The different faces of immigration — and discrimination

The different faces of immigration — and discrimination

I’m not claiming any kind of victimhood but I do see the importance of being accurate. I grew up and came of age in a pre-PC and a pre-woke age.

Do you remember PC, political correctness? It’s woke from ten years ago. The anti-woke warriors used to regularly complain of political correctness gone mad. The terminology has changed but the proponents of bigotry are the same.

I grew up in an Irish family in an Irish community in an immigrant neighbourhood in a hard English city. I had a very happy, loving, childhood. A lucky childhood. I don’t really have any tale of suffering or misery to relate. I do, though, have an accurate recall of what those days were like. They were days when prejudice and hate were given free rein.

Social discourse, everyday communication, was littered with casual references that were racist or sexist or just plain hateful. I sat in a class at the age of fourteen and listened to a teacher say black people shouldn’t get the vote as they couldn’t read.

The National Front had a party political broadcast on the television. At football matches black footballers had bananas thrown at them. And that wasn’t that long ago. I’m still only in my fifties.

Then there was the Irish context. I grew up in a city notorious for the bombing of two pubs by the IRA and the wrongful conviction of six Irish men in response. We grew up with a lock on our letterbox for fear of reprisal and a heightened sense of Irishness. My mother and my father faced overt, casual, hidden, and direct prejudice for being Irish in a city that was their home for over forty years. We didn’t hide under a rock; as I’ve said I’m not claiming a suffering I didn’t endure, but we didn’t parade either. We just lived our lives in a certain context.

That context would have been infinitely harder if I’d been not just the son of immigrants but the son of immigrants with black or brown faces. This would then be a completely different story. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recently released a report that said racism and discrimination were having a ‘devastating’ impact upon second generation young people in Ireland from minority backgrounds.

The somewhat diminishing term ‘micro aggression’ was used to describe the most common form of abuse these young people experienced. It describes primarily verbal slurs referring to people’s colour or ethnic background.

I appreciate that’s a technical or academic use of language but I’m not sure I’d feel there was anything micro about being verbally assaulted on a regular basis. So you are a young man or woman from Dublin or Cork or Limerick or any town or village in this country and if you have a black or brown face the chances are that you have experienced something utterly negative from your fellow Irish people purely on the basis of your skin colour.

What is that doing to an entire generation’s sense of self worth, sense of identity, and simple happiness? And that is the reality of racism, bigotry and it’s flag waving proponents. Of course this doesn’t even include the bravery bigots exhibit online where social media allows them to reach out to like- minded people writhing with hate. In the online world anyone with a mobile phone and a selfie stick can declare themselves a journalist and anyone who rants long enough in to a camera can declare themselves an activist. Lonely, socially inept, poorly educated Irish people are finding meaning in hate, whilst strangely, dreaming they could emulate the ultra-Brit Tommy Robinson.

My mother, who is in her eighties, was told by a contemporary recently: “Our Ireland has gone. Unless they send all the immigrants back.”

My mother replied. “Yes, Ireland has changed. It would have wanted to, seeing as how old we are. But weren’t you and I immigrants too? Over there in England? What’s the difference between us and these ones now?”

Being Irish, she went on to tell me, it was all we had at times. But any fool can be born in a place. It’s not much of an achievement.

Immigration is the fundamental social fact of modern Irish history. It is utterly dispiriting that we might allow the ignorant and the blatant deniers of what being Irish means to denigrate those young Irish who come from immigration themselves. Because the only thing less of an achievement than birthplace is being wrapped in the flag of that birthplace as if that somehow makes you more.

Joe Horgan tweets at @JoeHorganwriter