What a fantastic interview. One of the best celebrity interviews I've read. Ruth Negga and @EmmaDabiri talking Audre Lorde, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Dubois and there's even some Foucault. No fluff, all https://t.co/WvLBs9nUxV— Theresa O'Keefe (@Theresa_OKeefe) July 4, 2020
Emma Dabiri, author of 'Don't Touch My Hair' interviewed actress Ruth Negga this week to discuss the ongoing, global conversations and activism concerning racism in a special issue of the Irish Times concerning Black lives.
A brief summary:
- Ruth is based in L.A. now, and Emma in London, having both grown up mixed-race in Ireland. Emma comes from a Nigerian family, whereas Ruth is Ethiopian, of the Tigrayan people. Ruth grew up in Limerick, and Emma in Dublin (after spending her early life in Atlanta, Georgia). They talk over videocall.
- Emma details that Ruth has been a revelation for her and has sought an interview for some time. She had never seen a Black Irish woman on screen prior to Ruth. Talks about Ruth's many roles - including a recent production of Hamlet in Dublin which ended just prior to lockdown. She played the titular role.
- Representations of Africa in Ireland were extremely limited, people often taking Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas' to be gospel about the entire continent.
- Ruth talks on Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and his address to the League of Nations in 1936 to warn of the quickly incoming fascist regime. She also mentions that another speech of his in the 60s provided the lyrics to 'War' by Bob Marley. Emma says it is clear how interested Ruth is in Black history.
- They bond over a shared love of Malcolm X which they have both held from an early age. They identify this 'obsession' as having a lack of representation around them, so they used his words to provide a feeling of connection to their Black identity.
- Ruth mentions Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Spike Lee as significant for her.
- Says that Black Irish kids need to define their identity for themselves, refrain from being categorized simply, and embrace all parts of their culture. Uses a Foucault quote to underline this.
- Ruth says her family was established and respected in Limerick and so she doesn't feel she experienced racism. She never felt 'uncomfortable' because she had strong family bonds to protect her, describing Ireland as 'very welcoming' and that she easily got jobs after school. Emma says she cannot relate to this, and that in places like Ireland, the cities tend to feel more racist than more rural towns because you don't have these community bubbles of protection throughout that smaller places offer (if you are part of a family like Ruth's). Ruth says it was worse being both Black and Irish when she moved to London. She was 'shaken' by the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
- Ruth calls 'colourblind' people patronizing and erasing. Talks about the mental health impact of people belitting your identity in that way, especially as a child. Mentions the 'double consciousness' written about by W.E.B. Du Bois.
- Says that the Black Panthers were only shocking to White people, because they didn't understand the necessity of them. She hopes we are currently experiencing a similar watershed moment. She wants to see more Black crew members, and on all roles behind the scenes of things as well as represented on camera. It's important to invest in Black storytelling not just because it's financially viable, but it helps people come to terms with their own history that has been stolen from them.
- They discuss Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass who visited Limerick and drew comparisons to how the Irish were treated by the English and the situation in America.
- Emma listens to 'War' by Bob Marley when the interview ends.
In early June I was approached by @OrrCollins to write a piece of @IrishTimesMag. I had another suggestion; I would guest edit a special edition centring black writers; an opportunity to broaden the range of perspectives we hear from, not just for this issue but going forward pic.twitter.com/QNULCBqD13— Emma Dabiri (@EmmaDabiri) July 3, 2020
added a cut mods :)