Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Play : "Hashtag Lightie" - a review from an Irish perspective

Irish Times:  Click here

I live in London, a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. It is a place where anything goes and where people of different ethnicities have always mixed, loved and married.

However, today the binary black and white notion of race is being challenged by the younger generation. They are choosing for themselves where they sit on the colour spectrum and how they self-identify. No longer will they accept other people labelling them.
Many are choosing to self-identify as mixed-race rather than black, which is causing a real debate in the black community here. This has many consequences for individuals struggling to determine where they fit in society, or what side to take.

The debate has been spurred on this week by the announcement of the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who is widely described in the media as being of mixed race.

Every now and again a new play appears on the scene which creates huge excitement and generates great emotion. Hashtag Lightie is one such production, and it reflects a new and emerging zeitgeist.

Lynette Linton’s wonderful play, currently running in the Arcola Theatre in north London, couldn’t have been better timed. This is a quintessential London mixed-race story and, as such, the timing or location didn’t come as a great surprise to me. What did surprise me was the brilliance at turning what is a difficult topic about race into an entertaining art form with plenty of humour.

But why would an Irish man abroad bother to write about this play? I saw the elephant in the room that few picked up on.

At the end of the play, the director Rikki Beadle-Blair led a Q&A session for the diverse audience. When I mentioned, from the seating area, that I was Irish and mixed, I got a loud round of laughter. This happened once again when I said the Irish didn’t get great “press” in this play.

This, of course, was all tongue-in-cheek as I myself laughed along with the crowd. I was being provocative as I wanted to draw out what I saw as an important aspect of the play that was touched on, but not extensively explored.
The play centres around Ella (played by Adele James), the protagonist, who is addicted to social media and selfies. Her mother is black and father is white and from Ireland.

She has an older sister Melissa (played by Grace Cookey-Gam), and another brother and sister who are twins, Aaron (played by Davon Anderson) and Aimee (played by Sophie Leonie).

Irish diaspora
These four mixed race siblings are second generation Irish. They are part of what we now like to call the Irish diaspora. By virtue of their father, they are Irish citizens. The reality is there are mixed families like this in the UK who are uncomfortable about expressing their Irish heritage/identity. There are even people of mixed ethnicities in Ireland who are uncomfortable. Why?

The play gives us a clue when Aaron, who wanted to express his Irish side, describes being violently abused on a visit to Ireland: “The first time he took us there ... he said we were Irish too. Being up there surrounded by all those ‘yutes’, that was the first time I ever felt scared. I realised that my skin meant I wasn’t safe in a place that was supposedly part of me.”

This reminded me of the story of Chi Chi Nwanoku, the Irish Nigerian double bassist and founder of Chineke Orchestra in the UK, who said in The Irish Times  in 2014, “But mother would never bring us back, she was terrified that people would be rude to us because of our skin.”

“She hadn’t been back to Ireland in 36 years, didn’t know how she’d be received: she was kind of abandoned by her family after she met and married my father, an Igbo from east Nigeria, in London.”

It also reminded me of the great work Rosemary Adaser has been doing for years to raise awareness of mixed race issues through the Association of Mixed Race Irish, which she founded.

This play touched a nerve for me on many levels and brought up several poignant issues for the audience.

Social media
The danger of social media was excellently played out by the main character Ella. She moved gracefully around the floor in all her beauty, with her iPhone projecting her selfie image on a large screen in the background for the audience to see.

Her online video presence and YouTube channel, called Hashtag Lightie, was used to promote her beauty care products and give beauty tips to her online “friends”. But as time goes by, her obsession with her mixed race beauty becomes divisive and fuels online hatred and abuse.

This puts her life in danger as she antagonises people with ideas of light-skinned privilege. The audience experiences the raw nature of racial abuse meted out online from all sides in response. Be prepared for strong language.

The reality of the online danger for mixed race people was seen in Balbriggan in August 2012 when Darren Gibson-Hughes, a 17-year-old of mixed race, took his own life. His mother claimed at the coroner’s hearing that his suicide was caused by cyberbullying and online abuse because of his mixed race.

This play gives some crucial insights into the everyday experience of being mixed race, from the perspectives of the four siblings, as well as the associated derogatory language and labels used.

There is Melissa’s struggle to advance her literary and publishing career in the face of discrimination and unconscious bias. There is too Aaron’s anger at his school’s failure to acknowledge his fatherhood over his own child. Aimee faces pressure to take sides on the colour line, and her black fiancé labels her “my Caramel Queen”. She is frustrated, too, at being told by him that she is not “Black-Black”.

Then there is David, Melissa’s white boyfriend, who simply doesn’t understand how she feels about her identity and the effect it has on her.
There is plenty of discussion around race, class, identity, marriage and shadism. All this makes for a hugely entertaining, hilarious and educational play about a second-generation Irish mixed race family.

I think the Irish undertones could have been explored and accentuated more. But then Rikki has a real balancing act here.

However, there is the untold story of the father’s emigration from Ireland and how his family treated him on hearing the news of his falling in love with a black woman in London and having mixed race children. He died when the children were young but perhaps this play could be expanded for the Irish audience in Dublin, where I was born to mixed parents.

This play will most likely be difficult for many to watch, especially if given a more Irish slant.

What it could do is to act as a forum for minority communities through the Q&A sessions. It could open the conversation about how women were treated in Ireland for many years (as far back as the 1940s), when they fell in love with a black man, and what happened to them and their children.

It could also explore themes relevant to today’s young mixed communities living in Ireland, particularly school children. It could help illuminate the story of mixed race for white Irish people in an entertaining way.
The 2016 Irish census revealed that ‘Other black’ population increased by 6 per cent and “Other” increased by 73 per cent since 2006. The “Other” non-white community has increased significantly.

This changing demographic is pointing to an emerging zeitgeist in Ireland around diversity, as in the UK, that needs to be tapped into. This outstanding play could act as the catalyst for bring the communities together in conversation, and it would be well worthwhile bringing it to audiences in Ireland.

Conrad Bryan is treasurer of Irish in Britain,

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements - Maureen O'Sullivan TD

Here is the extract of Maureen O'Sullivan's statement at the Dail debate on Tuam

Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements 

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate

 Vol. 942 No. 2 Unrevised 11 o’clock

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: 

We meet so many people, individuals and groups in our political lives, and there will always be some who will make a significant impact on us.

For me, some of those people are the women I met from the Magdalen laundries and from the Association of Mixed Race Irish. I met the latter group several times over the years and with them I met the then Minister, Senator James Reilly.

For me, it was the additional burdens, heartbreak and pain for those in these institutions who were of mixed race. I know Rosemary Adaser has been speaking in the media about her experiences, which are very similar to the others from the group whom I met.

The commission of investigation is specifically examining if any group was systematically treated differently on any grounds, including race. The association is satisfied that this has been included. However, this has to be included in the terms of reference drawn up for any investigation involving children or institutions. There is also a need for suitably-qualified people to assist in investigations into race.

The Association of Mixed Race Irish has wanted to see the interim report to examine if its members' issues are being adequately addressed. Their admission files to mother and baby homes listed their colour under the section "Defects". Regrettably, the Ryan report did not deal directly with race. The group also wants to know the numbers of mixed-race infants who passed through all of the mother and baby homes, particularly St. Patrick's mother and baby home on the Navan Road. All these questions have to be answered and all these issues addressed.

This means the terms of reference have to be wide and flexible enough, particularly with sensitive handling from trained professionals. I know some people will want to speak in public, but others will want to do so in private. Both have to be respected.

Following requests from survivors who objected to the word "home" being used as they find it offensive, we had a discussion with the Minister. I know from that exchange that she was aware of the emotional impact of using that word to describe an institution of horror. 

Under the Equality Act, any investigation with children in institutions has to include race. If there is a need for a criminal investigation, then it should happen. Will the terms of reference do? What is necessary to get to the truth to get justice for everybody involved? At times when we feel that is the worst we can hear, something else emerges much worse. One of members of the Association of Mixed Race Irish has stated:

 The Dublin health authority’s mother and baby home made many references to my colour in reports for no obvious reason other than to note or highlight racial bias. For example, two psychiatrists’ reports in 1967 referred to me as "dark-skinned" in the first one and "coloured" in the second. The question is: what relevance did this have in a medical report? The admissions ledger at the industrial school had "coloured" in one of the columns and also in the heading "admissions reform". [That did not apply to children, say, with red hair or white skin.] The last point the person made was "I don't know how I survived this place" and then "After spending four years at St. Patrick's home, I was sent to an industrial school." 

The members of the association are remarkable people in the context of what they have come through and the way in which they have survived. We owe an awful lot to them to get to the truth.

Hunger for the Truth - Catherine Coreless receives standing ovation

RTE Late Late Show

Tuam Babies Historian Catherine Corless speaks about her shocking discovery | The Late Late Show

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Dail Debate in 1934 - Illegitimate child proof of mother's shame - family pays foster carer to keep this hidden

This extract of a Dail debate on treatment of unmarried mothers in 1934 Ireland: 

In Committee on Finance. - Registration of Maternity Homes Bill, 1934—Second Stage.
Wednesday, 7 February 1934
Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 50 No. 7

First Page  Previous Page Page   of 39  Next Page  Last Page
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Dr. Ward): Information on Dr. Francis Constantine Ward Zoom on Dr. Francis Constantine Ward The Bill is intended to give effect to a recommendation made by the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor including the Insane Poor. It will be remembered that in paragraphs 266, 267 and 268 of their Report of August, 1927, the Commission wrote:—

“266. It would seem from the evidence given before us that in the City of Dublin there are a number of poor class maternity homes from which children are placed out to nurse.

“We are of opinion that all private maternity homes should be licensed annually by the local authority and that no licence be granted unless the home is properly and suitably [1214] equipped for the purpose, and that it was in charge of a respectable person trained in maternity care and nursing.

“267. From the Registrar-General's Report for 1924, it appears that one in every three illegitimate children born alive in 1924 died within one year of its birth, and that the mortality amongst these children is about five times as great as in other cases.
“268. It is high for many reasons, but there is one to which we wish specially to refer. The illegitimate child being proof of the mother's shame is, in most cases, sought to be hidden at all costs. What frequently happens is that the mother, or the mother's family, at the time the mother leaves the hospital or home, make arrangements with someone to take the child, either paying a lump sum down or undertaking to pay something from time to time.

“These arrangements are often made or connived at by those who carry on the poorer class of maternity homes, and the results to the child can be read in the mortality rates.
“If a lump sum is paid or if the periodical payment lapse, the child becomes an encumbrance on the foster mother, who has no interest in keeping it alive.”

At present there is no means of obtaining information as to the where abouts of the homes referred to by the Commission. Neither is there any power of inspecting them except that provided for the purposes of the Midwives (Ireland) Act, 1918, by Section 17 thereof. This section relates chiefly to the supervision of midwives. It is quite insufficient to insure the suitable and efficient management of the maternity home.

Rosemary Adaser - Press Coverage of mixed race story on The the Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy

Here is the recent online press coverage following Rosemary's appearance on the Late Late Show this Friday:

EVOKE.IE - Outrage by the audience at the Late Late Show over the treatment in Mother and Baby homes

Click here

THE IRISH EXAMINER - There has to be an end to this

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Friday, 3 March 2017

Rosemary Adaser on the Late Late Show

The courageous and open Rosemary Adaser has just finished her talk with Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show this evening. The audience were mesmerized at hearing her stories of abuse in the institutions as a mixed race child.

She paid tribute to Catherine Corless who kept battling on, "scraping at the scab" until people believed her story about the remains of about 800 babies buried in a septic tank in Tuam next to a Mother and Baby Home run by the Bon Secour Nuns.

She went on to talk about how she was treated in St Joseph's Industrial school run by the Sisters of Charity in Kilkenny and the sexual abuse experienced there and the degradation meted out to her as if she were a "Savage".

Her foster parent, Brian Rothery,  joined the conversation later and spoke about the nuns dropping off this little mixed race girl with Afro hair  in the street outside Wynn's Hotel in Dublin Abbey Street at the age of 17 after having given birth to a baby. She looked as though she was "suffering from malnutrition" he said so it took some good cooking by his wife to get her back to good health but the trauma and psychological damage would remain.

Overall Ryan Tubridy was very sympathetic and allowed Rosemary the space to voice her experiences unchallenged. This is a breath of fresh air as normally people listen to her stories with incredulity. Brian Rothery, a novelist, also stressed that Rosemary has been consistent with her story over the years and stressed that these have been corroborated.

The story of mixed race babies being abandoned in Ireland with little chance of adoption is a story to be told and believed.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, which is investigating the Tuam baby case, is also investigating how mixed race babies were treated in these institutions.

The work that AMRI (Association of Mixed Race Irish) do is about raising awarness of mixed race issues and advocating on behalf of Ireland's mixed race community.

Watch RTE here:

Here is the Guardian Video: