Nanny, Ma & Me opens with a poignant description of the murder of George Floyd in May of last year.
We soon discover that this is part of the reason why mixed-race Irish actress Jade Jordan felt compelled to share her family story.
“When we stay silent in the face of racist behavior,” she wrote, “we are no different from those Minneapolis cops who watched their colleague choke the African American to death.
“The resistance starts at home, so this story is my contribution.”
This contribution is a three-part memoir of three women united by blood but separated by generations: a grandmother (Kathleen), a mother (Dominique) and a daughter (Jade). Everyone shares their stories of life in Dublin and London through the prism of their race and identity.
Kathleen, the white daughter of a production manager at the state industrial agency Gaeltarra Éireann, paints a portrait of old Ireland. She makes several references to ‘different times’, such as when collecting a penny for ‘black babies’ was a weekly affair in Catholic schools, or when the pay for newly trained nurses in mental hospitals was £ 400. for women but £ 435 for men and the term “mentally retarded” was a socially acceptable description of its inhabitants.
It’s an Ireland that young people today, including Jade, might find it hard to believe exist without the stories of women like Kathleen.
In the late 1950s, Kathleen made the impulsive decision to move to London, where she fell in love and married a Jamaican man, Larry.
She remembers a city free from color prejudice and racism, a place that was not covered with the legendary signs that read: “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”. This raises the question of whether racism is only visible to people who choose to witness it. Readers may have questions.
While the performance of Kathleen from London is a place that champions diversity and does not include discrimination in marrying a black man or having a mixed-race child – Dominique, born in 1966 – her memory of Ireland is very different.
As they walked the streets of Dublin, passers-by asked Kathleen if her children had been adopted; some even asked if she was babysitting. This ostracization by parts of Irish society is reinforced in Dominique’s story when she remembers that she was not wanted at her great-uncle’s funeral and had to wait hours on the wall. in front of his white grandmother’s house.
Despite being born in east London and bullied by a nun at school after the family’s unexpected move to Dublin in 1978, Dominique expresses a deep connection to her Irish roots.
Her part of the memoir portrayed Dublin city center as a place with an incredibly strong sense of community, where women traded and bartered ‘what little they had’. This contradiction of Kathleen’s experience of feeling marginalized in Dublin is testament to the power of this perspective.
Dominique describes the people of downtown Dublin as “the best people you can meet,” while Kathleen remembers her black husband being watched on the street. Where Kathleen did not see the prejudices of color in London, Dominique, of mixed race, was confronted with insults such as “bastard” from the children of her father’s friends.
There comes a time when every child of mixed ethnicity is forced to ask “What am I?” For some it happens quite young, for others it happens later in life.
Jade, the product of two generations of interracial love, was forced to question her identity in sophomore year at her drama school, Bow Street Academy, after being ordered to tick the ‘mixed race’ box during filling out forms for casting agents.
As she shares racist experiences of her childhood in 21st century Ireland, she portrays a country that is vastly different from that described by her mother and grandmother.
Their collective narratives make this memoir a compelling story of Ireland told through the prism of those who have deviated from what was considered the norm. In his heart, Nanny, mom and me is a story of connection: connection to family, friends and Irish identity.
In the prologue, Jade alludes to highlighting the “dark side of Irish society”. It’s not as dark as some might expect, but in a recent Ireland AM interview, she said: “There were a lot of things we didn’t share because they weren’t ready to share.”
Readers will find that the stories of Kathleen, Dominique and Jade Jordan raise fundamental questions on the basis of a person’s cultural identity. The lack of “darker” details of Irish society should not weigh too heavily on this book. What is more important is that Nanny, mom and me will encourage nuanced conversations about identity and challenge those who believe there is only one way to look and be Irish.
Memoir, Nanny, Ma and Me by Kathleen, Dominique and Jade Jordan
Hachette Ireland, 304 pages, paperback € 16.99; eBook £ 8.49