Lady Hussey, cancel culture and forgiveness
Some new findings on what people think
One of the things I truly loathe about cancel culture is its complete lack of interest in forgiveness. Spurred on by ideological radicals who want to silence and stigmatise their opponents, and a new elite who increasingly seek to acquire social status and a sense of moral superiority by ‘calling out’ actual or perceived transgressions, cancel culture demonstrates a remarkable lack of interest in offering its victims a way back.
As the Atlantic writer Elizabeth Bruenig points out, despite all the talk about how advanced, how enlightened and how modern we like to think we are, unlike past generations we have simultaneously managed to create societies which have absolutely no coherent story, none at all, about how somebody who has made a mistake, who has committed an error of judgement, can atone, make amends, and retain some sense of continuity between their old life and their new, cancelled life.
I thought about this a lot over Christmas and in the aftermath of the Lady Hussey scandal, the latest symbol of this cultural turn. For international readers who may be unfamiliar with the case here’s what happened. Seven weeks ago, in her role as Lady of the (royal) Household, Hussey, a high-ranking noblewoman serving King Charles III, who had previously served Queen Elizabeth II for seventy years, attended a reception hosted by Queen Camilla. At the reception, she met Ngozi Fulani, a black boss of a charity. Shortly afterwards, Fulani posted a transcript of their conversation on Twitter. And shortly after that, Lady Hussey’s life was completely destroyed.
Fulani detailed how the 83 year-old had, repeatedly, asked her where she was “really from”, which Fulani and later many others interpreted as racism. The tweet went viral. Within hours, Lady Hussey, who was born in 1939, lost everything. She was publicly shamed, condemned and ridiculed. Buckingham Palace issued a statement about her “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments”. Prince William, her own godson, declared that “racism has no place in our society”. And prime minister Rishi Sunak announced that the work of anti-racism is “never done”. Despite apologising, Lady Hussey was asked, or told, to resign from her work, which she duly did.
And so, in the blink of an eye, in just a few hours, her name, her reputation, her life was ruined, leaving the pensioner, in the words of one friend, “shattered and heartbroken". A few weeks later, after the damage had been done, she personally met with Fulani at the Palace to, again, offer her sincere apologies for the distress caused, to pledge to “deepen her awareness of the sensitivities involved”, and express thanks for “the opportunity to learn more about the issues in this area”. The Palace made no mention, no mention at all, about whether or not she would be returning to work.
Which got me thinking. What do ordinary people think about all this? What do they think about this new cancel culture which shows so little interest in forgiveness? And what do they think should happen to the likes of Lady Hussey? To explore this, last week, I polled a nationally representative sample of British adults and asked them the following. “The late Queen’s lady-in-waiting Lady Susan Hussey resigned after she asked a black British charity boss where she was “really” from. She has since met with the charity boss to personally apologise. Should Lady Susan Hussey be allowed to return to her work?”
If you spend much time on Twitter or watching the reaction to these events unfold within the institutions —within the BBC, the media, the universities, the creative industries, all of which are disproportionately dominated by left progressives who appear to relish in the downfall of The Cancelled— then you might be forgiven for thinking that a large majority of people support this culture. But this is not true. If you actually ask people what they think you will find something quite different.
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