for Black women in Britain, for Black people, in Britain. It is beyond time. Emotional Justice is a racial healing framework that wrestles with a legacy of untreated trauma from oppressive systems that shapes our relationships to ourselves and one another as Black and white people.  It is a roadmap about each demographic doing its own emotional work and healing in order to create a more humanity centered society.

Emotional Justice for Black women in Britain includes naming, contextualizing and ending this emotional labor in service of whiteness that exhausts and depletes, that has real life consequences, is internalized by Black women, and creates cycles of progress, regress, of hurt and harm on repeat. It is about recognizing the sheer ferocity of British racism, and of too many white women’s defense of their right to be racist without accountability or being challenged, but always having their personal feelings affirmed and soothed through Black women’s emotional labor.

I stand with Ngozi Fulani. She is a Black British woman who faces what millions of Black women face on an all too regular basis – the challenge of their belonging within Britain. I stand with, and am grateful to the Black British women who have stood up, spoken out, called out the racism, and demanded the Monarchy do its own institutional labor of reckoning with racism.

It is time for Black British women to say goodbye to being Britain’s emotional mammy. It is beyond time for Emotional Justice in Britain.




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