Where We Belong

March 10, 2018

**

Pride and Prejudice

 

It was a case of a not so great reckoning in a little room on Friday night with the launch of the “Townhall Sessions” at The Complex, as part of “Where We Live” presented by THISISPOPBABY, along with St Patrick’s Festival. Setting out to explore what it feels like to live in Dublin and Ireland today “Where We Live” has curated a series of “Townhall Sessions” designed to deliver ‘a provocative program of talks, discussions, and debates that amplifies the works in “Where We Live.” Curated by Willie White, the “Townhall Sessions” present a variety of speakers covering a range of issues over five individual sessions.

 

Kicking off with a discussion entitled "Where We Belong," the “Townhall Sessions” got off to a less than auspicious start. The theme might profess to explore who the city belongs to, and if Dublin is truly multicultural, but the answer felt like a foregone conclusion: Dublin isn’t multicultural enough. Even though Gideon Chirwanerongo, a 25 year old refugee from Zimbabwe studying nursing at Trinity College, and an openly gay man, talked positively, for the most part, of his experiences in Dublin. As did Marcin Szulc, a Polish lawyer and translator who felt people are no longer confronted solely by white, Catholic, Irish people walking around the city. Dubliner, Daniel Lambert, spoke eloquently on the efforts of Bohemian Football Club to integrate with African football supporters, astutely pointing out that, for Irish people, the experience of multiculturalism is a relatively new one given that many Irish people only begun to travel abroad in recent decades.

 

Yet some were visibly dissatisfied and impatient with the pace of multicultural change. Willie White perceptively noticed the lack of multicultural representation in the media, and in politics. A sentiment echoed by broadcaster Emma Dabiri. Born and raised in Rialto, apart from some time spent living in Atlanta Georgia, Dabiri went to London in 1998 to get away from the prejudice and racism she experienced in Dublin. While acknowledging that there had been some improvements, she felt they haven’t gone far enough, or quick enough.  

 

Yet it all took a curious turn when the issue of alleged gangs of marauding black youths terrorizing the Jervis Centre entered the conversation. Dabiri openly refused to believe this happened, blaming low level, racist news coverage. Yet the remark was followed with the declaration that if there were terrorizing gangs of violent black youths, they were only doing it to fit in. Unpacking that remark, it’s hard not to see it as racist, even if Dublin is, in Dabiri’s estimation, the unsafest city she’s ever been in. In full disclosure, the talks were timed for an hour and ran over. Early in the question and answer session I had to leave, so whether this issue was further addressed I cannot say.

 

While the format was loose and conversational, there were several fascinating insights to be gleaned. Gideon Chirwanerongo rightly pointed out that no one leaves home without a reason, highlighting the experience of how Ireland now felt like a second home. Marcin Szulc’s experience was far more profound, claiming he now exists somewhere in a liminal space in many respects, with neither Ireland nor Poland feeling like home. Szulc’s also spoke of the glass ceiling that meets non-national workers, restricting them to general operative positions, and of the barriers posed by language, which, in Szulc’s experience, is perhaps the greatest stumbling block to integration and progression.

 

With four more “Townhall Sessions” to come, there’s sure to be some provocative, thought provoking, critical conversations taking place. Whether you wish to inform, or be informed, the “Townhall Sessions” offer a rare opportunity to hear, and be heard, and to address a wide range of culturally important issues.

 

“Townhall Sessions” as part of “Where We Live,” presented by THISISPOPBABY and St Patrick’s Festival, runs until March 16th.

 

For more information on “Townhall Sessions” and “Where We Live," visit THISISPOPBABY.

 

 

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