Time to tackle Ireland’s problem with racism

Time to tackle Ireland’s problem with racism

There is only one race: the human race. 

These words were shouted by protesters at a Black Lives Matter march held in Dingle at the beginning of this month.

Heated protests of this kind have been held all over the world since the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, America and some locals wanted to show their solidarity with black people who have been suffering for far too long.

The march conveyed an important message to the people of Dingle too.

There are plenty who think the Irish are not racist.

I understand why they might think so.  We were oppressed for centuries.  Our autonomy was taken from us.  You would think we might empathise with others who are being similarly mistreated.

If only this were true.

We all know someone who thinks and says offensive things about black people.  It could be someone in our family, in our workplace or someone we occasionally hear making racist comments in a bar.

All too often, we let those remarks go.  We do not challenge them.  Instead, we smile nervously and pretend it is a joke so that the conversation moves on.

I have to admit I have done this in the past.  I did not want to cause a scene.  I did not want to make anyone uncomfortable, least of all myself.  So, I stayed silent.

I now know this was a mistake.  Because I did not speak, there is every chance the person who made these comments thought I agreed with them.

There is every chance they now think the nasty things they said were acceptable to say in decent society.

Even worse, they may have gone on to say those same things to black people.  According to the most recent report from the Irish Network Against Racism, more people are doing just that.

The number of racist incidents reported in the first quarter of this year was double the number reported in the same period last year.

A total of 276 incidents were reported in the first three months of 2020 compared with 132 in 2019.

Remember that these are only the reported figures.  We all know that only a small percentage of the true figure gets reported.

The stories coming out of America are heart-breaking and they are not new.

They have a long and violent history going back generations.

The history of racism in Britain is different but there have been generations of suffering and heartbreak there too.

There is not much I can do here in Ireland about racism in other countries, but I can do something about it here at home.

I heard someone say recently that racism is a white problem.  We are the ones who treat black people badly.

This means we also have the solution to the problem.

I, for one, am no longer going to remain silent when someone says or does something racist.  I do not care if I cause a scene or make others uncomfortable.

Black people have been suffering for far too long because people like me are not standing up for them.

I can afford to suffer a little if it means doing something to help.

It is not just black people who are experiencing racism either.

We have our own racist history in Ireland, not against black people (because they are relatively new arrivals in the country), but against Travellers.

There is a story in the news here at the moment about a Traveller man who sexually abused his seven daughters and younger sister for decades.

These daughters (who are now brave women) have said they think their situation was ignored because they were Travellers.

They believe the response of the State would have been different and they might have been spared years of suffering had they been settled people.

We have questions to answer about how racist we are here in Ireland.

I do not have the answers to these questions, but I do know that it is high time we started to ask them.

Whatever we do, we should not feel complacent about racism in our country because it has deep roots in our society.

We should set about tearing those roots up and treating the soil in such a way that they find it difficult to ever grow again.