Sahar Ali is black, and describes herself as Arab-Irish. She was born in Saudi Arabia to Sudanese parents and spent some time in Scotland before ending up in Ireland. She returned to Saudi Arabia as an adult to teach English. When asked what nationality she would consider herself, she says ‘I really don’t think it matters.’
While living on and off in Dublin for the last seven years, Sahar has been keeping a blog called ‘Saharcasm’. On the blog, she explores the phenomenon of intercultural interactions in Ireland, documenting her personal experiences of casual racism in this country. One post describes how Sahar requested to cancel her subscription to an Irish casting website because the only calls for audition she ever received were for:
“1. African farmer/maid/nurse, etc. 2. A scene which requires people of many races to show how diverse and accepting a particular company, community or place is … The love interest? The main character? No, Ireland is not ready for that yet. It’s only ready to use you to portray to the world that it is ready.”
Sahar wants to open up a conversation about ‘Irishism, Arabism and racism’, to, as she puts it, ‘dedicate 15 minutes to blackness’. Her show embraces spoken word, comedy and music as a frame to approach the issue of racial and cultural stereotyping in the less confrontational space that humour affords.
Though her Saharcasm blog inspired the title of the show, the material is different. Sahar’s blog charts her personal experiences of, and views on, issues of race in Ireland (and beyond). Saharcasm the show doesn’t draw on personal experience, and there’s a clear reason for this.
“The show isn’t based on personal experiences because, when we make a judgement about someone based on their appearance or ethnicity, we don’t get to those personal stories. We stay on the surface.”
The show instead explores ‘caricatures’ that reflect assumptions about race and culture back at the audience. There’s also a comparison of multicultural America with multicultural Ireland, and the former’s much longer history of diversity. Still, Ireland has been multicultural for some time now and Sahar is impatient with the tendency to excuse racism with the line “we don’t know any better”. From her blog:
“A while ago, another human being and I had a chat about the lack of cultural awareness in Ireland. Said human being stated that it was mainly due to the fact that “We just don’t know” and, to me that sounds like an excuse which cowardly coats the ludicrous implication that it is my responsibility to let people know.”
Words: Rachel Donnelly