In the interests of clawing back everything famous which came out of Norn Iron…
Humour. Its a funny thing, really isn’t it? No pun intended.
How often do we make jokes out of issues that can actually be really sensitive issues? Particularly in Northern Ireland perhaps? Our humour is largely based on sarcasm and teasing. So much so that when there’s a foreigner amongst us, we have to explain that we actually like, rather than despise, each other.
We make jokes about marriage, singleness, appearance, gender… and sometimes its seriously not funny. Today, after leading worship I was told:
“You’re not bad… for a girl”.
Talk about the wrong thing to say to the wrong person at the wrong time.
So, I went to my “cardio kick” exercise class on Monday. A proud moment of self-control and discipline in the face of i’d-rather-die-than-go-ness and a event of marvel in itself. We’ll skip over the fact that my punches and kicks were rather half-hearted and that I only did one sit up for everyone else’s two…
Being still relatively near the start of a new year there were lots of unfamiliar faces there. A couple of late teens were there with their mum and were wearing Gaelic tops. Instantly I felt intimidated. Now, its not like I’ve never seen people in Gaelic tops before – I work with an all-Ireland student movement after all. But this was different! This was in a town not known for its peaceable catholic-protestant relations; in what should have felt like neutral territory.
I leant towards my friend and whispered “Its hardly the place to wear Gaelic tops, is it?”. She agreed: “It makes quite a statement doesn’t it? We wouldn’t wear Rangers football tops here.”
Now, please don’t misunderstand me; these feelings of intimidation did not incite religious hatred nor strong desires to assert my identity as a British/Northern Irish Protestant (though I’m pretty sure those things would be low on my list of identity definers if they made it at all!). It was simply a reaction to the association with a ‘side’ that has become common in Northern Ireland. Like, even seeing a huge Union Jack flying outside a house last week put me on my guard…
…then I remembered I was in England.
Back in the leisure centre up the road, though, I was feeling uncomfortable – but I didn’t really think too much about it until I realised I was wearing my Christian “CSSM” t-shirt. Why, if I could wear that, could they not wear their Gaelic tops? Why did it matter?
Basically, it shouldn’t matter – and in terms of my feelings of non-hatred for people from a Roman Catholic background it doesn’t matter! Rather, it seems to be that I am a victim (awww poor me! 😉 ) of the culture of bigotry I’ve grown up in – not from my family’s influence, but more I guess the divided school system, the eventful news, the ‘no football tops’ signs over bowling alley doors…
Meaning that, rather than a sports tops reflecting an enjoyment of the sport or a flag being a symbol of wholesome patriotism, I have grown up interpreting these things as a political statement:
“This is who I am and if you’re different, you’re my enemy.”
If that’s me, from a middle of the road un-bigoted Christian family, I can only imagine the depth to which such lies run amongst those for whom painting curb stones and hanging flags is an ‘innocent’ past-time…