Bashir Otukoya

I’m Irish, but the Irish don’t know that I’m Irish

Immigrants who identify as Irish should be seen as equals, as Irish men and women, not refugees or welfare thieves, argues Bashir Otukoya.
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I AM IRISH. Not “through blood, sacrifice and beauty”, not even by law. Neither my race, religion, nor my language depicts me as Irish, but nevertheless my identity is Irish; I am Irish by heart. It is baffling still that there are those who remain stagnant in their perception of identity, those who perceive identity as unexchangeable.

I am not aggravated by their views however, for they derive from their lack of human awareness and their non-proximal relationships with others unlike them – their views originate from the blinding whiteness of their associates, those who neglect to embrace the ever so multicultural Ireland that we live in today.

Then, when questioned about their racist connotations, their answer is that they are not racist, that they have been friends with or know many immigrants; which is the equivalent of saying that their sister’s boyfriend’s uncle’s dog is a Chinese Shih Tzu and is brown in colour, therefore they are not racist.

Implicit Racism

The truth of the matter is that there is a severe amount of discreet racism and xenophobia that exists in our society, these tend to be overlooked, and sometimes even forgiven. What do I mean by implicit racism? One very distinct example is our human need to ask someone who appears different where they are from; and when the answer is Dungloe in Donegal or Birr in Offaly, there is a need to seek further clarification as to where they are ‘originally from’.

Most of the time this is used as a popular conversation starter, but in some instances, the answer to the question often directs the path of the conversation. But why is it difficult to believe that an immigrant may choose to call Rosslare in Wexford home, why is the original birthplace required? Though most often unintentional, these implicitly racist expressions are even more psychologically damaging to immigrant individuals than those racist expressions which are explicit and deliberate. It is harmful because the desire is to be seen as equal, as an Irishman, as a Dubliner, not to be seen as a refugee, or a welfare thief, or someone who doesn’t belong.

What is unforgivable however are those racist remarks that are so openly used in the guise of political agendas, such as those expressed by Identity Ireland. When asked about the Mediterranean dilemma, they recommended rescue and repatriation techniques. Why bother wasting tax payers’ money to send LE Eithne on rescue missions, if Identity Ireland’s proposal is to send them back to what they were trying to escape from in the first place – you might as well send LE Eithne to the Mediterranean sea with bricks instead of floats; indeed for some this would be a far better option than returning to their origins. Yet in my 15 years of calling Ireland home, I am yet to perceive Ireland as having such an iniquitous character, though Direct Provision is coming close to it.

Source: William Murphy

Identity Ireland?

According to the World Economic Forum, Ireland is among the Top 10 friendliest countries in the world – that is the true identity of Ireland! It is unfair that a country with such high international prestige identified by its hospitality, warmth and openness, should be tainted by talk of inconsiderate repatriation. The fact that Ireland is the top naturalising country in Europe is another clear testament to the true identity of Ireland, a hospitable country that welcomes all nationalities with an open border, a céad míle fáilte to everyone.

Identities are subject to change – the law facilitates this. By law, one who was once a man may be recognised as female – or vice-versa – if he or she identifies as such. Likewise, he who is Chinese or Nigerian may identify himself as Irish, if he so wishes, especially if the law proclaims this. Identity is a subjective phenomenon, a small group of xenophobes and anti-liberals should not claim to be the hero of Irish identity and sovereignty, using freedom of expression as their sword.

I would like to know where their definition of identity comes from; it is not rooted in literature, statistics, nor is it even socially grounded. They opined that “blood, sacrifice and beauty” are the determining factors of ‘Irishness’. This is a narrow definition which excludes every other Irish person that identifies as Irish, most likely through naturalisation or long-term residency. But what differentiates an Irish person ‘by blood’ from an Irish person by heart? The sacrifice they refer to has historical connotations, but these talks of the past are minuscule in comparison to the potential of the Irish future that immigrants have sacrificed, and are continuing to sacrifice for.

Irish by heart

Language is no distinction, as per the 2011 census, French and Polish are the languages most commonly spoken in Ireland, far surpassing the Irish language. The religious breakdown of immigrants is similar to that of citizens; in fact, one may argue that the only true distinction is race, and perhaps accent. Culture is a topic that warrants another article, but is no excuse for differentiation, because on St. Patrick’s day, you will more than likely see immigrants participating in, if not watching, the parades.

Often at times, we are told that we are more Irish than the Irish themselves – whatever that may mean.

I suggest Identity Ireland go back to the drawing board to think of a new name more suited to their objectives, because Ireland’s identity is not theirs to determine, my identity belongs to me and your identity belongs to you, no-one can determine it for us. Yes I am Nigerian by blood, but my identity is Irish, by heart.

Bashir Otukoya is a PhD student at the UCD Sutherland School of Law. His research seeks to analyse both the sociological meaning of being Irish, and the legal process of becoming Irish.

You can follow him on Twitter @Bash_Rich.

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