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
On 14-15 May a Diaspora Forum conference was held in Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Dublin. It aimed to celebrate migration, migrants and the contribution the diaspora makes to home countries. Keynote speaker, the Economist business editor Robert Guest celebrated mass migration, which, he said, makes the world brainier. If a century ago, migrants crossed the ocean and never saw their homeland again, today they phone or Skype home the moment their plane lands. Thanks to cheap travel and easy communications, immigrants stay in contact with home, creating powerful cross-border networks that create wealth, spread ideas and foster innovation.
Diaspora, contributors to the conference emphasised, is mostly about economics: through remittances, philanthropy and direct diaspora investment, members of the diaspora are primarily seen as alumni who their original state needs to touch for contributions – a discourse all too familiar to anyone working in today’s neoliberal universities. Workshops debated the role of governments in engaging their diasporas across multiple sectors and constructing strategies aimed to create partnerships between government and diaspora. To copper fasten such engagements, the conference also discussed the payback in terms of granting migrants voting rights, and working for ‘host country integration and return migration platforms’. Read more