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Opinion - Kylie Noble - The boxes we are born into in Northern Ireland often determine our futures

Published: 6 May 2014 15:000 comments

One of the late, great activist singer-songwriter Pete Seeger’s most famed songs is called “Boxes.”

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Its’ message is concerned with the intense conformity within American society to following the middle class, consumer orientated lifestyle but there is one line in the song that I feel relates very well to Northern Ireland; “And they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same.”

In Northern Ireland the majority of us are born into one of two ‘boxes’; either the Unionist or Nationalist community. The basis of our political system is grounded in this idea of two separate communities (as opposed to the notion of one often divided but mixed community); the DUP and Sinn Fein are our most popular parties and the continuity of their success will depend on maintaining a sectarian divide, in maintaining an us versus them majority.

Many citizens in Northern Ireland are born into their ‘box’ and never question the values and history of their community and never engage in learning why the ‘other side’ sees the political situation so differently.

I feel extremely fortunate that attending Queen’s has enabled me to question and challenge the status quo of unionism which I grew up in.

Before Queen’s I only happened to have a few Catholic friends because my school bus had a lot of pupils attending Catholic schools on it. QUB has a Catholic population of at least 60% due to the tendency of middle class Protestants to go to university in mainland UK.

Not only was starting QUB an awakening to gaining real understanding of ‘the other side’ but it was also an awakening of my social consciousness.

I started Queen’s having never had a friend who was gay and I am ashamed to admit I acutely recall feeling sort of freaked out upon meeting and properly talking to a gay person for the first time. I now have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender; I soon learnt that whatever our sexual orientation, we are all humans and we all deserve the same rights and respect.

I started Queen’s believing feminism was rather obsolete. I joked to a friend in September 2012 that perhaps by the time I left QUB I’d be one of those ‘raging feminists’; it took about three months. I was pro-life when I came to Queen’s and after much resistance I came to feel that despite my own moral issues over abortion they should not be dictated on anyone and became pro-choice.

I keenly joined the Alliance party in fresher’s week (perhaps still rather radical that from my mid-teens I rejected the DUP and UUP seeing both as old fashioned parties with predominantly old men running the show) and left exactly a year ago because of my disillusionment over the party’s voting on equal marriage.

The disillusionment didn’t last long however as I quickly found a home in the Green party of Northern Ireland where I was again challenged and radicalised by the passionate members who are activists first and foremost. I discovered that it is possible to look beyond and reject the dictative confines of both nationalism and unionism and look instead to internationalism.

All of this, if I was living in any other part of the U.K would be considered normal and probably be seen mainly as a positive - that I went to university, had my horizons widened, became a more engaged citizen and changed my views.

But in Northern Ireland this is by and large not a positive; I have stepped outside my box, some see me as a threat and a traitor to the community I was raised in and it hurts a bit.

It hurts because I think some people think I deliberately go out of my way to be ‘argumentative’ and defiant; I was told last year by a member of the clergy that ‘you like to be controversial’’; I do not seek to be controversial for the sake of it. I write what I think, from my heart and if it is controversial so be it.

I know there are many from my own community who probably despise me; some perhaps hate me for the left leaning articles I tend to write in this paper every week merely because I have opinions that oppose and challenge their own. What annoys me most is those who bring my family into it, who ‘blame’ them for my opinions, who demand they ‘correct’ them, those who have the audacity to publically harass members of my family; they are my opinions and if anyone has an issue they should take it up with me.

I guess the point of this piece is to state I know what I write often offends, upsets and angers many members of the Protestant community I grew up in. I never planned to become who I am, if you would have told me in my A level year how my beliefs would develop I likely would have fainted in shock; but I am who I am. I will not apologise for being honest in my writing.

As Seamus Heaney wrote, “How did I end up like this? I often think of my friends’, Beautiful prismatic counselling, And the anvil brains of some who hate me, As I sit weighing and weighing, My responsible tristia. For what? For the ear? For the people? For what is said behind-backs?”

I was recently visiting an aunt in Brookeborough and was so touched my one of her friends in her estate recognising me from this column. She was so adorable going as far to buy me a Happy Easter card and a wee knitted hen with a crème egg inside it.

So for all the critics, there’s the kind souls like this lady who remind me that what I write may not be appreciated by all, but there are some who do.

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