Pride of the nation

Sally Richardson reviews My Eyes Only Look Out: experiences of Irish people of mixed race parentage by Margaret McCarthy, Brandon £9.99 pbk

“WHEN MY brother was about seven or eight and I a year younger, someone asked him (referring to me) ‘Is that your little friend?’ ‘No! It’s my sister, of course!’ he replied, as if it were patently obvious. To us, it seemed entirely natural that a little black boy should have a white sister.”

As many of the interviewees in this book testify, children find it hard to understand how ‘race’ or ‘colour’ makes you different.

Margaret McCarthy, who has put this book together from interviews with a range of mixed-race people from Ireland, is herself the mother of a mixed—race child. Her daughter was born in 1978, when people still talked of ‘unmarried mothers’. She has been shocked by the increase in racism as Ireland grows more and more multi-racial and the stories in this book — often harrowing, frequently heartening — illuminate questions of national and cultural identity and what it means to be Irish.

Seán Óg O hAilpín — father from Fermanagh, mother from Fiji — is now a top GAA footballer and hurler and is fluent in both Irish and Fijian. Curtis Fleming — Irish mother, Jamaican father — plays football in the English Premiership. They see themselves as primarily Irish while easily accommodating their Fijian and Jamaican identities as well.

Loving, secure family backgrounds have given Sean Óg and Curtis self-esteem and a sense of their own identity — the best armour against racism. Some childhoods have been less happy. Caroline, rejected by her parents, was put into care. Jude now runs a successful small business, but grew up in an industrial school.

Adoptions seem to work best when children are accepted for what they are. They also need to know the truth about where they come from — some interviewees tell of anguished searches for their origins. The psychological damage done by racism is hard to quantify, but has undoubtedly left many people deeply scarred. Some Irish people who migrated to Britain know what this is like, too.

Teresa describes what it is like when people won’t sit next to you on the bus. As a child she ‘hated being black’, and became depressed and suicidal. Now she takes pleasure in her mixed heritage: “I’m happy that I’m black and white as I reckon I have the best of both worlds.”

These are success stories — men and women who have overcome prejudice and in some cases, emotional starvation, to make lives for themselves and their children. They show that mixed race families and a multi-cultural society can work. They are part of Ireland now, and Ireland can be proud of them.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-10-02 15:03:09.
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