‘I am not a bigot in any shape or form’: Art historian accused of racism for referring to the Duchess of Sussex as ‘the dreaded Meghan’ warns that academics must be able to express opinions freely
- Dr Anne Anderson is an honorary associate professor at the University of Exeter
- She was disciplined after discussing the Sussexes’ TV appearance with Oprah
- She referred to tide of media comment from ‘people of a colourful disposition’
An art historian accused of racism for referring to the Duchess of Sussex as ‘the dreaded Meghan’ has warned that academics must be able to express their opinions freely.
Dr Anne Anderson, a 64-year-old honorary associate professor at the University of Exeter, was disciplined over her opening remarks before a Zoom lecture on design to the Arts Society of Truro.
She was discussing the Sussexes’ TV appearance with Oprah Winfrey when she made the comment about Meghan and referred to the tide of media comment in the interview’s aftermath from ‘people of a colourful disposition’.
The academic, who is dyslexic and technically disabled, said the panel went through her entire record for evidence to support the racism claim. ‘In the end, I held my course. The outcome was that I didn’t make a racist remark but it could be interpreted as being a racist remark’
Her lecture on March 12, five days after the worldwide broadcast, prompted a complaint from a member. Arts Society chiefs informed her she was being removed from its directory of lecturers for using ‘racist’ language.
Dr Anderson, who began lecturing for the society in 1994, was asked to appear before a disciplinary panel and spent £2,500 clearing her name. ‘Being branded a racist would have not just lost me my livelihood, but my reputation,’ she last night told The Mail on Sunday.
‘I’m liberal so being branded a racist is a painful experience. If I was in my 20s, it would have shattered my career. Although I’m coming up to my retirement, I didn’t want my career sullied by being branded a racist at the end of it.’
Four days after appearing before the panel, she received an email from the chair, Florian Schweizer, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove her comments were racist but they were deemed ‘inappropriate’. The panel ruled her comments ‘posed a serious reputational risk to the Arts Society’. Dr Anderson said: ‘It was really upsetting. I am not a bigot in any way, shape or form. I’ve worked so hard through all my career to be as inclusive as possible because the arts are often seen to be very elitist.’
She recalled her comments, saying: ‘I wondered how many potential viewers I had lost because they wanted to watch the interview. “I clashed with the dreaded Meghan Markle,” I said. ‘What I had meant was that she was all-consuming – she was just everywhere.’
Dr Anderson denied using racist language when she spoke of ‘a colourful disposition’. She said: ‘I was referring to the language. I should have said “florid language” but it just came out wrong. It is one of those things that you bitterly regret afterwards because it could have been open to misinterpretation.’
The academic, who is dyslexic and technically disabled, said the panel went through her entire record for evidence to support the racism claim. ‘In the end, I held my course. The outcome was that I didn’t make a racist remark but it could be interpreted as being a racist remark,’ she said.
Dr Anderson, of Eastleigh, Hampshire, remains suspended. The panel has ordered she attend diversity training and warned her, she says, that if another complaint is made against her, she ‘is out without appeal’. Her case underlined how important freedom of speech is to academics, she said. ‘I want freedom of speech – I want to be able to voice my opinions and know that somebody isn’t going to inform on me.’
Dr Anderson added: ‘Freedom of speech is absolutely going out the window. Lecturers don’t want to go on to a platform walking on eggshells – we want to be able to talk frankly.’
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