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‘I was looked down on as a black woman’

Wednesday, 1st August, 2018 4:57pm

As she prepares to return to Cork’s Indiependence festival this weekend, Clara Rose Thornton is well settled in Ireland.

Based in Dublin for the last five years, the poet and spoken word artist describes her relationship with the Emerald Isle as “love/hate”. As a woman of colour, she says Ireland is still lagging behind in terms of cultural diversity.

“The stereotypes and how people speak to you sometimes shows there’s still a lot of work to do. But nowhere is perfect,” she equivocates.

The daughter of a Chicago jazz musician, Thornton is an interviewer’s dream. Over more than thirty minutes, we meander through subjects as varied as Cork city (“less aggressive and ego-driven” than its Dublin counterpart), Black Lives Matter and ‘On the Road’.

“You’re going to be transcribing this for years!” she laughs gleefully.

Thornton boasts an impressive CV; culture journalist, radio and television broadcaster, spoken word artist, poetry workshop instructor, and event organiser, she is also a three-time Dublin/Leinster Slam Poetry champion, and has carried out poetry workshops with InkBlot Complex in several countries.

She has been a contributor to both TV and radio for the likes of RTE, the Irish Times and District magazine.

Focusing on areas like feminism, racism and social identity in her work, Thornton even helped create the first Black History Month Ireland in 2014, and is a proud activist.

Being drawn to such themes, she says, stems from “being a young, single back woman travelling the world”, something she saw as unusual.

“I’ve always been a seeker. I’d read all about white men travelling the world, in books like Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, but never saw myself reflected in those narratives. So I thought ‘well, why can’t I do that?” she says.

Travelling alone, she warns, has not been without its hitches. She remembers the first time she was racially abused, at a costume party on a small Croatian island.

With wild olive bushes and medieval walls circling her, it seemed idyllic. All of a sudden, Thornton felt eerily unsafe.

“I was called the n-word, and nobody stood up for me because they didn’t want a fuss. I realised I was in this tiny place with no other tourists. I was looked down on as a black woman, just for showing up. Ever since, I’ve written poems about that feeling of being ‘othered’.”

Being made to feel different because of your identity is sadly an all too universal experience for many in today’s society, especially given the current resurgence in far-right leanings in some areas of the world. Thornton has written new work to show off in Cork about the current Brexit/Trump political climate, and she believes the current political climate is just a blip.

“We made solid progress over the last few generations in how we treat each other, and now we have the dying gasp of the old guard,” she laments.

“But you can see in the marches and protests against these disgusting sentiments how people feel it doesn’t represent them. It’s great to see.”

On a lighter note, Thornton is clearly relishing a return to the real capital. She says: “I always tell my friends that Indiependence really treats its artists so well, and to try and put it on their calendar. It’s good vibes all round down there. I can’t wait!”

Catch Clara Rose Thornton’s spoken word show at Indiependence 2018 at Deer Farm in Mitchelstown from 3-5 August.

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