Last week in my Irish home, with my English partner, I watched the US Democratic National Convention over YouTube. I nearly wept listening to the words of Barack Obama. I pined for the days when America had this strong, erudite, adult man at the helm of the nation. Then I realized not only do I now miss Obama’s presidency, but in concrete terms, I missed it all together. I was not there. I was missing from the scene. I was ‘being’ Irish and now I ask ‘am I an American anymore’?
I now go to America as a tourist and visitor. I carry an American passport. I have an American accent and grew up in an Anglo-American household replete with American foods, television, customs, and culture. While I am not quite an American anymore, I still pass for one. When I travel to the states, shop assistants and waiters do not hear my accent and assume ‘tourist’. I’m just another American. But the country is no longer my home; or at least not very much.
Photo H. Elizabeth O’Nuanain
In Ireland I possess an Irish passport. It displays my Irish surname and my Irish nationality. But I am not Irish, and like America, Ireland is only partly home to me. This is not a complaint. I am keenly aware of the many privileges I enjoy as a dual-citizen, such as the ease with which I travel back and forth, breezing through customs at either end, and the right to vote in both countries. Still, the longer I am away from America and live in Ireland, my position as a national subject feels murky. After twenty years, am I entitled to complain about or invest myself into the political and social issues shaking America? Am I Irish? Am I American? Do I live where I love? Do I need to pick a team? And if I must, what actions does that choice demand of me?
This amounts to more of a theoretical than practical dilemma. I love living in Ireland and even if I could willy nilly pack my belongings and hop on the next flight to Texas, I would elect to stay here. But the choice is bittersweet. My longing to share physical space with my family and friends preoccupies my days. Technology helps and I am grateful for it, especially now, but it does not compare with the magic of their physical presence. I miss people, but I also miss purpose. It is time to devise a strategy for engaging both my politics and my affection from the distance of my home in rural Ireland.
I am on a twofold quest. First, to develop ways to connect more frequently and more authentically with the people I love from across the Atlantic. It is one thing to chat with my son over the phone and recite the usual banal questions: ‘How are you? How are the kids? What did you cook for dinner?’—it is another thing entirely to ask him ‘what are the things in your life that worry you? What touches your heart? What do you do to cope with the things in the world you cannot control?’ I miss the intimacy of sitting together on the back porch in the dark, smoking cigarettes and talking about the things that matter to him and to me. With the physical distance between us, and now, with the indefinite limitations on travel with the Covid-19 pandemic, no other options exist for intimacy and affection than to do so virtually. Basically, I need to up my game and push through the awkward limitations of Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp. For the foreseeable future, our reality is virtual.
Much like my personal interactions, political engagement lives in the virtual realm, though I want to explore fresh ways to engage with the issues and causes that matter to me; not only in America, but also here in Ireland. I know I can do more than retweet threads and argue with pro-fascist Maga-heads on Facebook. I can donate money to causes when my cash flow allows it, but I rarely have much to spare. I can attend vigils and demonstrations in solidarity with anti-racist movements in America. But these are often held many hours away in Dublin or Belfast. I live in the furthest southwest corner of Ireland with a population that only barely reaches triple digits. I have the internet and a phone at my disposal — that is my ‘activist kit’. More recently, I have this blog.
With that in mind, here are some practical steps I can take to practice my politics with the resources I have: I can take steps to connect with anti-racist organizations in Ireland, like INAR (Irish Network against Racism https://inar.ie/) or The Irish Refugee (https://www.irishrefugeecouncil.ie/). I can use this blog and social network accounts to amplify pod casters, bloggers, businesses and artists involved in feminist and anti-racism work. Finally, I can seek other American ex-pats in Ireland committed to social justice and the defeat of Donald Trump in November.
I’m geographically isolated, emotionally shy, anxious and lacking in meaningful financial resources, but I’m not helpless and have at my disposal enough white, European, technological privilege to do more than sit on my hands and bitch about the ways of the world. It is within the power of any one of us.
If you’re reading this, thanks for stopping by. Below are links to some Black owned online businesses in America. In these days of the pandemic, many of us are doing our retail therapy online. Here is an opportunity to pick up some nice bits and contribute to Black communities that are being hit disproportionately hard by both the pandemic and systemic injustice at the same time. Please visit their sites, do a bit of shopping and amplify them on your social media.
Blk&bold, an online specialty tea and coffee shop, is the brainchild of Black entrepreneurs, Pernell and Rod. They offer a brilliant selection of teas, coffees and accessories. 5% of proceeds go directly to local and national disadvantaged youth projects. Follow them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/blkandbold and Twitter https://twitter.com/BlkandBold
By Ms James features the brilliant and timely artwork of Tara James. Ms James offers a wide variety of Black inspired prints, greeting cards, clothing and custom orders. Check out her homepage; follow her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bymsjames and Twitter https://twitter.com/bymsjames
LoveVera, a Black owned intimate apparel company offers a gorgeous range of affordable lingerie to suit any type of body. Her website features Black models of all body types, photographed by Black photographers. Drop by her page and have a browse. You can also follow Vera on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/shoploveveraonline/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/vera_lovevera