Hello from Tanzania! I write having spent a week in Tanzania and two weeks back in the States after spending a month in Ireland.
Things have been very busy and I’ve struggled as I’ve had lots to say with limited internet access, but I feel especially compelled to finish writing about Ireland before jumping into my experience in Tanzania!
I went to Ireland excited to learn about new race, class and gender norms in anew country. In light of this, I found that living in a country with a completely different history, size, government and economy challenged me to allow myself to open my mind to a world beyond and much different from the United States.
The number one lesson: do not bother trying to compare the United States and Ireland because the two countries are just too different. Example number one: Ireland has an apparently strong welfare system; one that supports the elderly, the homeless, the sick, children and most differently, the middle class. To an American liberal, it is a welfare utopia! That said, context offers insight on different angles to the nuances of the system in place. For example, Ireland has socialist roots as well as a history of being oppressed; both historical aspects that set the framework for modern day society to be especially supportive towards one another, and more open to taxes, compared to the individualistic, capitalistic roots of the United States. Additionally, the United States is massive compared to the tiny (___) that Ireland consumes, and has a population significantly larger and more heterogeneous than that of Ireland.
A few more instances that are easy to draw comparisons from that come straight to mind: the Ireland police force not carrying guns (something both conservatives and liberals in the United States would have very strong feelings about), the low number of black people and the discomfort around topics centered around race, the dark sense of humor aka lack of political correctness that shapes conversations.
My responses to each of these: 1) Ireland stopped using guns because terrorism was so bad at the time of independence, and everybody was so tired of guns and their children being threatened that they decided to make the country safer with what at the time seemed like a very miniscule step. 2) Yes, Ireland has quite a low portion of colored people; that said, this has more to do with its inaccessibility as a distant island off of northern continental Europe than it is due to somebody deliberately saying “we do not want colored people here”. Not to mention, unlike in America, they did not enslave people and FORCE them to live in their country; instead, they were fighting for their won independence and rights. 3) Yes, humor is a lot cruder than it is in America, and the c-word is far more common. Additionally, global politics are seen more as something to laugh about than something to actively debate. Contrary to how this all would be interpreted in America, Irish people are not simply ignorant or unaware; rather, their history has shaped a mentality where it feels funny to take anything too seriously. Moreover, their geological placement and political neutrality removes them from everyday global political banter that can be taken too seriously do to a country’s personal stakes.
All of this said, one common thread that I found between the United States and Ireland was the way that specifically race and class norms interrelate with the government. Ireland is not immune to the immigration policy of the European Union that asks each member country to accept a specific number of refugees. Additionally, Ireland is becoming a very appealing place to immigrate to due to its economy and social welfare system in place.
A couple interesting dynamics that I observed during my time in Ireland demonstrated the potential for scary opportunities for the development of prejudice and propanda. For starters, black, South African immigrants often get pushed to the marginalized part of society with Irish Travelers (basically gypsies) due to their lack of money. Integrating into these communities results in these immigrants being trapped in a social group with high rates of crime and illness as well as low rates of education and employment. Thus, specific stereotypes and prejudices develop enabling an opportunity for racist propaganda and potentially the governmental institutionalization of racism. Another example, because any European citizen can benefit from the Irish welfare if he/she has an address, some non-Irish people find a part-time address in Ireland so that they may receive the benefits. Que more anti-immigrant rhetoric centered around immigrants taking housing, welfare and jobs!
In light of modern day current events and looking ahead, Ireland is a particularly interesting country to observe because on one hand, it has an inclusive mentality and a desire to continue to be inclusive due to its dark history; however, on the other, it is a very patriotic country shaped by a very specific history that the Irish hold close to themselves.
Though I always love learning about social issues, the best of my time was undoubtedly spent with friends hiking, biking and enjoying pub culture. I have uploaded several pictures below; enjoy! More to come about Tanzania SOON!