When I started teaching race and racism about twenty years ago, students’ response was brutal: ‘how can you, a foreigner, say that Ireland is racist? We are a friendly, welcoming people. And anyway, Irish people were victimised by the British – how can they possibly be racist?’ And my favourite: ‘There was no racism in Ireland until “these people” came’ – as if immigrants carry racism powder in their luggage.
It was the ‘as a foreigner’ bit that puzzled me. I was teaching a course that my colleague and co-author Robbie McVeigh had taught before me but there was no objection to him – a Northern Protestant – as there was to me, despite my personal experiences of antisemitism in ‘friendly’ Ireland. Perhaps I was telling it too bluntly. My first students in Trinity were teachers – I shudder to remember how opposed they were to accepting that Ireland is racist, wondering how they were going to deal with black Irish, Traveller, ‘foreign’ children? I do hope this has changed since.
And the denial continues. The ‘I am not a racist but…’ brigade keeps claiming that ‘it is not really’ racism; that it’s ignorance, personal prejudice, ‘bad apples’; that Irish immigration, asylum, direct provision and deportation policies are not ‘really’ racist’ – after all, don’t ‘we’ have the right to determine how many immigrants we let in?
But then in November 2013 you read about the treatment of members of ‘Call to Action Mixed Race Irish’ in state care in the 1950s and 1960s. As Evo Brennan says: ‘you weren’t held because of your colour. When you are held the carers wear gloves because you are contamination. You are the colour of excrement…’ She was told ‘your mother is a whore, your father’s a savage, you’re treated as a robot, as an object, as a monkey.’ Many of these mixed race people had fled to England where they could get lost in the crowd, yet they were and still are part of Ireland’s history, long before ‘these people came’. Read more
It’s November 5th 2013 and I have just returned from the protest to express solidarity with the Roma and to call for an end to State racism, organised by Anti Racism Network Ireland, the Irish Traveller Movement, and the Ireland branch of the European Network against Racism. It was heartening to see so many people there, yet some of us ‘old’ antiracists, reflected on the déjà vu element: we oldies have been going on such remonstrations since at least 1997, and our first thought was ‘here we go again!’ Now as then a couple of maverick TDs spoke, representatives from various antiracist groups, and representatives of the main racialised group involved – the Dublin Roma – but one wonders how many times more shall we meet holding banners and chanting old reliable slogans… The following are some of my reflections on the most recent incident of racial persecution… here I go again…
When my mother was growing up in a picturesque spa town in northern Romania as part of a thriving Jewish community (most of whom were exiled by the Romanian fascist regime to Transnistria during World War II), she was constantly warned about children-snatching ‘gypsies’. When the family made its way to Palestine in 1940 and stayed for a few weeks in Bucharest, her parents warned her not to go out during what was a pogrom of Bucharest’s Jews – as a blonde, she would be identified as a Jew. Such are the complexities of the racialisation of Europe’s most persecuted minorities at the time – Roma and Jewish people.
The recent abductions by the Gardai – abduction is the only appropriate term (by the state, not the Roma) – of two blonde Roma children in Dublin and Athlone bring to mind not only the issue of racial profiling, but also the position of Roma people, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, in so-called civilised Europe.
A lot has been written about Roma people in the past weeks resulting from the discovery of three blonde children in Roma families in Greece and Ireland. In all three cases, it was the vigilance of ordinary (racist) members of society that led to the children being removed from their families, in Ireland in total contravention of the Child Care Act. I do not wish to reiterate these cases, even though the injustice in the Irish case is worthy of comment, but rather reflect on the way Roma people epitomise European racism at its crudest. Read more