“I remember a time when both my mother and I wore our hair naturally. She was a single black mom who listened to rock-n-roll and hung out at the beach with her daughter. She had a white boyfriend and drank in the LA Irish pubs. She was really cool – cooler than I will ever be. But I also remember the first time my mother was passed up for a promotion in work, I think I was 5 or 6. The advice she was given by a white female colleague was to get her hair under control and start wearing makeup. It was the early 90’s in California. We went to the drug store and bought a box of relaxer for her hair and some dodgy makeup. From that point on, our hair was always in some way tamed, so she could be accepted and get ahead.
my mom in the ’90s
That was the way racism has looked and felt my whole life before I moved to Ireland. There were only a handful of hateful N-words thrown in my face in the US. Instead, racism in my experience was a steady stream of microaggressions; comments about my hair or black people in general with a nonchalant – ‘but we don’t mean you’, people using the N-word and then looking visibly uncomfortable because they forgot their one black friend was in the room, or being told I talk like a white girl, which depending on who said it was either a backhanded compliment or an accusation of deceit.
In Ireland, racism is different. Primarily because a lot of the time it isn’t always racism. In my experience, the steady stream of microaggressions stems from a genuine ignorance rather than a malicious intent to make me feel like ‘less’. It still hurts! People I love here refer to me and my children as ‘colored’. They openly express how much nicer my hair is in hair extensions or under a wig. They cringe when my daughter’s hair is not tied back and neat. My life goal is for my children to be as cool as my mother was in the ’90s.
I blame myself. I think when I came to Ireland at 19 in 2003, I had an opportunity to reinvent myself into what the little girl with natural hair back in LA in the ’90s was supposed to grow up into. I missed the opportunity to be my natural self and force conversations about my race and my hair, so by the time I was married and had children the people that I love and the community I live in knew me as me and accepted our natural and different appearance.
I don’t know if the US is a lost cause where racism is concerned, I hope not, but I feel in Ireland – which is a home I have chosen to raise my children – we need to have more open conversations about race. We need to get comfortable with these conversations so we get to the point where I can talk about my negative experiences without an Irish person feeling as though they need to go on the defensive. I am not attacking you, I am not even accusing you of bigotry or racism – I simply feel, like everything in life, there is more to be learned so you can accept me as part of what Ireland looks like today.”