- 24 Nov 21
Demi Isaac Oviawe shares her thoughts and experiences as part of 100 Voices: #AllAgainstRacism.
Demi Isaac Oviawe,
Actor (The Young Offenders)
I came to this country when I was two-years old. Both my parents are Nigerian. My mum passed away when I was five, so I moved in with my step-mum and her family. My dad and his brother were living with us as well.
I want to say I was privileged enough to experience Irish culture to the fullest extent. It wasn’t just about learning Gaeilge in school. I ate bacon and cabbage, I had a roast on a Sunday, I went to the pub with my nan. At the same time, I ate African food and loved African music. I got the best of both cultures.
I was the only Black girl in my class for so long, and I hated my hair. I’m still so insecure about it: it’s not silky, straight or blonde. I also used to get picked-on for having big lips, and now they’re a trend.
Of course I experienced racism. Growing up, I used to get called the N-word, and I never knew why. I was seen as whitewashed by the Black kids, but I was too Black for the white kids. I didn’t really fit in until later on, when I went to secondary school.
I’ve never been profiled by the guards, but my brother went to the basketball court to collect my brother and they pulled him to the side. He’s 15, and they thought he was selling drugs so they emptied his pockets. This is after Black Lives Matter.
Being a Black woman is difficult, because your race is always brought to the fore – even when you’re being pursued romantically by someone. Any woman of colour can tell you that when a man approaches you, it’s because you’re exotic and of a certain ethnic group. It’s not because of who you are as a person. They think I’m Black and have a fat arse! Being a girl, there’s always insecurities about how you look. I’m plus-size and very broad.
I started on TV when I was 16. I was a nobody until The Young Offenders, and then I was seen nationwide and abroad. I was always addressed as ‘the Black wan off the telly’ instead of Demi. It used to make me so mad. I know it’s the only way to identify me, but learn my name!
I did Dancing With The Stars when I was 18. I always saw negative comments from women in their 40s and 50s. Older women with grandkids or kids my age insulted me because of the colour of my skin. It’s all over the internet, it wasn’t just muttered to someone down the road. I did a seminar last summer and I was talking about how Irish TV doesn’t have representation and then the IFTA nominations came out. I’m not ready to be nominated, but there wasn’t a single person of colour nominated. That’s so discouraging. We just want to be acknowledged for our work like everyone else.
I do blame television and streaming platforms. Fair City has one person of colour. One. It’s been running for decades. Our towns are multicultural. It’s a lot more than just blue-eyed, blonde-haired people. Yet Zainab Boladale and Nadine Reid are the only Black TV broadcasters in Ireland. That’s just heartbreaking.
Just because we do interviews doesn’t mean we’ll enact major change – it’ll take a lot more than that. But I’m hopeful about Ireland embracing a multi-cultural society. That really is the way we need to go now.
Read Part 1 of 100 Voices: #AllAgainstRacism, in the current issue of Hot Press. Available to pick up in shops now, or to order online below:
Special thanks to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for their support in this project.