Emma Dabiri: ‘I wouldn’t want my children to experience what I did in Ireland’

GROWING UP IN DUBLIN, EMMA DABIRI WAS THE ONLY BLACK PERSON IN HER SPHERE OF VISION. NOW LIVING IN LONDON, THE ACADEMIC, TV PRESENTER AND WRITER TALKS ABOUT ONLINE RACIST ABUSE, THE SYMBOLISM OF HAIR, AND HOW IRELAND HAS CHANGED

A few months ago, it was hard to pick up a publication that didn’t have Emma Dabiri heralded as “one to watch” in 2019. The Irish Times, The Observer and i-D magazine talked up the significant accolades of this academic, broadcaster, mother and now author.

That should not be a surprise; after all, it’s not often you meet someone who stepped out of an isolated upbringing in Rialto, Dublin, to accidentally become a model, then study sociology to PhD level, while teaching, and presenting documentaries and TV series, and maintaining a fulfilling home life with her partner and their young son.

Meeting her breezy self, you’d guess little of this productive and accomplished life. Except maybe the modelling bit.

In between all this, she found time to write about the politics and history around African hair, in the wonderfully titled Don’t Touch My Hair. Zone in on its roots (the hair pun intended, the Alex Haley one not so much) and it goes back to the schoolyards of Dublin, when, after a few happy years in Atlanta, Georgia, she found herself as the only black person in her sphere of vision; her mother is Irish and split from her Nigerian father when she was 10 years old. Racism wasn’t the only predicament she faced; the specific nature of African hair meant she didn’t know about, then wasn’t able to access, the methods and materials to maintain it. It made everything worse. In the book she recounts a sleepover where a friend taunted her, saying she had “pubes in my bed… no, hang on, it’s just Emma’s hair.”

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