Loah On What 'Identity' Means To Her In 2020

"There came a realisation that in our current world, ‘black’ and ‘Irish’ are not yet married in spirit or in concept; so neither could I be."

For the July/August of Irish Tatler magazine, we asked three Irish women for their thoughts on what identity means in this country in 2020. Below is what musician/singer/songwriter Loah, aka Sallay Garnett, had to say on the topic.

“Where are you originally from?” I bristle, I pause and reply: “I am Irish-Sierra Leonean. My mam’s Irish and my dad’s Sierra Leonean. I grew up here... and over there.”

There came a moment in my adult life when I gave up fighting this question.

I gave up fighting that my Irishness had to be enough, my experience had to be enough. That my accent had to be enough, my education had to be enough. The realisation that in our current world, ‘black’ and ‘Irish’ are not yet married in spirit or in concept; so neither could I be.

And why, how, could I even want to choose between them? There came a moment that I fully embraced every time I would have the great good fortune of stepping foot onto the red dust of Freetown (home).

As I would joyfully breathe in the heat, I would always have the simultaneous longing for the rolling hills of Ireland (home); the smell of cut grass. These two strands of my spirit would spend a lifetime attempting to braid themselves into one.

‘Blackness is political.’ It is an experience visited upon you by centuries of geopolitics. Blackness is an experience visited upon you by centuries of trade: the trade of human beings for gold, the trade of trust for violence, the trade of self-knowledge for a warped history. Blackness is an experience visited upon you the first time you are called the n-word.

The first time you noticed someone was ashamed to be seen with you. The first time you experience the unwarranted, unprepared-for physical assailing of your body. Little did we know, ‘blackness’ was a construct created to validate the existence of ‘whiteness’.

In truth, neither exist.

I prefer African. African is the inheritance of a continent brimming with the explosive masterpieces of the Great Creator. African is the inheritance of people who have raised great voices, immaculate sounds to the heavens at every painful turn in history, seeking deliverance; at every joyful turn, in celebration. African is the inheritance of great empires that sowed their seed across the continents; their physics, their wisdom, their mysteries, awaiting the harvest. It is the inheritance of skin that inhales sun like the breath of a wave.

When I emotionally and spiritually zoom out from the physical, and I try to very often through meditation, there comes the deeper awareness that we are not the body. There is the magic
that is incarnation – to be conceived and grown in the womb of the chosen woman, for the chosen father. There is the magic of growing and learning, desperate joy, desperate pain, desperately in between.

The miraculous accident of birth chooses for us our place, our time, our body. From that first crying breath, we join the great dance. I truly believe, however, that the soul which chooses to incarnate in human form remains untouched; blissful, at peace with all that is.

When the great dance is over, it slips back into the stream of the unending energy of the Great Creator whence all things come; and that, for me, is our true identity.

Main image by @musicbyloah

This piece of writing was taken from the current issue of Irish Tatler magazine. To read what Fionnghuala O'Reilly, the first black Miss Ireland, and Áine Mulloy, co-founder of female networking app Girl Crew, each wrote on the topic, pick up our High-Summer issue, which is on shelves now.

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