The tradition of a big irish welcome isn't always evident to a mixed-race irish woman in Dublin, writes ZElie Asava
"So where are you from?"
"No, like originally"
This is a conversation I have with people on average once every two days. I am a mixed-race Irish woman. But when I tell people that I'm Irish they ask: "Where are you really from?" Instead of red hair and freckles, I have brown hair and skin. Sometimes I tell people I'm from London. After that they don't ask again because London -- unlike Dublin -- is regarded as a racial melting pot.
The alternative involves explaining why and how I am from Dublin -- where I was born, where my mother is from, where I went to school, where my father is from, and of course, how he met my mother. This sparks other questions like: "How would a Kenyan ever meet an Irish woman?" And: "Are you from Africa?" Understandably, when you're having the same conversation over and over again, this gets tiresome.
Recently, I was waiting for the bus on Talbot Street, the only bus stop I know of where people follow a strict queuing system. A group of black people were in the queue but an old man ignored them and formed a separate queue. As we went to board a woman from the group walked forward to the bus but was yelled back to her place as "you have to queue".
Shortly after, seeing that no one was getting on the side for scanning passes, one of the group decides to board so he could put the heavy load he's carrying down on the luggage rack inside. His friends will pay for him. This time the yelling is more aggressive, the same old man breaks free and shoves by and glares at him.
Shaken, I board to a sea of hostile faces giving out about the black group. They remain downstairs but, frightened by the rising tension, I head upstairs. So does the old man. He sits at the back punching the windows and kicking the seat in front of him, yelling about "n*****s". I sit there wondering when he'll notice me and what he'll do. The old man seems strong and is very angry. I've become a nervous wreck of a woman who can't stop the tears rolling down her face.
So many people refuse to acknowledge that racism in Ireland exists. It is seen as incompatible with being Irish. Sure doesn't the old line stand true -- that we Irish suffered appalling racism when we were emigrating in our droves to the UK, America and beyond, so we'd never do the same to others. Would we?
Unlike London, Dublin is still fairly segregated. I don't know any black people. In fact I've met very few foreigners, although I've lectured in Dublin's major universities. So I understand why people might hold on to outdated views, and use language that hurts without realising the power it holds ("coloured", an offensive term, is still popular here).
Dublin has problems. But I am proud to be part of a growing Irish mixed-race grouping, and to be able to see mixed-race people representing Ireland on the world stage whether it's the new Rose of Tralee Clare Kambamettu, actresses Ruth Negga and Samantha Mumba, TV presenters Baz Ashmawy and Sean Musanje, or sportsmen such as Stephen Reid, Clinton Morrison, the O hAilpin brothers, or the late Darren Sutherland.
Being Irish isn't about having red hair or pale skin, it's about being proud of your country and working damn hard to make it a better place no matter what it throws at you. Maybe this recession and its forced emigration will remind us of our true values, and herald a new era of diversity and freedom.