Post-Brexit Potatoes: Ireland & the UK

My English flatmate has left another potato in my cupboard. Apparently whenever she sees a loose potato in the kitchen she assumes its mine and puts it in my press. The first time she did it I didn’t make a big deal out of it; I jokingly brought it up with her and we had a good laugh. But a second time? When she goes to the supermarket and sees baskets full of potatoes, does she think “Oh, those must be Peter’s,” or if she spotted a pot of gold or ginger pubic hair lying around the house, would she helpfully leave those in my cupboard too?

She’s probably just a bit misguided, but I can’t help but think she’s just testing the waters, and one of these days I’m going to come home to find my bed filled with spuds with the words “Go home, Paddy” carved into the side of them. It would be both threatening and inconvenient, given that I am attempting to cut carbs out of my diet in advance of summer. I am a modern man.

I live in a house share in East London, with two English people and a Chinese girl. The Englanders are friendly, polite and passive aggressive, and the Chinese girl is friendly, polite and openly aggressive. We recently had a vote on whether to hire a cleaner for the house in our WhatsApp group, and when the vote didn’t go her way the Chinese girl simply responded with “Huh. Democracy indeed.” It was particularly ominous given that it was likely the last sentence uttered by Communist party leader Deng Xiaoping before unleashing the tanks on Tiananmen Square.

Deng Xiaoping -
Deng Xiaoping, image source

Post Brexit studies have found that reports of hate crimes in the UK have risen by up to 100%, with one in three black, Asian or minority people having endured racial abuse since the referendum result. This can only be expected to continue when Theresa May triggers Article 50 this week. [pullquote]Drop the Irish accent and cultural influences, and you’re as American as the next guy. People of colour don’t have this advantage. People of colour can’t just make a few alterations and “become white.”[/pullquote]

Personally, I’ve got things pretty good here, and my minor gripes pale in comparison to the legitimate hostility faced by Irish people arriving into New York during the famine or into London during the IRA’s bombing campaign. Times have changed; Irish immigrants to the city are as likely to be sitting in the boardroom as working in the construction site underneath it, while unrest elsewhere in the world has given middle England a new generation of boogeymen to fret over. Nobody actually thinks Brexit will affect the Irish, and London is a city so diverse that if you speak English, you’re a local.

Nevertheless, there’s a tendency in some quarters to compare the Irish experience with that of other maligned minorities; see Gerry Adams’s cringe-inducing tweet about Django Unchained last year. While some parallels can be drawn, the Irish experience is undeniably different. Take the American example; while first generation Irish immigrants may have once felt the scorn of their Waspy, primarily Anglo-Saxon neighbours, their descendants tended to assimilate remarkably well and went on to prominent positions in American politics and society in general. Assimilation into a white society is easy when you’re also white. Drop the Irish accent and cultural influences, and you’re as American as the next guy. People of colour don’t have this advantage. People of colour can’t just make a few alterations and “become white.” 

I recently performed at a stand-up comedy gong show in Greenwich, where 15 comedians took to the stage in front of a drunk, boorish crowd to try and make it to five minutes without getting “Gonged off.” Comics come in the hope of getting invited back by the promoter for a regular professional club night, while the audience come to drink and heckle. The audience on this night were particularly rough; before I took to the stage only two comedians survived the gong, both of whom had material about their Muslim backgrounds. Everyone else was ripped apart and kicked offstage within two minutes.

Gerry Adams -
Gerry Adams, image source

Any delusions I held about my Irish-ness being an advantage were dispelled when the act directly before me from Armagh donned a pair on sunglasses, introduced himself as “Irish Dave,” told a few crap jokes and was immediately booed offstage. The MC then took back the mic and said “Hard luck, Dave. They were a British audience and thus they were biased against you for being Irish. Also; you were shit.” The message was clear; this is a city where being Irish is neither different nor interesting, so tell some good jokes or fuck off.

I’m up next. I grab the mic from the stand but the chord pops out, and I spend the first few seconds of my set fixing it while the crowd grumble in frustration. My first words- “So…I’m also Irish!”- are predictably met with a chorus of boos (if my flatmate had been there she might have thrown a potato onstage at this point). Thankfully, I’ve played in front of rough Dublin audiences before, and a room full of middle class English people just isn’t as intimidating; it’s tough to project menace when you’ve clearly had quinoa for your supper.

There’s a pause in the hostility when I tell them my first joke, and then slowly win them over for the remainder of my set. I survive the gong and in the end come to the conclusion that the crowd were much like London itself; tough but fair. And to be honest, being booed for my ethnicity was oddly thrilling; a rare novelty like doing a bungee jump or sky dive. Perhaps that’s the most Irish thing of all, where getting racially abused is just a fun thing we do on our year abroad.

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