When we first moved to Dublin, Ireland from Houston, Texas one of the first things we noticed was the lack of Black people in the city. We would go days without seeing another Black person besides the people in our little family of four. As our time in Dublin continued, we grew accustomed to the lack of color outside our home. But the stares are something my husband and I will never get used to.
All Eyes On Me
At times the stares are subtle. For example, I may catch a little old lady trying not to be obvious as she stares at me in line at the local grocery store. These are the stares I cannot decipher. I don’t know if she is intrigued, amazed or disgusted. Then there are the little ones in strollers who will literally drop their toy and stare in amazement as if I am some circus animal. I know they are toddlers and absolutely cannot help themselves. But it’s still awkward for me and sometimes their parents as well. There’s even the random teen who will stare at me so hard while I’m quietly working in my planner as I wait on my daughter at gymnastics practice. I attribute these stares to the fact that the teen is fascinated by my dorky colorful planner and pens to match but I do give a stare back (sometimes, I just can’t help myself). I now find myself attempting to justify each and every stare because it’s so hard to believe these stares are simply because of my skin color.
Now, there are times when the stares are so blatant I want to scream, “Yes, I’m Black. Yes, this is my hair. Yes, I am real. No, you can’t touch me or my hair. Now, carry on.”
I remember a time after swimming lessons that instead of going home as we usually do, the kids took showers at the gym and changed because we had plans right after. On this rare occasion, I washed and braided (just two braids) my daughter’s hair in the locker room. The pool (like all pools in Ireland) requires swimming caps to be worn in the pool so her hair is rarely exposed. After I finished washing her hair, she showered and I waited at the mirrors so I could do her hair. When I removed the towel, it was as if the entire locker room went silent. You could seriously hear a pin drop. I was praying my daughter didn’t notice as I quickly braided her full head of hair. The stares were extremely uncomfortable especially in a gym locker room full of women and young girls.
To understand the stares is to know the basic demographics of the Emerald Isle. According to the 2016 census, Ireland is 94.3% White, 1.9% Asian and 1.4% Black. This country is simply not familiar with anyone outside of their circle of whiteness. And based on the deep history and proven statistics it has always been this way. This must be heavily taken into consideration when moving to a foreign country. And before embarking on this opportunity we did our own extensive research.
We have lived here as expats just over two years and I will admit I have seen the slow change in the demographic landscape. As an American from one of the most diverse cities (Houston) in the nation, the presence of more people of color has been painstakingly slow but I assume slow and steady wins the race in the end.
How to React
Often times I am asked by my white friends here and Black friends at home how we as a family handle the stares. My response is that we take the high road by responding with a gentle smile or ignoring the stare, such as in the case of the old lady. We have Irish friends and through genuine conversations we are fully aware that most stares are coming from a place of curiosity due to an unintentional lack of exposure. This is not the US and the playing field is different and the history of the country and people must be taken into consideration. It is an opportunity for us to grow and learn from one another.
I do admit, however, that I am a firecracker of a human and on some days the stares really get to me so I respond with a flat out stare back or eye roll to convey my undoubtedly strong feelings of annoyance. I am not happy with my reactions on these days, but I can only take so much.
Despite all the stares, I still wouldn’t change my experience living in Dublin for the world. It has strengthened my family and completely opened my eyes. I am more aware of the world outside of my American bubble. Despite the struggles of living as a Black expat in a truly white world, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to move past the stares and open the door to difficult communication and much needed awareness of diversity.