The first time I was aware of racism was with my mother. We were in the process of selling the family home and some black people came to view it. When they left my mum said, “I don’t think I can sell it to them. What would the neighbours think?”
As an in-your-face teenager, I turned around to her and said, “Would you sell it to Mrs Davis?”
“Oh, of course I would!” responded my mum. Now, Mrs Davis was a black lady who attended our church. We knew her well and liked her a lot. My mum wasn’t a bigoted woman. She just didn’t know many black people and had a fear of the unknown. But she wasn’t right in her instinctive reaction.
When I announced that I was moving to Ireland, I was told innumerable jokes about the Irish. The strange thing was when I reached Dublin, I heard all the same jokes but told at the expense of Kerry men. We all want to feel we are special and different and if we’re honest, better than everyone else. That our normal is right and proper.
Living with an English accent in Dublin, I have met prejudice, racism, discrimination, idiocy – whatever you want to call it. Most of it has been harmless although on occasion hurtful. But on the 15th February 1995 travelling home on the Dart from work at lunchtime, I was in a crowded carriage with English and Irish soccer supporters. The atmosphere was toxic and aggressive. I was afraid. I firmly clamped my mouth shut until they had all left the carriage in Lansdowne Road. I think all of those remaining in the carriage let out a collective sigh of relief. It was no surprise when I heard later in the day that there had been a riot at the match. I have no idea why that day become so charged but it was there way before the match.
These are all small examples of racism. Nothing to compare with the awful events in America in the last fortnight. I feel hugely inadequate in finding anything to say but I do know
- No one of any race should be abused.
- The mindless brutality that was applied speaks of people who are afraid and who don’t have the training and self-confidence to behave well in all situations
- The pain and anguish that has erupted since speaks of years of pent up anger and frustration
Why do we fear difference so much? Are we afraid that if we don’t dominate, others will? Are we afraid that we will be forced to live in a way that we’re not comfortable with? What does this say to us in Ireland where difference has been such an issue?
I’m never going to able to solve Ireland’s, England’s or America’s problems but
- I can look at what I say and make sure it is kind.
- I can try to understand everyone and accept them as they are.
- I can make sure that I take responsibility for my own actions treating everyone as I would want to be treated myself.
- I can step in and speak up for someone else who is being disadvantaged whether that’s in my home, my street or the world.
The question is, will I?