This article by Victory Isijola of St Louis Secondary School, Dundalk, Co Louth, came third in the 2021 Columban Schools Media competition. It is illustrated by the image which was awarded third place in the competition and was created by Caragh Cochrane, St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena.
On the 25th of May 2020, George Floyd, an African American man was murdered by a white policeman, Derek Chauvin. This murder was one of many that stemmed from the inception of the police force in the United States shortly after the end of slavery in 1863: a symptom of the disease that was systemic racism that plagued not just the U.S, but countries all over the world. These are amongst the many reasons why this murder was not surprising, as unfortunate as that sounds.
However, what was surprising was the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement – arguably a reincarnation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s – in the midst of a global pandemic. Maybe this was due to the fact that Floyd’s death was recorded and uploaded onto many social media platforms, the seven-minute video of his last breaths for the whole world to witness. Maybe it was his pleas for his mother that resonated with the public, that finally prompted action. Or maybe it was the fact that the African American, as well as the Black community around the world finally had enough of our demands for justice being ignored, and everything else was merely a catalyst.
One of these Black communities was the Black community in Ireland, a community so small that many abroad are unaware of our existence. As we make up just 1.4% of the Irish population, I can’t really blame them. And yet, as small as we are, many of us have endured racist experiences that have been completely ignored. That is why they need to be discussed before we can begin to create a world without racism, because it is counterproductive to begin to end racism if the majority of people are unaware of its insidious existence, and the extent of the problem in Ireland today.
I already know what you’re thinking, what many Irish people found themselves thinking when Black Lives Matter protests arose in many cities and towns in Ireland: “This is an American problem, so why are we protesting in Ireland?”. At first glance, this may seem like an incredibly valid question, as Black Lives Matter protests sprang up after the murders of Black Americans, including, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, and Breonna Taylor, at the hands of, or as a result of, police brutality. However, when you take a closer look at this question, you realise it is rooted in privilege. It is rooted in the privilege of being blissfully ignorant to the racism Black Irish people endure.
I could just recite statistics. According to an EU-MIDS survey, 30% of women and 34% of men originating from Africa have endured racial abuse in Ireland. An incredibly popular rap duo Versatile having songs containing disgustingly racist lyrics. Not to mention the abandonment of 7,000 men, women, and children in Direct Provision centres (Doras.org).
As a Black Irish teenager, who has been called racial slurs since primary school; who has been told that I would be “prettier if I were white”; as well as judged as “loud and intimidating” due to my race, and so much more, I am particularly keen on creating a world without racism. How do we dismantle racism when racial bias exists, unbeknownst, in arguably the majority of people in Ireland? James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” It is undeniable that children are not born racists. I for one learned not to judge the children that called me the n-word in primary school, but rather, their parents.
That is why it is important to raise this generation, my generation, of adolescents into adults that raise their children without hatred and bigotry. We do this by using the best tool there is, media, and more specifically, social media platforms. The Black Lives Matter movement is not just one of physical, socially distanced protests, but digital protests and mass signings of petitions. The fact that petitions calling for justice for these victims of racism are receiving millions of signatures is proof alone of the power of social media. An example is that of the JusticeForGeorgeFloyd petition on Change.org which has received 19,626,775 signatures and counting. This shows that social media can be a useful tool to educate millions of young people on the nuances of racism in the United States, Ireland, and the world.
Another tool, underrated but just as useful, is books. Many books, such as ‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race’ by Robin DiAngelo gained popularity as a means of white people educating themselves about their white privilege and their apprehension in confronting that privilege, which is amazing.
However, we live in a world where Black people have been stripped of our wealth – African Americans have been disenfranchised as a result of slavery, Africans have been robbed of their power due to colonialism and economic oppression, and Black immigrants in Ireland have had to abandon their bachelor’s degrees and PhDs for low paying jobs. As it is Black people enduring this oppression, it is important that our books are at the forefront of tools dismantling racism. Books such as ‘Women, Race, Class’ by Angela Y. Davis or the fictional story ‘Noughts & Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman are good places to start!
I have endured racism for many years, as has my mother before me. And despite having heard stories of my mother’s patients growling at her and calling her multiple slurs, and though I myself have been victims of these slurs, I still believe that we can fulfil Martin Luther King’s dream for a world where we “will not be judged by the colour of” our “skin but by the content of” our “character.” I still believe that my own children will not doubt the worth of their skin the way I did, and I still believe that we can come together and create a world without racism.