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From TikTok to TEDx Talks, how Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is demanding change

As she releases her first book, This is Why I Resist: Don’t Define My Black Identity, social-justice activist Dr. SHOLA MOS-SHOGBAMIMU speaks to KATIE BERRINGTON about building a new legacy, preserving her own wellbeing and penning a powerful call of resistance

As Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu’s voice comes over the airwaves, it is full of energy, ardour and positive wishes for the new year. We are less than a fortnight in, but it has been an extraordinary start to 2021 – from the ongoing impacts of the pandemic to the increasingly intense political situation in the United States. Both despite and because of this, the first thing she talks about is gratitude.

“I’m feeling grateful to God that I’m alive and well and putting one foot in front of the other,” she says, emphatically, when I ask how she is. The extreme challenges of the past year have fortified this feeling. “Not that I wasn’t grateful before, but it really highlighted the small things, like laughter, having people you can talk to and engage with, getting different perspectives of life. 2020 forced me to see things that way.”

An activist, writer, public speaker, political commentator, lawyer and campaigner, Mos-Shogbamimu’s credentials and commitments to social justice speak for themselves. She has organized marches, she talks in schools, teaches intersectional feminism to refugees and asylum seekers, founded the Women in Leadership publication to emphasize global issues that impact women, and has been involved in many progress-making organizations. Now, her first book, This is Why I Resist: Don’t Define My Black Identity, has just been published. She began writing it in May and June of last year, amid the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests following the killing of George Floyd.

I can’t talk about systemic racism without talking about the most important question we should be asking today: in 2021, why are we still having these conversations?

An urgent and resonant call for change, the writer demands meaningful anti-racism action via chapters such as ‘Can we breathe, please?’ and ‘Who’s playing the race card?’, Mos-Shogbamimu pulls up the roots of racism in the UK and the US, examining everyday examples and giving a closer look at lesser-discussed issues, from performative allyship and colorism to abuse of the Black trans community.

It is direct and head-on in tackling the pertinent conversations. In the introduction, she writes: “To readers looking for a dispassionate piece of writing or words sugar-coated to make you feel comfortable, this book is not it. The power of my resistance is fuelled by my passion, pride, anger, frustration, joy and authenticity.”

Penning the book was, of course, a vast undertaking. “There was so much to challenge: I can’t just talk about what racism is, what white privilege is, highlight what everyday white supremacy looks like, without highlighting the different methods in which the lived experiences of Black people are constantly silenced,” she says. “I can’t do this without talking about feminism and how marginalized Black voices are within the feminist movement. I can’t do this without demonstrating, literally, that we can’t breathe, and what the knee on the Black neck looks like – politically, economically, societally. I can’t talk about this without acknowledging our white brothers and sisters who have fought the good fight, in a society that is systemically and institutionally racist. And I can’t talk about systemic racism without talking about the most important question we should be asking today: in 2021, why are we still having these conversations?”

These are issues that Mos-Shogbamimu has been discussing for the duration of her career, but writing the book proved to be an “exhausting and exhilarating experience”.

If we are not educating our young ones, then they are bound to make the same mistakes of previous generations

“It was painful, if I’m perfectly honest,” she reflects. “I went into depth I didn’t even know I had. As with a lot of things I experience, when I have to write about it, everything else in my subconscious that I haven’t been able to voice, it all comes out.”

This was, in part, how she began to realize the importance of looking after her own wellbeing. “One of the things 2020 taught me was that I don’t ‘do’ self-care. When we went into that first national lockdown, we were all really forced to deal with ourselves. I’m very used to being busy, out and about, so for me personally there was that growth of understanding that I need to take care of myself… For a long time, it was, ‘OK, we’ve done this, now on to the next thing,’ with no resting in between. That’s not being mindful or present,” she laughs, admitting that for the first time in her life, she’s considering taking up yoga (“I was always like, I don’t have time to meditate!”).

It is crucial, though, to take the time to conserve strength and to replenish your reserves. “The fight for justice can be so draining, and when I say draining, that’s emotionally, mentally, physically. So self-care is absolutely important… You need to remember to refuel, because so much energy goes into this.”

In 2019, Mos-Shogbamimu delivered a galvanizing TEDx Talk, speaking on why she will not be defined by the color of her skin, gender or religion (and bursting into her own version of Destiny’s Child’s Say My Name to illustrate the importance of correct name pronunciation). Keen to explore different forms of communication in raising up these issues, she has started giving minute-long TikTok explainers on subjects such as ‘The Angry Black Woman Trope’ and ‘White Identity Politics’.

“I think that we should use every medium available to us to share and to better understand,” she determines. “To be honest, I thought, oh my God, how am I going to bring this [topic] down to 60 seconds? I like to talk, as you can tell! But if anything, I have learned from being able to be more nuanced, to think about what’s the exact message I’m trying to send here – and then you can read my book if you want more.”

She is passionate about the problems within education – from the lack of teaching about the history of Black and ethnic-minority communities to properly tackling issues such as white supremacy and privilege. “If we are not educating our young ones, then they are bound to make the same mistakes of previous generations,” says Mos-Shogbamimu, who regularly visits schools to speak to students.

[2020] really highlighted the small things, like laughter, having people you can talk to and engage with, getting different perspectives of life

“You need to be saying, ‘This is what’s been happening, this is what we need to do to progress as a society,’ and to break it down in a way that children will understand. When I speak in schools, I talk to children about building a new legacy. They’re not responsible for what my generation or previous generations have done, so I say to kids, ‘This is not about the past, this is about the future, and you are the future.’”

Mos-Shogbamimu has talked extensively in her work about the treatment of women of color in the public eye – from targeted abuse of Meghan Markle to the caricature of Serena Williams using the ‘angry Black woman’ trope. Only a few days ago, she herself had to report a physical threat she had received on Twitter to the police.

Reflecting on how she copes with the mistreatment she faces and the negative tropes of definition that her work rallies against, she says that it helps to lean into her faith and to remember her own truth. “[So] when people try to give me a different description of who I am, I am not moved because I know who I am.”

“There will be people who do not like the fact of the truth you speak,” she says. “[But] I don’t have time for them, because we have to fight the good fight. Those who are ready to change, to hear, to say ‘I need to know more’ – I think that’s fantastic.”

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Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown