I BECAME AN Irish citizen in July of last year. It was a day of joy.
It was the end of a long process, with many checks and huge expense but I was happy to go through it as a kind of affirmation of acceptance that Ireland is my permanent home.
Following that ceremony and the emotions of the day I feel equal to everyone in this country, but am I treated equally? I am not sure.
I came here from Africa in 2001 to start a new chapter in my life, to get a fresh start and leave behind what had happened in the country of my birth where there has been ethnic conflict. I was 15 at the time.
When I arrived first in Dublin, as I went about my life, I noticed many nationalities; people from Africa, Asia, Australia, America and Eastern Europe working on public transport, in hotel, restaurants and shops. It gave me a sense that these were jobs that, if I applied, I would have a fair chance of getting – and not only secure my own future but also play a role in the community.
People felt they could treat me differently
Fortunately success came my way very quickly and I started work in a job where I deal with the public every day.
It was not long before I noticed that many people I serve felt they could treat me differently. Some weeks it can happen every day, you would get racially abused while at work.
As far as my experience goes, I would bring something to the attention of a customer and the next thing that comes out of their mouth is abuse, ‘you black bastard’, ‘you f’ing n**ger’ or things like ‘go back to your f’ing country’. The last one is a bit funny because Ireland is my country.
If you are living in a country for over 10 years, that is your country.
The abuse happens at least once a week and leaves you with the feeling that you must be constantly looking over your shoulder, aware that a customer can turn on you at any time. I have been lucky no-one has punched me, but it does happen to others.
Bystanders never intervene, you are on your own. Sometimes afterwards a customer may come forward and say sorry about that. But people won’t want to get involved.
Sometimes I feel that despite being an Irish citizen that we will never be accepted, that we will never be equal.
The reality is that racism is happening
At first I felt I could not come forward and make a big deal about this, but over time I did become more confident that my bosses would listen. My employers are supportive and have begun workplace training on how to respond to racism and discrimination, we have also started recording incidents as they occur.
Through my citizenship application I was aware of the work of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and was glad when I heard that it was beginning to record levels of racist incidents in the hope of getting the attention of the media and the politicians.
Despite the impression that we live in a welcoming country, the reality is that racism is happening and we should not stand for it.
I welcome the launch of the campaign ‘There’s no room on board for racism and discrimination’ today. By putting this message on Dublin’s buses, trams and trains a clear message is going out that no-one should have to suffer in silence.
I found my courage to come forward and so must others if things are to change. As someone who benefitted from telling my story, I would encourage anyone who experiences or sees racism to come forward, you can email email@example.com or report it to the Gardaí.
Ireland is my country and, like all my fellow citizens, I am entitled to go about my life without the fear of being bullied or abused.
The anti-racism campaign ‘There’s NO room on board for racism and discrimination’ is being launched across Dublin’s public transport network today, with posters being placed on 1,000 sites. It is the result of a partnership by Dublin City Council, the National Transport Authority and the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
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