Emma Dabiri is an Irish-Nigerian author, academic, broadcaster and inspirational speaker, focussing predominately on race and why hair in the Black British population has become one of the most misunderstood, debated and celebrated aspects of the black experience.
Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, Emma admitted she was the only black person in her sphere of vision and experienced everyday racism growing up, something she aimed to change in her academic, professional and personal life.
Through her influential work, Emma aims to educate and enlighten audiences with her accounts of global racism, and by combining her experience with historical events, she supplies valuable context on discriminations still ride around the world. She is a social historian and academic and has contributed to a number of books and articles. Such a nationwide reputation makes her a powerful speaker or event host and allows her audiences to relate to her on a personal level.
Emma Dabiri is a popular presenter for academic and historical programmes such as Britain’s Lost Masterpieces (2016-) on BBC 4, Back in Time for Brixton (2016) and the Back in Time confectioners series for BBC 2, Is Love Racist (2017) for Channel 4, and can often be seen making social history films for BBC’s The One Show and Newsnight, as well as for Jeremy Vine and across YouTube. Her channel 4 documentary Hair Power: Me and My Afro released in 2020 went on to win a Cannes Lion Silver award in the entertainment category.
She is also a popular voice on the radio, hosting BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review and Front Row. She has also authored a landmark documentary for the channel called Journeys in Afrofuturism: the Combination of Philosophy and Black Culture, as well as EXPOSED: Young Female Photographers, which explores the work of three emerging photographers.
Emma has written several successful books. Her first book Don’t Touch My Hair was published in 2020 and was an Irish Times bestseller. It inspired a national conversation about race and hair and has led to changing regulations in schools and in the British army. She followed this up with What White People Can do Next: From Allyship to Coalition (2021) which was an immediate Sunday Times bestseller. It is a clever deconstruction of the mainstream conversation around anti-racism. This is not a ‘how to’ guide, rather it is a collection of essays that urge us to root our understanding of race in the multiple and complex histories of class, capitalism and colonialism.
Emma was on the judging panel for the Merky Books New Writers’ Prize 2020-2021 founded by singer Stormzy, which aims to discover unpublished, under-represented writers aged 16-30 from the UK and Ireland. She is also a trustee of Hugh Lane Gallery, a member of the Wellcome Trust Anti Racism Expert Group and a member of the British Council’s New Arts and Creative Economy Advisory Group.
Emma frequently writes articles for publications including The Guardian, The Irish Times, The Dublin Inquirer and Vice. She has written about topics surrounding race such as racism in schools, exclusion due to her hair type, what being mixed race means and whether BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) is an acceptable term. Her publications have also been seen in USA Today, Salon, British Vogue, Parade and Ms. Magazine.
During the first UK lockdown in 2020, Emma founded Disobedient Bodies, a virtual space and book club that celebrates and encourages disobedience. She interviewed women like the Booker Prize nominee Kiley Reid and American Irish dance sensation Morgan Bullock.
Emma’s academic work crosses African Studies, art, sociology, history, film, literature, theatre, popular culture and music. She is a teaching fellow in the Africa department at SOAS and a Visual Sociology PhD researcher at Goldsmiths.
– Arts and Culture
– Beauty and Fashion
– Diversity and Inclusivity
– Popular Culture
– Social Media
– Empowering Women
– Race and Racism
Emma is a seasoned public speaker and has been invited to present her work at a wide range of cultural institutions from Tate Britain to the British Museum, to Oxford University, St Andrews and Yale. Emma gives regular talks and takes part on panels at festivals and arts venues, DJs and hosts a range of live events.
Below, she talks to fellow Great British Speaker Krishnan Guru-Murthy about the language of identity, the history of race and why she now loves her hair.
When speaking or hosting events, Emma explores similar topics to her writing and academic studies, educating audiences about racial discrimination, inspiring, enlightening and empowering her audience. She is available for after-dinner and keynote speeches, Q&A, festivals, panels and event hosting, and is comfortable at in-person occasions or virtual.
The talk was really good, illuminating and the audience seemed really engaged.
Festival of Home 2021, Museum of Home
The session went very well – naturally Emma’s insight and expertise was thought provoking, highly informative and led to invaluable discussions between herself and the lead interviewer. Her comprehensive description of the genesis of race codification was eye-opening.
Mail Metro Media, 2021, Q& on Race Relationships, Allyship, Coalition and Everyday Actions
The launch went very well, Emma was really great.
Launch of Arthur Cox Internal Network on Race and Ethnicity, 2021
We wanted to express out appreciation for having Emma on our Multicultural Leadership Programme this morning. It went phenomenally and having Emma as our guest speaker made it that much more impactful and inspiring to listen to her stories which resonated with our audience and even ourselves. We’ve had such positive feedback from everyone taking part.
Accelerate Multicultural Leadership Programme, 2021
Emma is such a charismatic and thoughtful speaker and we were definitely inspired by her journey and experience. The discussion flowed naturally among our panellists and the stories they shared with us were truly motivational. We’ve had an amazing response from everyone who attended. I could listen to her talk all day!
Guardian Black Women in Power Online Panel 2021
It went so well, so much engagement and positive feedback, Emma was an absolute star.
Nando’s Grocery 2020
Emma was wonderful! It was a great conversation and a lovely dynamic between her, the host and the other guests.
BT Pass The Mic – Diversity & Inclusion Employee Initiative 2021
We were privileged to hear Emma as she joined us on a panel to mark Black History month. The feedback we got back from our colleagues was hugely positive. Emma was extremely articulate and knowledgeable. She shared her own experiences which made her contribution very personal.