"I am a totality of what I show to you – not what you think of me. You only [think you] know us through a form of media you’ve seen. Like, that black people are inherently sassy, or they’re emotional, or they're aggressive; any of that stuff. You haven’t met us, so, whatever has been shown to you, that’s what you think we are. We are only what a white person can summarise of us. It's [a white thing] because it makes things easier to understand. I get it every night I go out. Every night. It’s not even blatant racism anymore, but it’s institutionalised ignorance that causes microaggression in me. For a long time I was like, ‘yeah, I guess I am that person’. It took me a long time to realise that I’m not. I see you and I don’t know your story until you tell me. I am allowed to be a singular person. JRDN is a musician originally from Nigeria, currently living in Dublin.
JRDN describes the journey he has taken in becoming more race critical, one which somewhat parallels his physical journey through Britain, Kerry, and Mullingar, before arriving in Dublin to study. "In Kerry, they did not know what to do with me. They would stop classes and be like, ‘Are you okay? Do you understand what’s going on?’, and they put me in special English classes. I was like, ‘I don’t need this’. They didn’t know what to do". Arriving in Mullingar, "where I wasn't the first black person", unlike in Kerry, and a little older, JRDN's awareness of the lens that he was being viewed through by others became heightened. "I remember going through secondary school and, okay, you obviously stand out, but you start to hate that you do; you want to be like everybody else because you feel like you are, and you are going through the exact same things [as everyone else]". In moving to Dublin, he took steps to leave others' perceptions of him where they belong – with those same people – and, rather than internalising them, he "amassed this massive love for myself and [that's] what gets me through. If you don’t appreciate you and someone tells you that they don’t like you for being you, then you are in a complete turbulence of emotions and will always try to change". JRDN gives a shoutout to his sister who played an important role in helping him become more race critical, and making clear the lasting effects of the above during one's formative years.
In describing his accumulation of self worth, Jordan emphasises how this was not facilitated by Grindr, a space he did not have access to growing up. However, he refers to his younger peers whose sense of self value has been predicated on being fetishised by white men in that domain. On his own experience of this, Jordan says, "anyone who knows me knows that if you’re like, ‘I’ve never been with a black guy before – I love black guys!’, I will instantly get so turned off you. Instantly. So, if you’re like, ‘oh, you look like The Weeknd, I think you’re really good looking’, I just sidestep all of that. Because that’s not why they should appreciate you. That’s not how people should appreciate each other. They might be paying you a compliment, but what are they saying? What are they not saying? What is the subtext?".
JRDN isn't afraid to address the issue with his friends. "I have friends who say, for example, ‘I’m not into Asians – I'm just born that way’ and I'm just like, 'that's bred into you – you really weren't'. And then I have a living room full of white people telling me that they're not racist, that that they don't hate them, and that they just don't feel attracted to them". Rather, he maintains, "[they're] not attracted to them because of what [they've] seen; the unspoken and institutionalised subcategory that people have put them into". He feels duty bound to educate his friends, but only to a point. "If you don’t want to be educated, that’s fine. I have my own life to live. I have my own story to write so I tend to not want to write people’s stories for them. If you don’t accept my paragraph? The End".
JRDN once referred to himself as more of an "all lives matter" person, and admits to claiming "[racism] is not really a thing, they don’t hate black people anymore, you’re not in slavery, or anything like that". But then, in his own words, "the whole Trayvon [Martin] thing happened" which challenged him to reappraise and fundamentally alter his own view of race and racism. "I know it’s not that way in Ireland, but you can see [what can happen] if people think in a certain way. What's happening in America is people are acting on the way they are thinking. Here, people think a certain way but they don’t act on it". Jordan and I agree that Ireland has more or less tricked itself into thinking it doesn't have a race issue. “I hear people who say, ‘oh someone said this to me on the street’. There are people out there. Maybe they haven’t said anything to me – I’m, like, seven foot so people don’t really approach me wanting to assault me or whatever – but [racism] is there. It’s definitely there. We have a race issue. Everywhere has a race issue. Because racism is just a glorified form of classism. It is – you see someone, you see their colour, you assume what they do, and it’s classism. It's a ‘they’re not on my level’ sort of thing".
Last year's marriage equality campaign is something that masc has continually sought to explore in its own way. Of all the conversations had with men around their experience of the campaign so far, JRDN's is perhaps the most distinct. "I saw a lot of disappointment. Not from the white community, but from the black community. Because they were just like, ‘religion is why we are not voting for it – I can know you as a person and I can know your experiences but, based on what I believe in, this is the way I am voting’. They were full on 'give them something else' sort of thing. I don’t believe you should govern people’s lives like that – give them the choice of what they want to do. If it’s in your power to change someone’s life for the better, always do it. But, in the referendum last year, I was disappointed that people who I had grown up with wouldn't judge people based on the content of their character". However, for Jordan, as for many others, the hardship of the process was softened by the outcome, "I saw my future happiness represented. The day it passed was one of the most glorious experiences of my life".
This year highlighted the centrality of safe spaces amongst queer communities, and particularly amongst queer communities of colour. It also made clear – brutally and devastatingly – their innate fragility in a straight world. JRDN and I explore the notion of queer safe spaces in the context of Dublin. "Is there a safe space? As a gay man, there is. As a black gay man? There isn’t. There is a straight black community who have their own nights and all that, but there isn't a gay one". JRDN sees the existence of such a safe space as contingent on having a critical mass of queer people of colour. "In Dublin, there isn’t a black gay community. There’s like three of us, and then maybe there’s another ten out there in the ether who know that they’re gay, who don’t necessarily associate with the scene or whatever – there isn’t a black face to the scene here". JRDN cites Dublin's queer Latin community for comparison, with its relatively more established position within the scene at large. Nevertheless, he envisages a transformation of the scene in this regard, "will a safe space for queer people of colour happen? Eventually. Where we're at now is the beginning, the burgeoning. It will only get bigger".
In the mean time, there is an onus on the majority group to ensure our spaces are inclusive and welcoming. We are all bound by similar experiences and ought to be aware of this shared sense of struggle in the name of community cohesion. To exclude intersectional identities from the scene is the clearest contradiction in terms. Dublin's scene is obviously homogeneous. However, where difference does exist, JRDN sees integration, solidarity, and support, "it is a community and, altogether, I’d like to think we function well. There isn’t a demarcation between people in that sense [...] Ireland doesn’t have that exclusivity. People might act [exclusive], but the country has a heart. It does have a heart. I will always love it for that, and here will be always be home for me".
I finish chatting with JRDN by asking him how his identities influence how he lives his life. "Being gay automatically teaches you how to be a better person – if you let it. It will teach you about oppression. It will teach you a lot of things. It helped me better understand the trans community which was such a big breakthrough for me. If you understand a struggle, that gives you relativity to all other kinds of things and you should be open to them. Because, if you’ve experienced it, then you can understand where other people are coming from. It helped me understand racism. I was more gay than I was black and then I became equal amounts. It helped me understand that there are these things that people don’t like. Being gay can make you be a better person if you let it".