Checking if Protestant Eyebrows Met in the Middle

Guest writer Davy Carlin continues to share with TPQ readers his story about the  experience of growing up as a young black person in West Belfast.

In all of those organisations in those earliest of days that I had joined or associated with, many had fought for a Socialist Republic {and state that they still do}.

It was there that I had got my various forms of training – it was there I had honed my skills in oratory and debate, in which I could eventually give talks on not only Irish history but of revolutionary histories of many countries the world over. I could debate economists on the economy, scientists on all matters scientific, and from senior lecturers to senior political activists and many more, I could hold my ground and win arguments on the widest of subjects.

Street agitation and mobilisation for me was also essential, as real and fundamental change had to come from below. And from childhood weaponry – and indeed armoury, I could get tooled up with much, as such was the times and child at war access – to those street battles, to those I had known, and more.

This again, was another form of revolutionary training – and more learning for later life.

Yet within all those organisations stated, I had known and do know many involved who are good genuine working class activists, those who genuinely believe in a better society for all and for a better world.

Of course many mistakes were made during that period of revolutionary struggle and also terrible killings and brutality abounded, with organisations from all sides as well as the state {and more} having all played their part in such.

For me from the earliest of age I came to realise that on many occasions those Republican/Socialist organisations in childhood, while I had seen them as my protectors from the brutality of the state, that for most Protestants they would see that very differently.

Indeed I didn’t wake up one day and say that I am whatever shade of Republican or Revolutionary Socialist or Anarchist or supporter of such.

No – in those childhood years I was made what I was by my surroundings and my instinct to re – act against such.

And so Protestants therefore would re-act differently to their believed onslaught, I had thought, and with that, I had wanted to understand more, as even from an early age I wanted to find my own answers too much.

I remember back now to my early teenage years of two people going against all the convention of the times – and so seeing a black youth from Bobby Sand’s estate – and a girl a year older than myself from a Loyalist estate on Black’s Road.

We dated for a few short months, with us initially having to meet on an agreed spot, we thought for our own safety. 100 metres or so from the local army barracks, as so she felt safe, and on a busy road leading up to my estate so I felt safe – this in full view to both the barracks and the road. Yet we talked for many hours and eventually some of my mates met some of her mates, and we just had a sound time.

I had found that, for some of them, their lives were little different in material terms to ourselves, with our hopes, fears and dreams seeing many being similar. Of course we all checked to see if the ‘other sides’ eyebrows met in the middle, if their tongues where forked or of how they said H or did they have hairy knuckles etc, all to see what was myth and legend of what we were told about each other – and of what was real.

And I pondered how my outlook to life would have been had I been born into a Loyalist estate rather that at that time, a Republican one.

Yet in later decades I would sit around tables debating with and engaging with leaderships of Loyalist Paramilitary groups from various sides, and more especially with many other working class Protestants.

Yet knowing, having caring relationships with, having developed good friendships with Protestant working class people from those earliest of teenage years {while at times still having real reason to fear for one’s life on occasions – as such were the times} – that had given me a greater insight and understanding to the ‘unity of class’ as opposed to the separation through religion and/or through political ideology.

Indeed I came to learn in later life as to how flags, may they be Nationalist or Unionist are stapled to many tables of poverty to attempt to take away from the real issues of concern – you take away the flags, the religious and political dogma, the self-interest – then there is little difference between the Falls and Shankill roads the world over.

But like much else in this world, it is kept skewed that way, as it suits the needs of some – and the real cannon fodder in most part, comes from those working class areas.

And so, as with those differing political groups, {who many still resent each other due to the historical bloodletting – or the fact that dogma kept them apart, etc} I had then also found both understanding and friendship also with Protestants, and this had then developed into similar with some Jewish people and as to how they were not all ultra conservative Zionists who hated all things Palestinian.

Indeed perception articulated from my surroundings, church, state, peers, relatives, friends etc., { and more especially fear induced perception} I would not let that be my reality as I knew it at that time {even in those earliest of years}.

And so eventually within this life as a whole, I started to seek my own answers to even greater questions within – but again through direct experience.

I was then jolted again back to 2012 reality, as the taxi stopped.

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