For the first time in years, I woke up this morning excited about St. Patrick's Day. I thought hard about whether or not I want to participate in this year's pub antics with my Irish friends. Sometimes I actively avoid Irish bars because they make me uncomfortable.
On the one hand, there is a certain ease at which I find being around other Irish people. It’s comforting to be able to use humour and language freely without having to culturally alter it and despite the hangovers that often follow a good session, sometimes it can be quite a healing experience to just have the craic. The part I have struggled with is when a person in an Irish bar reacts with scepticism when I tell them I am Irish and it centres back to the whole “where are you really from?” question.
Sometimes they tell me that they, too, are Irish, despite never having been there or knowing much about their family history and the words I just said get swiftly disregarded. They sometimes presume that I am claiming my Irishness the way people with Irish heritage who have never even been to the country do. I wonder if they think that as descendants of white, pure Irish people they are more, or just as entitled to call themselves Irish as someone who has lived there their whole life but doesn't have a “typical” Irish appearance. I used to get incredibly offended and defensive over this outlook and I was dismissive of anyone trying to grasp onto their Irish card. But I realise now that that attitude was hypocritical.
Trying to rescue my black side and learn more about the Cameroon side of me has been incredibly fulfilling and eye opening but it is also still difficult to connect with fully and over all, complicated. The fact that I wear my African identity on my face means that other people could always see this side of me. But allowing myself to seek out more knowledge and have feelings and experiences to realign my sense of self has not been easy. And giving myself permission to proudly state my heritage is something I have worked hard to reconcile within myself.
It has made me realise Identity for everyone no matter where they are from or what colour they are can be incredibly layered and there is no one size fits all. So who am I to deny someone the claim to their Irish heritage just because they grew up in another country? I am living proof that Irishness can be any colour, any sexual orientation and I cannot define what being Irish means to anybody but myself. I feel at peace knowing I don’t need to challenge anyone else's identity. St. Patrick himself was not even born in Ireland! Furthermore, I’m learning that I am never going to be able to control other people's reactions to meeting me but I can control my own.
This year I’m choosing joy and celebration. I’m choosing to represent Irishness that is diverse and inclusive and not bound to outdated Christian ideals we have long moved on from, to celebrate Irishness whether it comes from ancestry or appreciation, Irishness that does not need to be quantified by skin colour or experience or anything at all. I’m done letting my own insecurities about whether or not I belong get in the way of me enjoying my Irishness and I’m ready to throw on something green and have a pint of the black stuff! To all my friends zero-100% Irish La Fheile Padraig Sona Dhaoibh!