Being Black in Ireland: “You don’t look Irish”

Being black in Ireland and having to fit in, is one of the first things you have to learn growing up. You may not have experienced any racism personally, but to others,  it’s part of their every day.

The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis created a needed surge in addressing the topic of racism. Although it seemed far away across the Atlantic, with many airing the view that there is no racism in Ireland, a lot more disagree.

In Ireland there is no national strategy against racism, the previous strategy ended in 2008.

Now, twelve years since The National Action Plan Against Racism (NAPR) was completed, the global migration landscape has drastically changed, and the debate in Ireland about multiculturalism is still very much in its infancy.

People of colour in Ireland have opened up about their experiences on Social Media.

With over 36,000 followers on Instagram, @black_andirish which was set up by Leon Diop, along with Femi Bankole and Boni Odoemene, is a platform to voice the experience of black people across Ireland.

Containing personal experiences coupled with pictures of the author, to videos introducing themselves and telling us of their experiences and stories.

The last time I heard reference to the term ‘Black Irish‘ was mention of dark-haired people of Irish origin. Accredited to numerous speculation, from survivors of the Spanish Armada, to Afro-Caribbean people descended from Irish settlers in the Caribbean. But subsequent research has discredited such claims.

I hadn’t heard much about this new social media bravery in Ireland until recently, and lucky enough, I was connected to someone who shared their account and challenges and was willing to talk to Babylon Radio about it.

Marguerite Penrose, being black in Ireland

Marguerite Penrose

Marguerite was in a Magdalene laundry for three years.

Marguerite Penrose was born in a Magdalene laundry in 1974, to an Irish mother and Zambian father, born with congenital scoliosis and has had multiple surgeries to try to correct the curvature of her spine. Although Magdalene Laundries are something we associate with centuries before, and the past, it is as recent as 1996, when The Sean McDermott Street Magdalene laundry closed.

Marguerite was in a Magdalene laundry for three years. And with all that life has thrown at her, she felt compelled to write her side of her growing up in Ireland.

Born in Dublin and now living in Meath, she was told by her adopted parents that she was special and unique, that everyone just wants to know about her. Of course she’s had the negative name-calling and questions about her origin. But says “It’s not good enough to say racism is due to ignorance, everyone has information at their fingertips, we need to be Anti-Racist.”

Up until a month ago, I don’t think I’d ever discussed racism so much.

It takes a lot of courage to put your personal story out into the public. We asked how she felt after she typed and sent in her piece.

“I felt a little anxious, because I was baring my soul.

I tried to convey what I feel and felt but thought nothing of it after I had sent into Black and Irish. Even though I hadn’t told anyone about it, there was a huge sense of relief, it was quite empowering, but I didn’t expect the reaction that it got”

“I was very proud as I know I have great strength. I have a great circle of different friends, friends of all ages, and after everything that has happened in my life, I know I’m a strong person, a good person. But some of my friends learned new things about me after this was published. I’ve been spat at on public transport and some people go to sit down beside me and then they look and then they won’t sit beside me. There are a lot of things in everyone’s life that you need to talk about, these are things that I have just accepted.”

“Social media has been the best way to highlight these incidents. But the sad thing is some tragedy has to happen, there’s been so many things that have happened before George Floyd.

I think it was Will Smith that said, ‘Racism Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Filmed’.

Through this journey, there are so many personal incidents that had happened that I had forgotten until I retold my story. I now feel instead of ignoring these comments and slurs, I can challenge them, I feel empowered to do that now.”

With all the name-calling and your medical complications, how are you so relaxed and positive?

“I’m very much into meditation and Reiki. And I went to the Himalayas and spent nine days there.

I went nearly three years ago, it was some amount of travelling, some days it was 14 hours of travelling.

I’m very much into mantra meditation, which is like chanting. I wanted to learn more about mantra, a few of the girls within the group had already been. so they told me a lot about it, showed me pictures, so something inside me made me go. I think it was a spiritual journey, for me it was to discover where the mantra originated from.”

“We couldn’t speak the local language, but we were able to recite the mantra, which the locals were amazed at how much we knew. But on top of everything else, I suppose I’m just naturally a strong person.”

Mantras are believed to be the very first sound which originated on earth.

Everyone has had a different experience

Marguerite is someone who has embraced every challenge life has thrown at her. She encourages everyone to listen to people who share their experiences. She said, “we’re all unique and being different is what makes each one of us special.”

You can find more about ‘Black Irish’ on their Instagram or Facebook accounts.

About the author

Karl Ffrench

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