Identity is central to Jade Jordan’s new book, Nanny, Ma and Me. In one of the many poignant and striking parts of this story, we see what happens when identity is put into (or in this case left out of) boxes.
A mixed-race Irish actor, towards the end of her second year in drama school in London, Jade and her classmates had to fill out forms for casting agents. There was an ethnicity boxing ticking exercise. However, the only option pertaining to Ireland was “white Irish”, which Jade selected. She was later told to change it and select “mixed race” instead.
I’m super proud to be Irish. I really, really am. I love Ireland, I love the people
“I had white Irish [as an option], and I was Irish, but I wasn’t white. Even though I had always ticked that because it was the only one [option] I had. I wasn’t black on its own. That was always really hard,” Jade explains, “because I’m super proud to be Irish. I really, really am. I love Ireland, I love the people.
“It just always baffled me that I couldn’t be the two. Thankfully we have it now, which is bloody great, but why wasn’t that there then? Jesus, I’m in my early 30s.”
Jade graduated from drama school in 2013.
Through the generations
Nanny, Ma and Me doesn’t just tell Jade’s story. As it says on the tin, it also depicts Jade’s grandmother Kathleen and her mother Dominique’s stories. Three Irish women, each with something to tell.
The book starts with George Floyd’s murder and the feelings it stirs up in Jade. Particularly as she has already begun the process of documenting her family history.
Jade wants to highlight that racism is present in Irish society also; which three generations of her family have experienced, either through loving another or simply by being themselves.
“I’m talking to Nanny and Ma, asking questions, probing their pasts, and I’m shocked to discover what they went through. I’m a Black Irish woman, the daughter of another Black Irish woman who struggled for a long time because of her skin colour.”
In the 1950s Kathleen Jordan left Dublin for London to train as a nurse. There she fell in love and married Larry, a Jamaican man.
Perspective in the book is interesting. Even though in London it was a time of the much-talked-about ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ signs in windows, Kathleen doesn’t recall experiencing any racism in London.
“I always say that was Nanny’s way of coping with stuff,” Jade says, “just ignoring. Nanny’s not an argumentative type. She’s not one to pick up on things. She sees the good in everybody. That’s just the type of human she is. I genuinely think that was her way of coping, that she didn’t see those things.”
I was picking her brain and you couldn’t help but see the tears roll down her face
When Kathleen moved back to Dublin in the 1970s with her children, Jade’s mother Dominique found the transition very difficult. Even in Jade’s research for the book, Dominique could only let out so much.
“I was picking her brain and you couldn’t help but see the tears roll down her face at points when I was asking her questions. I think Ma suppressed a lot more than she was willing to let out, which is absolutely fine, that’s her safe space. It was really, really difficult for her.”
Jade’s piece of the story, although it is the most recent instalment, is still punctuated by racist incidents.
Even after finishing writing the book, her life still is. Doing her Christmas shopping in Dublin last December, Jade was racially abused.
He didn’t need to use that word. A grown man in his 50s
“You know when you’re going in the same direction as someone, you dodge them and you get in each other’s way. I said, ‘Sorry, excuse me.’ And he called me a ‘stupid N word’. I walked off, maybe five or 10 steps. Then I turned around and said, ‘Here pal, how bleedin’ dare you speak to me like that.’
“He could have called me anything there. He didn’t need to use that word. A grown man in his 50s. No response, he couldn’t reply to me. He couldn’t even look at me in the eye.”
For Jade, awareness and education are key to improving things.
“I believe we can bring about a cultural transformation regarding racism if we speak out about it; if we highlight the way things are, the behaviours of people, and challenge them.”
Only as she got older, did Jade begin to question things more, question life more, question why certain things happened to her and not others.
“To look back and go, ‘Wow, I never had that.’ I’ve had conversations with black and brown friends and they say the exact same. They were like, it doesn’t really hit home until you hit a certain age. There was a struggle to find identity there.”
Thankfully, although we have a way to go, there are now more boxes to choose from when it comes to identity.