One of the most vibrant voices in the UK on Black identity, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu’s new book, This is Why I Resist is a vital anti-racist call to action.
Activist, lawyer, political commentator, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a familiar voice in discussions on race and identity in UK media and her spirited conversations on various news shows are a must-watch for anyone who wants to understand the challenges faced by Black people in a systemically racist nation.
Dr Shola is direct, unapologetic and urgent in her message. Her new book, This is Why I Resist, is a direct response to ongoing conversations which both deny and enable racism. A fascinating read, Dr Shola analyses the roots of racism and anti-blackness in the UK and US, using examples from present times such as Meghan Markle, Serena Williams’ caricature, George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The book also tackles topics that aren’t discussed enough like colourism, performative allyship, racial gatekeeping, the exclusion of trans women, specifically Black trans women from the feminist movement and urges people to raise their voices to end the oppression.
Earlier this month, we talked to Dr Shola during a frank and animated interview to find out more about the woman behind the activist, how she developed her views and what inspired her to write the book.
In a nutshell, why did you choose “This Is Why I Resist” as the name of your book?
“This Is Why I Resist” encapsulates what I stand for and what I feel about inequality and injustice. I don’t think I could have used any other words to describe my mindset right now. It is probably every activist’s mindset. What is it that triggers you into action, what is it that makes you say, ‘hell no’? Whatever that is, that’s the reason you resist. There are different things that trigger people, different situations and sometimes, what triggers you is something close to you, personal to you, or something that is happening to other people. I get triggered into action when certain things happen over again. Whether it is women’s rights, civil rights or trans rights, LGBT and anti-Semitism. I cannot stand inequality and injustice in any form.
For me, getting older there is this constant repetition of history. There is a constant replication of history that is really winding me up. It is being repeated in politics, in government, in the workplace, in school. It is this terrible vicious cycle that the generation before went through and the two generations before went through and we are going through the same thing. I am like ‘When is enough, enough?’
“We talked to Dr Shola during a frank and animated interview to find out more about the woman behind the activist…”
What would you say to the view that there is a different type of racism in the UK from the US because some would argue that there is a difference?
Rubbish, utter nonsense, there is no difference. You can quote me on that. What is wrong with them? The trouble with people who try to make such a distinction is that they are focusing on guns, do you see what I mean? When they say things like ‘police brutality is worse in the US because of guns’, I say ‘Do you not understand that people get killed by choke holds, by being beaten up, people get killed period! It is the same thing’. It is so disingenuous to suggest that there are levels of racism that are okay and others that are worse. Racism is racism, period.
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Can you explain this further?
The reality is the fact that a lot of us in the Black community don’t experience racism in the same way. There are some forms of racism that I am never going to experience, and you will never experience that others [Black people] will experience and others will not because of their background, it just depends. The fact that it is happening to you is enough to get me out of my bed and out of the door to raise my voice and shout and say that something needs to change. Because it is only a matter of time before it happens to the rest of us. They say, ‘It is really only happening to you because you live in this location or because you talk in a certain way or because you don’t have certain qualifications. That is rubbish, that is not what is happening. To me there is no difference between systemic racism in the UK and USA, it is all routed from the same place.
You are unapologetic in defending the Black identity on social media and mainstream media. Does this take a toll in any way on you?
Naturally there is always a balance to achieve between silencing the naysayers and understanding that the work you do is important, not because there are not other people doing it as there have been people doing this before me and people will do it after me but because your voice, your perspective is just as important to get out there.
If people are triggered it means you are getting something right. The main thing that holds me grounded is my faith because the Lord has already told me who I am, that I am wonderfully and fearfully made. Oh, Jesus, Lord! Anyone who tries to step to me, those that try to call me monkey, say I am ugly, my brain is responding back to say: ‘You are wonderful, fearfully made Sister, you are fine’!
“It takes its toll. It is important for them to take responsibility for their own learning and at the same time they will benefit from listening to us and working on it from that perspective.”
It is not our place to educate white people about racism so what do they need to do?
I want people to understand it is not our job to unpick the learning of white people. [They] need to take responsibility for that [themselves]. At the same time, I balance that with, ‘When you want to have a conversation, let’s have a conversation, but you had better educate yourself before you come and talk to me’.
2020 was a perfect example of how white [people] decided to go to their Black colleagues or friends without having done some level of education themselves. They are literally tapping into that oppressive, vicious cycle in which we have to talk to [them] about the same things over and over again and sometimes getting into disagreements. It takes its toll. It is important for them to take responsibility for their own learning and at the same time they will benefit from listening to us and working on it from that perspective. Not ‘Since you lot are complaining about racism, come tell us what your problem is’! That scenario is what I am avoiding. I don’t need to prove jack all to you because white supremacy proves it every single day. What have you been doing, why aren’t you paying attention?
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Does being Nigerian influence your ideologies in any way?
Most definitely. My parents brought me up with a really strong identity of who I am and so I have never felt inferior due to the colour of my skin, being a woman or gender. I would use the word feminist to describe my father. He was the first male feminist I knew.
With Nigerians, there is a sense of confidence, I don’t know where it comes from, that shines through. The Nigerian culture feeds into that strong work ethic, pride in yourself, pride in your culture, pride in your language. I am a very proud British Nigerian and that’s why I always insist on people saying my full name. If you can say Schwarzenegger, you can say my name!
“My book is for everyone and talks to some of the hard conversations that we are having today.”
Who is your book for?
My book is for everyone and talks to some of the hard conversations that we are having today. It speaks to those who disagree that systemic racism is an issue and those who want to have a better understanding of institutional racism and what needs to be done.
I think that the unique perspective I bring to this discussion is how I have narrated this. I have drawn from ongoing conversations we are having today on social media and mainstream headlines so that it can resonate with people and they can then connect the dots. It is not theory; I am using facts, examples, ongoing situations whether it is Harry and Meghan, the historian Starkey and his comments, Reggie White, all of them. I give all these examples to show this is what is happening here, and this is why. I am drawing from historical facts as well as contemporary data to prove the point.
Which three people past, present and future do you admire and why?
There are many of them. I will start with my dad. It wasn’t until I grew older that I realised he was not like other fathers. He was very much for my sisters and I and encouraged my siblings and myself to spread our wings and fly.
For present, I don’t have one name. But I recognise all those who went before us and paved the way for you and me to be in the position we are in today. All those activists, the civil right activists here in the UK, in the US and many parts of Africa, who fought the good fight to push out the colonial masters, so to speak.
‘Future’ for me is the next generation. I am really inspired by how the youth are mobilising truth. Look at what happened with the Black Lives Matter movement and how it was driven by a lot of the youth who have a better understanding than their parent’s generation as to why wrong is wrong and right is right.
You are a lawyer by profession, a mum and an activist, how do you juggle it all?
We get up in the morning, say our prayers and by the time I hit the bed at night I realise that is where I wanted to be since I got up this morning [laughs]. On a serious note, I go back to my upbringing, to my faith and I have a strong conviction that we are meant to be anything we want to be. I remember my father telling me ‘There is no reason why you can’t be a mother, a businesswoman and anything else you want to do’. He never understood the concept of a housewife. My mum is a role model who worked and raised four kids. I am ambitious to be the best that I can be, to get out of life as much as I want to. I am not a perfectionist; I am a work in progress. When people ask ‘How do you juggle it all’ I say that I take each day as it comes, one foot in front of the other by the grace of God.
The preface to your book includes a quote from Bishop T.D. Jakes. ‘If you know who you are then you know who you are not. If you don’t know who you are, somebody can ascribe any identity on to you and you will morph into whatever they want you to be’. So, who is Dr Shola Mos Shogbamimu?
There is so much societal expectation out there whereby because you are a woman, you are put into some kind of box. When you try to do different things, they say ‘I thought you were just a lawyer’. I am not just anything! I am more than one thing, and I am everything that I am called to be by the grace of God, some of which I am still finding out. I can’t at this stage give you everything I am because I am not at the end of my journey. I never feel pressured to give people a set answer. It is okay not to have an answer to everything.
This is Why I Resist by Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu (Headline, £20) is out now. Buy the book.