Friday, March 30, 2007


With the political situation in Northern Ireland being what it is, I seem to have been listening to a lot of people spout off lately with their thoughts on politics. This invariably leads to the big question of history: can we get past the history that colors so much of Northern Irish culture and spills into so many corners of life and society? I love this topic; and it's a huge part of what brought me back here in the first place. I didn't feel like I was done with Belfast in 2004 because I'd only scratched the surface of the complexities this place holds. So I came back to ask questions and listen to the answers, to study the polarities between the ends of Belfast, to watch historic politics unfolding in person. I love hearing people's thoughts on Belfast, and I love daydreaming with them about how to help pull it out of the history that drags it down.

But, in the words of Peter Griffin, it really grinds my gears when people who have no clue about what life outside middle-class Belfast is actually like seem to think that they're experts in the social situation all over the country.

For the people who claim to have a lockdown on the Belfast social situation and have never ventured into so much as Sandy Row, for those who think the Troubles are long dead and that society has achieved a peaceful equilibrium, and for those who prefer to talk a lot rather than listen: Belfast's Troubles are technically over, but their legacy refuses to die. Paramilitaries are still around, riots are still cropping up, gun violence hasn't ended, teenage pregnancies are still the highest in Europe, broken families are still the norm, and the suicide rates are still enough to make any jaw drop. Catholics and Protestants are still on edge in each other's neighborhoods, and many wouldn't be caught dead in "their" territory. Peace walls are still the fragile buffers that seem to be multiplying overnight. In many parts, the economy is still struggling back onto its feet. Of course it's not as bad as it was ten, twenty or thirty years ago. But the impact is still real.

I'm not trying to make these communities sound like cultural wastelands, because they aren't. But I also don't believe in sugar-coating them just because others don't see what actually goes on here. I don't claim to be extremely well-versed on Belfast, but eight months of living on the edge of the northwest end of the city, in one of the most divided and deprived areas of the entire country, has opened my eyes and put a passion into my heart for an area that has largely been forgotten. Many people's view isn't holistic, and it really bothers me. Ignorant chatter is irritating coming from Northern Irish people, and even more irritating coming from people who have lived here for less than a year and don't have a clue about what the situation actually looks like. It's like if I were to go on a rampage about how racism is dead on the US west coast. Just because I haven't ever seen it myself doesn't mean it isn't a reality for so many people. I have really learned to not say much when I don't know much about something, because I'd rather not speak until I think my words are more worthwhile than blabber.
We all want to be heard, and we all want to be the expert, but there are a lot of people who I just want to say, "SHUT UP, and just look around you for a minute before you keep talking!"

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