Black Pride Ireland - From a conversation into textile

On June 18th 2020, I interviewed Diana and Rima who are the founders of Black Pride Ireland (BPI), an organization fighting against the lack of visibility of black and queer people in Ireland and for the abolition of all Direct Provision centers (DP) hosting asylum seekers in Ireland. Introduced as an emergency system in 1999, these centers are often located in remote places, isolated, where refugees are awaiting for their permission to stay in the country.

After our conversation, I created an embroirery, inspired by the words we used, which I sent them by post to Ireland. Materials used are cotton madras textiles and denim.

Contributors :

 

Rima Hamid : I am a community organiser, radio presenter and co-founder of Black Pride Ireland. My work is focused on curating events to aid communal healing and radical joy.  

 

Diana Bamimeke : I am a writer, student and independent curator from west Dublin. I am one of the co-founders of Black Pride Ireland, and have published texts in the Visual Artists Ireland News Sheet, the IMMA Magazine, and for the RHA and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. I am currently curating my first exhibition. 

 

 

Pierre-Antoine  

First, I just want to be sure of pronouns.

What kind of what kind of pronouns would you like me to me to call you with ?

 

Rima

I use the they/them

 

Diana 

And I also use they/them

 

Pierre-Antoine  

I would like to know more about your movement, your organization, as well in which context you built it? I read the presentation of your movement Black Pride Ireland (BPI) but I would like to know more about dynamic the two of you are brought when you started it up.

 

Rima  

I traveled to London for a residential with Stonewall. It's a charity for LGBTQ folk over there. It was a residence on how to start a campaign and how to get started on an issue that you are passionate about, it was open to PLC (People of colour) people only. And then I realized that's why I've been missing living in Ireland. So when I came back, I hit up Di (Diana) and I asked them: hey, do you wanna, you know, maybe do this thing together? Cuz for me, Di and I were on the same page.and we just don't take any sort of political middle grounds or anything like that. We're pretty clear about our stances.

 

Diana  

That all happened in July of last year. And we sort of put our heads together and I suppose began drawing up plans for establishing something like BPI here, and I think one of the first things that we decided to really think about was one of our actual values and the ideals that we wanted to sort of enshrine, going forward in Black Pride Ireland. And the second thing was to write up a manifesto. Things snowballed I think very quickly and you know, we got picked up by by GCN, which was nice and I think the reception to BPI was really, really favorable. It's something that, you know, we were glad to have because it felt like, you know, queer black people in Ireland finally had somewhere to go or some people to turn to, for that genuine sense of community that Rima was talking about somewhere where they felt like they wouldn't be berated for being who they were, because, you know, the unfortunate reality is queerness and you know, queerness and black communities here, it doesn't take so well and it's kind of something that's pushed down on unfortunately so some people can kind of feel afraid to talk about it with certain people for fear of you know, things spreading in the community or rumors are like this person's daughter is this or this person's child is this and blah blah. That's kind of where we're coming from.  And this includes not just the Republic, it also includes the Northern Ireland. We have some of our members who are anti capitalist, we are pro choice. We are, for the abolition of direct provision system. We are for better health care services for trans people particularly people who are refugees and migrants.

 

Rima

I think another aspect for us that's quite big is sort of like the international solidarity aspect and the fact how like colonization has affected us. What is perceived as queer and what was perceived as not, unlike the weaponizing of sexuality, and also the demonization of sexuality and just like the freedom of expression of gender, personality and all that, like, gets involved in that. And also just about decolonizing our idea of what sex is and what love is and what love could look like.

 

Pierre-Antoine  

More specifically, when you speak about these aspects. Are you thinking about interracial relationships?

 

Rima 

Well, this is not something that we focus on at the moment, but just the general of like the different dynamics that love can exist within, for example polyamory, platonic love.

 

Pierre-Antoine

About this aspect of colonization. Speaking with Irish natives and digging into the history and background, there was the colonization of the country by the British and how it influenced behaviours and self-esteem of people here. But you know, there is this difference that I feel as a person of colour. How do you stand on this? Its not an easy question.

 

 

Diana 

It's interesting to conceive of that and think of that, because it poses a really interesting question about how do we approach racial dynamics in Ireland in 2020 knowing that it doesn't have that same historical presence. It's something that we haven't been thinking about it loads but we have been tracing. The beginnings of immigration to the island in the late 90s. I want to say early 2000s, of which I was one, and then that kind of setup for the next 20 years until now. I do feel that you know why Irish people, having been a people who have been colonized would understand the struggle, or at least that's what you would think. But unfortunately, that's not the reality at all. What we have found is that a lot of white Irish people will weaponize their history in that way against the struggles of black people on people of color in the country. Nowadays, especially when it comes to immigration reform or abolishing direct provision. There's definitely : As you know, we we're the Irish and you know, this is who we are. Who are these fucking blacks to be coming in and telling us how to change things. And if they don't like it, they can go back home and all this kind of rhetoric, which is very dangerous, and very insidious and really unfortunate. It puts us in a in a unique position to be considering the question of what is it like to be black when leaving colonized countries to or formerly colonized countries to move to a country that has also been formally colonized? And what does that look like in terms of our organizing and in terms of creating a fairer and a more just society, one that actually prioritizes, takes care or looks after black bodies, black queer bodies, black migrant bodies, black refugee body.

 

Rima  

I think there's also kind of a twofold argument here in that, despite the Irish being a colonized land they still benefit from the system of white supremacy, so when they started migrating after the famine to America, they formed ties that have like that still have an impact on Ireland to this day. So, yes, they were there as like, servants of some sort. And they were closer to the black community, because they did share that history in that understanding of colonization. But then, once they became, close enough to that white model, they just jumped ship and turned into slave masters but they do not claim that history, they just assume. Because they're the ones that left they don't have ties, even though there's still huge American influence in this country. There's still a lot of like, what majority of illegal immigrants are actually Irish and Russian in the USA, that you see that the links are still very much running Trinity University. I learned a few days ago that the gates were made by the money taken from sugar plantations, the Central Bank of Ireland as well. But then on the flip hand, Frederick Douglass who came here and sort of studied about abolishing slavery ideas and anti racism. There's a very dual side to Irish history I think. There's a very liberal, very anti racist, anti colonial spirit to it. But on the other hand, there is the aspect that's very much ingrained in white supremacy and continually benefits from it without ever being obvious because they use the facade of Oh, we've been colonized. So it's okay. We know What you feel, which isn't exactly the truth. Because they're just going back around and doing the same thing that they did for other people.

 

Pierre-Antoine 

What kind of action BPI is taking? Can you tell me more about the Movie Club?

 

Rima 

The Movie Club was actually like a product of being in quarantine. We needed to congregate and just see each other.  A friend of mine, they were nice enough to send me like a master list from the Leeds film queer Film Festival. And like I mean, we don't just discuss the movies. We also talk about our day we also talk about like bigger ideas and ideologies. But also at the same time, there's an aspect of it of  documenting queer experiences and seeing people that we never kind of got to see growing up and never get to see in real life, either, which is quite sad. There's no like, older generation of gays, you know, there's no script that we can follow. There's no like, actual real life inspiration, if you will.

 

Pierre-Antoine 

From the very few days I spent going out in the Dublin gay night life, there are these local icons, but I felt there is missing this racial layer. How was the reception of BPI within this gay establishment?

 

Rima 

There was a huge response to us and people were like, Oh my god, like this is so great. And then it did die down. Then after a while with Blacklivesmatter popping back up. There's been sort of an outpouring that's almost choking us. We are at the point of saying : I'm not here to educate white people. I'm not here to sort of shift the white gaze on us. I'm here to first and foremost build a community. We’re getting so much press inquiries and so much really weird questions about how we are you organize. It's a very voyeuristic outlook on us. We appreciate the support, but I think there has to be a little bit of nuance behind why you're so supportive. I used to go to gay bars a lot. There's a very huge sense of cultural appropriation I found out and it's like, Hey, girl, you look fabulous. And it's like a skinny white boy. I'm like, you don't know me. So it's very bittersweet. It's very, very bittersweet.

 

Diana 

I think is very telling, in times of tragedy, especially tragedy that's been enacted upon black people, suddenly there's a huge interest: Oh, can you talk about it more? Can you talk about it more? talk about it more. And like Rima said, it's the constant retraumatization. While we are glad to be able to get the message of BPI out there, I think what people fail to understand is that we are also human, and that we also have finite resources, whether that's emotional resources, intellectual resources, energy resources. That goes back to the archetype of the strong black person who doesn't experience pain, who is a black superhuman. That's the kind of rhetoric behavior that we've been fending off as of late. We had a few fascists turning up to an event and be silly and stupid. We have people on Twitter who will troll us too.

 

Pierre-Antoine

It's emotionally tiring. Yes. Everyone feels entitled to step into the topic. I think it's time to kind of like self care.

 

Rima 

I think it's the time to learn how to balance. The art of doing both at the same time. Because we really do not want BPI to be a face first thing. Since me and Diana are lucky enough to not be living in direct provision,  uplifting their voices, and their experiences come first and foremost, over, I'm queer, and I'm settled, and I'm just, that's the only thing going on. With such a platform, we can't just, make it seem it's all about just kikiing, having fun and just chatting, because I feel that as we said, in Manifesto, our existence are inherently political, and for others, even more so. So I think it's about balancing the art of both.

 

Pierre-Antoine  

These are such a political questions at such political levels. How do you feel your voices can reach? 

 

Diana  

Our job as organizers within BPI, we're both lucky enough not to be living in direct provision centers. We are both settled. And I think our job is to ONE agitate for the abolition of direct provision, full stop the complete eradication of the direct provision system and TWO to shine a light on people who in DP are speaking out about the circumstances that they live in to continually push for voices in directory to be heard. Of course, being two people who are not in this situation, what we can do is make a case as much as we can for that system to be abolished and also to continue to put on a pedestal, the voices of people who are in that situation. And, I think that that's two of our main roles in BPI at the minute and of course like the direct provision system is such an awful horrid situation. It's It's a carceral system basically it's it's effectively like locking people up

 

Pierre-Antoine

And how is it for a person living in direct provision to be able to join a movement of protest? Is it difficult?

 

Rima

Yes, a lot of them don't want to be caught at a protest and then have their status compromised. That's happened to quite a lot of people. There was an organization in Galway called GARN it's Galway Anti Racist Network. And some of the members of that said network were threatened by direct provision staff and told not to go and or attend these meetings. And of course, they're out here like literally fighting for their very basic human rights. They are threatened that they're going to be stripped away from even more, imagine what that does to a person. On top of that, I think especially for trans folk, it's quiet. They're already living in quarters not suiting their gender, they're forced to stay there. And then they face the violence from the people who have come from other countries where they have embodied these transphobic ideals, so they can't even breathe while they're in direct provision. So they have no option but to kind of leave that space. But transport is a thing, time, money, that's all issues that are quite big in terms of being able to be active in the community, the fact that they have to go to these very faraway rural settings, with really horrible transport links that's been done on purpose, so my heart goes out for them all the time. And that's thing that we try and make sure we are covering in BPI as best as we can, covering transport, keeping it central.

 

Pierre-Antoine  

It feels internally the fight against DP system is impossible and a movement of your kind is an extension of the voice of queer people living in in DP. Is it part of you mission?

 

Rima   

Yes,  even the way that they interview the queer members of these places is horrible. They try and quantify your queerness which is inherently violent, and just inherently absolutely ridiculous. Not leave anything else that could do with social stuff is just actually ridiculous that you can sit down and say: Oh, this person is not gay enough because didn't participate in activism in their homeland or whatever other way they would like to measure it. Me personally with an Irish passport, I can really say anything I want want, you know, they can't they can't catch me. So I feel I would be slacking, you know, I would be doing my doing them a huge disfavor and to myself if I just stayed quiet and forgot, because honestly, they are already forgotten. I don't know how many times where you've been around Ireland, but I live quite close to one. And I swear to God, even the bus stop would not let you know that there is something near it. It's that they're super alienated.

 

Pierre-Antoine  

 I was travelling in rural areas, my partner is an Irish native and I was shocked on how there DP centers are lost in places where there is no space to relate to for a non white person, no food you would like, no hair you would like to buy. Imagining living in a place where there is nothing to relate to.

 

Diana

I think that's something that is is twofold. So, not only is that a physical marginalization, it is also I suppose marginalization in the abstract or maybe a social or cultural marginalization. So, on the one hand, you have the centers that are intentionally  placed, like Rima said, away from transport links away from any kind of substantial infrastructure, away from shops, schools, markets, workplaces, all of these kinds of amenities. And that falls in line with the second part of that, which is the kind of cultural marginalization as well because a lot of people in Ireland yet they still don't know what DP is they still don't know what happens in direct revision centers they still don't know the kind of conditions and material conditions that people are living in. And that falls in line with the actual placing of the centers so far away from everybody else, and that's very intentional. I think this is an unfortunate thread that runs through Irish history there's kind of a desire to cover things up, or to sort of like sweep things under the rug. And be : Oh, no, that's not happening. We're not thinking about that right now. We don't know that We've seen that happen with, you know, the Magdalene Laundries, which is an tragic part of Irish history where women who were pregnant or women who were considered undesirables in Irish society, were literally forced to go and work in these laundries or to work in mother and baby homes. But in the case of black people, in the case of migrants, refugees, it's particularly painful, because not only are you experiencing that marginalization, you're also experiencing everything compacting on top of that, so if you're queer, you're also experiencing homophobia, biphobia transphobia. If you are disabled, you're also experiencing ableism. And there's so many things that are sort of intersecting to create this really, really horrible umbrella of oppression in DP. And not only that, it's also something that a lot of people just don't really care about or aren't willing to talk about. And with our organization BPI it's something that we want to undo, total abolishment, or abolition of DP. But also wanting people in DP to speak out for themselves. We are doing as much as we can, during our level best to enable that, covering the cost of transport, like we miss said, or covering the cost of people to stay somewhere for a night or two if they're speaking at an event or to cover the cost of the labor that they do when they're speaking at these events, about their own lived experiences in these horrific circumstances. And so yeah, we are kind of doing our best to enable As much as we can.

 

Rima

I think forming good solid ties with Asylum seekers that are based on true allyship is also a very important thing. So we've been working with MASI quite a bit, which is a Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland. We recently had a protest with them. We cannot be free unless all our other siblings out there free as well. And we mean that on on a regional scale but also internationally. About Sylva Tukula's death. She was a transgender woman who died in direct provision center in Galway last summer. She was never given a proper burial. Her death was quite mysterious. There was no explanations, her family wasn't even contacted. She was forced stay in the male section of a of the direct provision center. It's violence of such high levels and disrespect as well, to community, to a soul. So I think it's gone over the point where it's just blatant greed for money, because if you see the figures of how much companies that cater or companies that host direct provision residents get It's crazy. You know, it's a very cohesive business plan on the behalf of the government. It's that sort of very blatant austerity. How can this be so obvious, but it's been allowed to go on for 20 years.

 

Pierre-Antoine 

Do you feel any any hope for this direct provision system to be abolished in Ireland?

 

Diana 

There is definitelly more attention. But that needs to be paired with actionable change. I read something the other day that there have been improvements in the Irish parliament towards abolishing direct provision in the next government because right now the Irish government is in the process of forming a coalition. There's been chatter about it, but personally I'm not holding my breath. I suppose better late than never.

 

Pierre-Antoine

I am interested about your perspective of bringing people together through films and the Movie Club. Its a broad question but how do you think the artistic field, through Art, crafts, movie, music ; How do you think it could help create bonds between communities in ireland?

 

Diana

I have this belief that Art in all of its mediums cannot be this useless play thing for rich people. It has to function as a vehicule for social change. It cannot be something that remains as part of the status quo which unfortunately is right now. Art has an important role to play in the liberation of all oppressed people, mostly Black, Queer, Trans people. But unfortunately Art has not been liberatory for a long time and I say that as a peson who works in Arts to some capacity here in Ireland. There is a lot of people who are not interested, who are not invested in making any sort of radical action. What we do with the Movie Club is bringing unp the perspective of these Artists to fashion a better future for the liberation of all people. Beeing able to watch all these movies, from there, it can contribute to what a total liberated future might look. And right nw I think, Art is not doing that. At least not in Ireland. There has to be further expansion, a desire for a genuine intellectual enquiry. Why am I looking at this painting? Who made this painting? Who is allowed to talk about this painting? Who is allowed to have access to this knowledge about the painting? And who are the people who aren’t here? We talk so much about people who are in the gallery space, the theatre, what about the poeple who are not there? What about the people who find themselves marginalized by these sorts of gatekeepers and are not allowed to engage in the same way that they are. Its one of many tools in our toolbox that we have, that we carry with us when we are working towards liberation for all people.

 

Rima

From another Art aspect, night clubs and also music, movie festivals. I think everything is so whitewashed. I went recently to a concert. I felt so uncompfortable because of the obliviant fetichisation that people were displaying. You just go and you just feel like in a sea of people mocking you. Then you go to a movie festival, its an all white pannel

Discussing black queer topics and identities, I don╒t even understand how they can seat and talk about it. But you will never be invited to the table, you will never be spoken of, you will ot be represented. But then, its time when trauma comes up when you will be called in to speak. So I feel there is a huge disrespect. You shutting me ot of something that we gave you. If it were not for a black trans woman, we would not have pride. Period. We would not be here but you are continuously holding discussions and making a mockery of us. And then gaslighting us by saying: This is gay culture you don’t have a claim to it anymore. A big part of what I want to do with BPI is invite black folks back into ours pace. Especially from DJ and music perspectives with House music and Techno culture which is quite big in Ireland. It is all cis straight white men. We need to carve our spaces, that just allow us to be ourselves without anyone touching our hair. Even though, these are small microagressions, after a while they do build up.

 

Pierre-Antoine

To give you an idea about what we do here, there is an organisation called Forallqueens which is related to Ballroom and a celebration of its culture. We gather, speak. In this idea of having a safe space using art and dance. We are gathering powerful energies. Of course, sometimes gigs are done for a more white audience, we do it consciously. But most of the meetings are these intimate moments to fuel ourselves.

 

Rima

I think it is interesting,  I feel there was a lot of discourses around LGBTQIA versus Queer. There is still this very rigid structure that has been set in place, that we have just emulated by out cis head counterparts. That we seem to emulate into our sort of understanding. A fem is a fem, a stud is a stud. That’s how it is. I feel we still need to works towards this idea that gender is nt this fixed thing and nonbinary people exist. I still feel some people need to have this conversation. So, that exhuberant life, that I feel you are doing with Forallqueens, for me its not there. I think it is as well due to how conservative the black community is here. We haven‘t had the chance to be ourselves yet.

 

Diana

I agree with that. I feel when some immigrants start arriving in Ireland or other countries the first thing on the list is to assimilate. In the black community, a lot of people are coming from countries that have been formarly colonized. From countries that have had the concept of gender, binary imposed on them and also the concept of heterosexuality taking the primacy over everything else also imposed on them. Because that was not the case prio to colonization. These were all concepts that were forced upon colonized people. Even though a lot of African countries saw their independance being given to them in the 50’s and 60’s, what remained unfortunately is that same colonial mentality and that is something that Frantz Fanon touched on in his work when he said  the colonization of the land is not the worse thing, it is the colonization of thir minds as well. And it is something that we see here in Ireland within the black community because you still have that fundamentalist, religious thinking. Hopefully there will be some kind of change.

 

Pierre-Antoine

Do you think the increase of black visibility in Ireland due to immigration will help in the empowerment of the community?

 

Rima

Just because we have more faces in the newspapers, TV and radio. I believe that’s not it for the tangible changes that we really need. In the actual fabric of the Irish society there are so many West African with PhDs and fully qualified degrees that cannot get jobs simply because they are black and they are stuck, driving taxis. That is the way we are treated here. You never see a black postman, you never see a black TV host. They might meet now and then for a party but in the end everybody just goes back to these very insular communities. There is one African street in Dublin which is not that impressive.

 

Pierre-Antoine

Indeed, I tried once to get some hair products in Dublin and… (laughs). It was just horrendous.

 

Rima

I think you understand this alienation, in every aspect, politically, socially, in the job market. I get rejections everyday. I did what I have to do to appease the white gaze and still, I am left at a loss. So they are still pushing us out in every sense of the word. I was born here and I really do not feel welcomed. It is such a sad thing for me to even say. Because it is just not as if I am willfully pushing myself away from joining the society. I am very willing to but a lot of other circumstances do not work in your favor.

 

Pierre-Antoine

Part of my artistic practice, as a textile designer, I would like to put some of the words of our conversation into a textile and send them to you as a present. Showing how we can connect with black & queer networks and metaphorically highlight how easy goods can travel compared to people. Especially during these times. Thanks a lot for this conversation.

© 2020 By Pierre Antoine Vettorello