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Cheat sheet: Afua Hirsch

Everything you need to know about writer, author, TV presenter and former international human rights barrister Afua Hirsch.

Daniella Maryasin

Afua Hirsch is a journalist and lawyer, who’s spearheading complex discussions about British identity. In 2018, Afua published her first book Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging – part-memoir, reportage and cultural commentary – which was a Sunday Times bestseller and was awarded a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Prize for Non-Fiction. She’s a regular contributor to Sky News debate show The Pledge, where she often goes toe-to-toe with more conservative panelists.

In what spare time she has, Afua is one half of fashion label AFUA X SIKA, where all pieces are ethically made in Ghana by fairly paid craftspeople – from the seamstresses to the batik makers who follow ancient traditions, printing bespoke fabrics.

In September, Afua will join the line up of Antidote, speaking to journalist Daniel Browning, a proud Bundjalung and Kullilli man. You can catch the talk on Stream. Before that, here are the essential things you need to know (and read) about Afua Hirsch.

Family history

Born in Norway to a British father and an Akan mother from Ghana, Afua grew up as a mixed-race kid in a white suburb (Wimbledon). Her paternal grandfather, Hans (later John), who was Jewish, had fled Berlin in 1938. Her great-uncle is the metallurgist Sir Peter Hirsch. Her maternal grandfather, who graduated from the University of Cambridge, was involved in establishing the post-independence education system in Ghana but later became a political exile. Hirsch is also a descendent of a Dutch slave trader who set up camp at Elmina, western Africa, the point of enforced departure for many of the enslaved to the New World.

Afua Hirsch: Don't glorify Controversial 'heroes'

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Career

Afua studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. After graduating in 2002, she worked in development in West Africa. She qualified and practiced as a barrister before joining the Guardian, initially as legal affairs correspondent, then as West Africa correspondent in Ghana. She was Sky News social affairs editor from 2014- 2017 and went on to present documentaries, including Britain's Bloody Heroes (Channel 4, 2018), African Art (BBC4, 2020) and Enslaved - co-presented with Samuel L Jackson (BBC2, 2020). The latter is a fascinating series in which Hirsch, Jackson and a team of underwater divers explore 400 years of slavery – we can definitely recommend it for lockdown viewing.

Afua's writing is frank, well-researched and unapologetic. For the Guardian, Afua covered ‘Britain’s amnesia about its history’, exploring Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade and the need for history classes in schools to acknowledge it, rather than just celebrate its abolition. While her recent piece ‘We can mourn Prince Philip, but not the monarchy’ unpacks the growing irrelevance of the monarchy in modern British life and the racism that underpins the “legacy of imperial expansions”. On a lighter note, Afua has done touching interviews with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Rhianna for Vogue cover stories.

Afua also presents radio documentaries and podcasts, most recently We Need to Talk About The British Empire which examines the legacy of British colonialism through six family histories. Refinery 29’s podcast of the month, the show was described by Miranda Sawyer at the Guardian as “one of the most riveting and revelatory podcasts I’ve heard in a long time”.

Hear from Afua Hirsch at her ANTIDOTE talk The End of Empire, alongside host Daniel Browning.

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