VH World: Adeola Monty
We first met Adeola when she contacted us in October 2020. She told us that while she loved our brand, she was disappointed about the lack of diversity in our imagery. The Black Lives Matter protests in May of 2020 had a profound affect across the globe, and we were one of many brands to reflect on their efforts of inclusions and diversity after the fact. At the time we received Adeola's email, we had already made some small efforts to diversify our imagery, but her words brought home home the message that our shift needed to be immediate and impactful.
So, we want to introduce you to the woman who had the courage to approach us and say, "this isn't enough". She's been a huge inspiration to us.
Firstly, thank you for contacting us back in October of last year, we not only appreciate the courage it would have taken to speak up and send us that email in the first place, but also the time you've spent with us to further this discussion over Zoom and now, in this interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Adeola Monty. I'm a research fellow at an education research organisation. I work in the area of international development and so me and my colleagues provide support to Government departments, teachers, and the education sector, trying to improve the outcomes in terms of education.
I live in Clifton Hill in Melbourne, but I'm originally from the UK. I've lived in a few capital cities in Australia: Canberra, Sydney, Queensland, but really love the vibrancy of Melbourne and hope that it's going to be my home for the foreseeable future.
I live in Melbourne with my family; my husband, Jason Monty, who works at the University of Melbourne, he's a professor in mechanical engineering; then there's my son Aarin Monty, who is three and a bundle of energy; and then I have two stepdaughters, Elissa Monty, who is 15 and in grade 10 and a very talented musician and singer; and Daisy Monty who is 11 and in her last year of primary school and a really keen and talented basketball player.
As you mentioned in your initial email to us, the Black Lives Matter protests in May of 2020 were a defining moment that gave you the strength to speak up. Have those events changed the way you move about the world in other ways?
I think what the Black Lives Matter protests and conversations made me do was sit and reflect about how I move around. It made me reflect on the many tiny alterations I feel that I need to make, to make people around me–who are mainly white–comfortable.
It made me think about the assumptions that I [face] and just put up with. So, for example, going through an airport I'll be selected by security randomly every time. If I'm in a shop, I'm aware that I will be viewed by security as well. There's a lot of behaviours that are accepted from other people just to keep the peace. And there were a lot of things that I was aware of that I do to present in a way that is non-threatening. So I think [Black Lives Matter] was a conversation that raised a number of issues for me.
But in terms of how I moved in the world, I think it's given me a bit of confidence to change some of those actions, speaking out, and just being more conscious of how I’m changing my demeanour, because I want to ensure that everyone is really comfortable.
Had you contacted other brands before us? Any since?
No. It was a really, really big thing for me to contact Variety Hour. I'm somebody who really does like to keep a low profile and be a small target on issues such as this. And it took a lot emotionally to even write the initial email. I was very anxious. But one thing I did think–and I think I said this in my email–is that if I can't contact brands such as Variety Hour with the values they have, the goals and the message they promote, then who am I going to contact?
So, for me, it was a brand that I felt safe enough–and I know that's quite a loaded word today–but, I felt safe enough to contact. It was still a very stressful experience for me, but one that I was very proud to have done. And, yeah, and maybe in the future, I'll do something else.
You mentioned that your son Aarin was a big influence on building up that strength, how does having a child change the way you see the world and what you hope and demand for it?
I think for any parent having a child makes you think about the future. It makes you think about the things that you went through–the good, the bad–and just wanting to or feeling an obligation to leave society the world just in a better place than what you entered in.
So, in terms of the social things around Black Lives Matter, I just hope that my son continues to see people who look like him and represent multicultural Australia in all forms, not just in sports or music, but in business, in science, in health, in all sorts of arenas. And I hope it just becomes common for him to see the diversity that he walks around in reflected to him on the screen and also through various other medias, such as print and walking into clothes stores.
It sounds frivolous, but it’s very important as someone who has mainly grown up in spaces that are predominantly white. It really does make you feel othered.
Australia seems to be lagging when it comes to ensuring their imagery reflects the truly multicultural country that is Australia, what do you think brands should be doing to interrogate their own actions?
I think it's about reflecting on not just the promotional, the advertising, the image that you reflect, but also about looking internally and looking at your colleagues, looking at who are in positions of influence and just asking yourself, is there diversity?
And if there's not–there are many small companies where that might not be the case–how are you getting that information on diversity? It's not just race: it's class, it's size, it's all these things. When you're in an echo chamber, or in a, in a dynamic where everyone looks like you, it's very easy–and I can speak from personal experience too–to get set in your own ways and to not really notice these things.
It's not about token events, it's about thinking about what your image is and realising that it does send a powerful message. So I just hope there's a bit more internal reflection, that brings in people who've had those different experiences as well.
One thing that arose from our conversation was the need for us to face our unconscious bias, and recognise that we had been–unintentionally, but with full acknowledgment that it was hurtful–perpetuating colourism within the fashion industry - i.e. sometimes only featuring women of colour in our imagery who are "light-skinned" and could therefor still fit into the mould of what it means to be "beautiful" according to western beauty standards. What can people who may not known much about colourism do to understand its impact on people's lives?
I think this just goes to my point before, when you don't see anyone that represents you in things such as beauty campaigns, clothing campaigns, it really does have an effect on you. It seems subtle, but those media set the beauty standards. And some people may call it frivolous, but beauty is what is acceptable, what is celebrated. So it's really important that it's inclusive. If all you see is, for example, white models being projected as a standard of beauty, it really does send that message that you are not worthy.
I think it's really hard to conceptualise and to understand when you haven't experienced it. So I'm not saying this is an easy task, but the impact it has on people's lives is [that] it's about who's in who's out, and [when you’re out] that can be quite a lonely experience.
Are there any particular people who position themselves as educators in racism or colourism or black excellence, whom you admire or whose work you would recommend?
There are many, many people.
I really loved Kendi's How To Be An Anti-Racist, because it made me think about my actions or what I'm doing as well and that there's actions that I take that are, that can be considered racist. And it's about being an anti-racist. It's about saying something. It’s about being aware. And so I think that was really good in just making me think and hope.
Cole Brown's Greyboy was really a good book for me. I think it was just really nice to see race and class talked about. I find that there's this general assumption that black people are this homogenous group, in a certain income bracket, with certain musical tastes and sports tastes. And it was just nice to see someone who talked about their experience of mainly being in white spaces– and that’s been my experience–just to bring out the nuances.
DiAngelo's White Fragility. I know this one can be a bit controversial, but I think it was just a good, strong message about our unconscious bias and our conscious bias and looking around us, looking at our friendship groups–and that's me included.
So these are just books that I found really interesting over the last year. And there are many people in Indigenous and other spaces who are doing some amazing things to speak out. I really commend them because it's not an easy thing to do.
When you think about the future you want your son to grow up in, what do you see?
I may have touched upon this, but I think I would like to see more consciousness of how things are. Because I think it's only when you're conscious of things such as systemic racism, sexism, classism, ableism, that you can then start to have conversations about it.
I think it's when there’s a “nothing to see here” attitude or, “I've made this one change” or–in terms of fashion–“for one season, I've got models of different shapes and sizes. [That’s] enough. Done that.”
It is a lot more systematic than that.
I hope my son can grow up in a world where those conversations, we start having them now, so that as he gets to be primary school age, a teen, a teenager, that we've actually started to start working on the solutions. And I don't think he can have that until you have the awareness and you have the conversations. And they're going to be uncomfortable for everybody–me included. I know there's plenty of actions that, that I could reflect on and change, but I think it's just having the collective courage to have those conversations with each other and then look at what we can and what we can't do in the future.