Advertising | Metro Eireann | Top News | Contact Us
Governor Uduaghan awarded the 2013 International Outstanding Leadership Award  •   South African Ambassador to leave  •   Roddy's back with his new exclusive "Brown-Eyed Boy"  •  
Print E-mail

Who said ‘we’ are not racist?

Last update - Sunday, December 1, 2013, 17:39 By Ronit Lentin

When I started teaching race and racism some 20 years ago, the response from students 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 we possibly be racist?” And my favourite: “There was no racism in Ireland until ‘these people’ came” – as if immigrants carry racism in their luggage.

It was the ‘you. 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 Irish Protestant – as there was to me, despite my personal experiences of anti-semitism 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’m not a racist, but’ brigade keeps claiming that it’s  ‘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 you read about the treatment of members of Call to Action Mixed Race Irish when they were 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 contaminated. You are the colour of excrement... “
She was told that her 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.
We also read how the Al-Minnah Foods outlet in Tallaght was ransacked, the raiders also daubing racist graffiti on the shops white walls. And a couple of months earlier, racist posters were placed on the offices of the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) on Dublin’s St Andrew’s Street, while anti-semitic graffiti was sprayed on the former Anglo building on North Wall Quay, and a home in Dublin was also scrawled on with racist graffiti.
It seems racism, always alive and well, was hidden for a while during the ‘politically correct’ Celtic Tiger days, when ‘interculturalism’ was the buzzword. But the recession has removed the pretence: we are interculturalist no more. Integration is no longer the name of the game.
And what about me? I continue to go on about racism, sometimes feeling like a broken record. Students no longer castigate me, an old Cassandra whose prophecies seem to always come true. But the vilification has instead gone viral in YouTube videos and other online postings, chiding me for supporting immigrants and opposing racism in Ireland, while in ‘my own country’ anti-Palestinian and anti-African policies continue apace (as if I don’t harp about these, too).
Every time one of these comments appears I swallow hard, my skin long thickened by the racist slurs. But when I think about Mohammed Djellal of Al-Minnah Foods, about deportable asylum seekers languishing in direct provision holding camps, and about Evon Brennan nursing her painful memories of ‘friendly’ Ireland, I have no choice but to carry on.

Ronit Lentin is associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears fortnightly in Metro Éireann

Latest News:
Latest Video News:
Photo News:
Kerry drinking and driving
How do you feel about the Kerry County Councillor\'s recent passing of legislation to allow a limited amount of drinking and driving?
I agree with the passing, it is acceptable
I disagree with the passing, it is too dangerous
I don\'t have a strong opinion either way
Quick Links