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Behind the Irish freckled skin, George Zimmerman and the Stones in Hyde Park

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George Zimmerman (Associated Press)
George Zimmerman (Associated Press)

There were two significant stories I followed over the weekend that brought back a long buried memory.

The first involved the trial of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. This trial of a “neighborhood watchman” untrained by law enforcement that shot and killed a teenager became, in my humble opinion, a media-sponsored circus that provoked unnecessary racial unrest in our nation.

Sidestepping the issue of Zimmerman’s innocence or guilt, I couldn’t help but think that media outlets pulled a race card on the collective nation to stoke emotions on both sides for the sake of ratings.

I am a Rolling Stones super-fan, so the second news item that caught my eye was the triumphant return of the Stones to Hyde Park in London. It was 44 years to the month that they performed their first concert without founding member Brian Jones. The images of Mick Jagger in a white frock releasing thousands of white butterflies in Jones’ memory is an iconic image from that legendary concert.

How are these two stories connected, you might ask? Where am I going with this?

For me, it started when my friends began weighing in on Facebook about the Zimmerman case. Being a registered independent, I wear it as a badge of honor to have folks of all persuasions on both sides of the aisle politically. You can imagine the hot debate of opposing views that streamed into my news feeds!

I’ll probably get tarred and feathered for saying this, but it is inevitable that my African American friends will assert that because I am white, I have never felt the sting of racial profiling whenever the subject of race comes up.

True, I am not black and don’t know the true impact of daily racism, but that gets my Irish blood percolating nonetheless. You can forgive them for thinking that my Irish freckled skin has never aroused suspicion, and that would show a lack of knowledge of The Troubles between the Irish and the British.

When you spent summers in Ireland and England in the seventies and early eighties as I had, you felt the sting of racism for being Irish.  Hyde Park reminds me of my biggest trouble with The Troubles.

I was visiting my Irish kin and all set to see the Rolling Stones at Slane Castle (did I mention I was a super-fan?) during July of 1982.

We decided to jet over to England to see relations before the concert and when we landed, we were confronted with the horrific news that eight British soldiers on ceremonial duty had been killed in two IRA bomb blasts in central London.

According to BBC reports at the time, the first blast, in Hyde Park, killed two soldiers and injured 23 others. The second explosion, in Regent’s Park, less than two hours later, killed six soldiers instantly and injured 24 people.

The IRA soon admitted carrying out the attacks, saying in a statement that echoed Margaret Thatcher's declaration of war on Argentina over the disputed Falklands that “the Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down."

We all watched in shock at the scenes of carnage in Hyde Park. I remember well the bloodied carcasses of the dead horses that were taken down by the nail bombs.

We slumped along, saddened and uneasy, toward the security gates.  There were metal detectors set up at baggage claim and as I went through, a buzzer went off.

I was pulled aside from the family and an interrogation and search ensued. I don’t remember the details of what was said, but I do remember the panic I felt at being alone and the jaundiced eye that was cast on my freckled skin.

An Irishman entering England from Ireland by way of America that enters the country on the day of an Irish terrorist attack is going to raise suspicion. After an exasperated search of where the metal was on my person, it was determined that the American braces on my teenaged teeth were made of a different material than British braces (thank God for that -- have you seen some of their teeth?) and I was soon let go after that foreign metallic source was discovered.

There was also the time that I made the mistake of seeing Riverdance on Broadway on the same night as both Gerry Adams and a gaggle of British dignitaries. I went on a church bus trip with my mother, and I suppose the British intelligence forces thought the presence of a lone man dressed in black leather with sunglasses and a driving cap that were also black looked a bit weird in a mix of blue-haired church gals, and I was once again singled and frisked until a few minutes before showtime.

Yes, these are mild cases when compared to what racism my African American friends have certainly felt over the years. Yet it is a mistake to assume that the Irish know nothing about the subject.

Of course, our race started on the bottom rung of the American socioeconomic ladder like everyone else.

If you want more recent examples, check out the brilliant book written by my buddy Colin Broderick. He has just written That’s That, which recounts his youth growing up among the tensions between the British and Irish in ways that are both hilarious and harrowing.

I’m sure this fellow parent’s prayers for Trayvon Martin’s mother and father will land in the right place with our Maker, even though my skin is a whiter shade of pale.

Mike Farragher’s book of essays can be found on www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com.

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