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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Opinion: I might have been born in Lagos, but I was definitely made in Dublin

Maturing into the person I am today happened in Ireland, and, more specifically, in Dublin. If anyone asks where I’m from, the first thought that comes to mind is ‘Ireland’.

Timi Ogunyemi

I’VE BEEN DESCRIBED in the past as a guy who’s a tourist in his own city. I wholeheartedly agree with that. I’ve been in Ireland for almost 13 years and in Dublin for 11, but only in the last two and a half years have I actually started to learn anything about the city I call home.

I have A LOT of catching up to do.

You’ll often catch me walking or cycling around the city with a camera strapped to my back, a camera phone in my hand or in my pocket somewhere ready to capture and share. You may or may not know the drill. If you know me, then you know I love this gay old town; it’s all a bit soppy actually.

Getting used to a strange new city 

It’s not always been rosy and green and fun and amazing for me in Dublin city. When I first moved to the suburbs of the ‘Big Smoke’, there were places I avoided like the plague. I never came into the city centre unless I genuinely had to. I should probably mention at this point, if you didn’t know or hadn’t noticed, that I’m of African descent. It shouldn’t matter; but it does. Unfortunately.

I initially wasn’t able to deal with the shouts across the street of “Go back to your own country”, the apples thrown at me (this happened twice… actually once it was an orange). Night time was even worse; getting a taxi a few years ago, I remember I would always have to step back and let my (white) girlfriend hail one down or risk standing in the dark until a decent driver would pick us up. Today, some people grumble that there are too many Nigerian taxi drivers, but they obviously found a niche in the market (however that is another story for another day).

The truth is, getting to Ireland as an (very) immature 15 year old, I had probably had worse said and done to me. Apart from being hit by a couple of fruit in two years, I’ve only truly felt in danger on a couple of heart pounding occasions. Honestly, the only people I’ve ever received abuse from have either seemed slightly half-baked or are the type who often wander the streets looking for trouble (you know the sort).

I remember one time, walking one of my dogs around Phoenix Park, a guy went out of his way to shout, “Don’t bring that n****r dog around me”. My dog is a Pomeranian; a very fair one at that, so I’m not quite sure who he was abusing, to be honest. Or another time outside Heuston Station (I actually thought I would be beaten silly) when a very inebriated guy and his buddy who had previously been on the phone hung up and proceeded to hurl abuse at me and approach myself and Dusty (my sidekick Pomeranian). He was wearing a Manchester United top at the time (a team I support myself) and was telling me to go back to Alabama to pick cotton. Thanks, but no thanks; I have employment here.

Both of those incidents happened in 2011, so not too long ago. I’d like to think that most people in this city I call home are actually fairly sane and live in this century and not the 19th. The best of the people I’ve met in Dublin city – the most creative, the wisest and the most hardworking – have been nothing but welcoming to me. If it wasn’t for them, Dublin to me would be a foreign and alien place.

Dubliners are an extremely welcoming bunch 

There are over 60,000 people in Ireland right now that self-identify as being black, and I’m reluctantly one of them. Not because I’m not proud of who I am. I really am proud of my heritage. Not because I don’t identify with ‘black people’. I’d like to think that I do. I just have never really been one to strictly identify with or categorise myself in such a way. My friends consist of the people around me, white, black, yellow, it really doesn’t matter, and I don’t think it should. Maturing into the person I am today happened in Ireland, and, more specifically, in Dublin. If anyone asks where I’m from, the first thought that comes to mind is ‘Ireland’.

Just like everywhere in the world, there are those arseholes that are going to go out of their way to make everyone as miserable as they are, but I know for a fact that Dubliners in general, and probably more than anywhere else I’ve ever been, are an extremely welcoming bunch. I’ve never gotten less than full support from everyone I care to know and even strangers during tough times.

Any meaningful experience I’ve had of Dublin has happened in the last couple of years and I think that is only because I’ve made a conscious decision for Dublin to be a part of me as opposed to being a part of Dublin. I get a little mad when I hear people say, and I only saw this a little while ago, ‘I hate being back in this shite city’. If you think Dublin is shite, then you haven’t seen it the way I have.

There’s a way to go still to completely eradicate incidents against minorities in general, but I think we’re on the right track. There are so many amazing groups like the Anti-Racism Network doing great work, but it’s up to us all to do the right thing. We need to see more integration of minorities into the larger community and report and reduce racist incidents through education.

I might have been born in Lagos, but I was definitely made in Dublin, and I still have a lot of catching up to do. I’m still a tourist after all.

Timi Ogunyemi is a business student at DIT and founder of creative collective, Picture This! He spends his days out exploring the creativity that abounds in Dublin and his nights as a social media and communications representative with the Odeon Group. Follow him on Twitter @tweetymonkey

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