Speaking life into an Impenetrable Quiet Shell: by Catherine Osikoya
The issue of racism has been a topic of conversation for me from a very tender age. Growing up in a small town in a rural part of Ireland was tough, especially when you don’t have people that share the same resemblance as you. You don’t realize how not having representation impacts your day to day life. In Secondary School I always felt somewhat uncomfortable because I knew I was different. From the constant stares down the hall, to the silent whispers of rumours about me whenever I would walk by, down to the ignorant questions about the type of hut my family occupied when we used to reside in Nigeria. For years I used to think “was it me? Did I do something to provoke them? Why are they treating me like this?”. In those years I was an impenetrable quiet shell. I was alone. I didn’t speak up because I thought no one wanted to listen. It wasn’t until I began studying at the university that I finally understood.
Going through college is a more positive and insightful experience, but it poses its own challenges. The racism is more subtle and is categorized under the umbrella of “craic” or “banter”. I initially fed into it because I wanted to fit in. At that point I didn’t realize the damage I was doing to myself. I was shaming one part of me (African Side) to please the other part (Irish side). I then began to think, why is it like this? Why can’t I just be both at the same time. It wasn’t until I became the President of the African Society that I began to appreciate the cultural diversity that I have whilst living in Ireland. Being African living in Ireland doesn’t mean you must separate yourself into two halves; it just means you have two cultures to celebrate, because you are both. It is now in my college years that I found the people that just know me for the person that I am and not “the black girl”.
The death of George Floyd was the catalyst that ignited flames in people hearts to advocate for change, including myself. I went through a myriad of emotions and couldn’t clearly express what I was feeling, so I revolted. At the protest in limerick, I grabbed the megaphone and shouted at the top of my lungs that “Black Lives Matter”. Those three-little words uttered, made tears stream down my face. I had been so quiet for so long because I thought no one wanted to listen, now, I got the opportunity to speak up, with people listening, so I grabbed it with both hands. Being the main speaker at the protest gave me a power I never thought I had, and it is something I will forever cherish because I didn’t stay silent.