Before I left to study abroad in Galway, Ireland, in the winter of 2020, I’d stumbled upon a lively online discussion amongst first-generation, Black Irish immigrants. From the comfort of my bedroom, I came upon a comment that stuck with me for quite some time: I have never experienced outright racism here, an anonymous poster said. It’s because the racists here are cowards. They will never say anything to your face.
On my final day in Derry, a city barely inside the northwest edge of Northern Ireland, I hired a taxi to drive me past the city’s boundaries and across the United Kingdom’s border. Through the window, the Republic of Ireland was all endless rows of barley like coiled rosary beads. I wanted to see the Grianan of Aileach, a stone ringfort originally built almost fifteen hundred years ago by the Celtic king who then ruled Donegal’s hills.
Outside the window I could hear men calling out to one another, stumbling up the street. Night, so!Safe home! Someone started singing. Then the baby stirred and the living room door clicked shut again. This time my husband heard it too. He got up, switched on the lights, checked that the apartment was locked (it was), and then turned off the lights and came back to bed. Soon he was fast asleep.
My 39th birthday was spent in the airport, but walking down Herengracht I thought, “Happy Birthday.” Not too excited being here. Looks like just another New York City to me. Of course, it’s dark. We’ll see what daylight brings.
Extracts from the Ridiculous American: A Just Plain Strange One-Sided Correspondence