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Opinion: 'A group of Irish lads held a knife to my throat when I was just 11 - but I don't hate Irish people'

Hazel Chu writes about the presidential election and her fears around how people will treat her young Irish-born Chinese daughter.

Hazel Chu

FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER was the second night after a vote this year that I couldn’t sleep at all – and that’s saying something when you have a child who wakes every two hours. Every minute of sleep counts and is like gold dust.

But unlike in May before the Eighth Amendment Referendum when I was giddy with hope that we’re facing a better future, in the darkness before dawn last Friday I sat watching my daughter with slight apprehension.

I was admiring how beautiful she was – thankfully she’s the best of me and the best of her father. But she is an Irish-born Chinese girl.

This may not seem like a big deal to most but it is when you’re living in a world that seems to be at times going backwards when it comes to equality.

I’m glad Michael D Higgins won and that he won by the biggest mandate. But two problems played in my mind: one was that it was the lowest turnout for a Presidential election, at just 45% out of an electorate of 3.2 million it meant most people just didn’t care or couldn’t be bothered. When you’re trying to make society a bit better, having an apathetic electorate is a problem.

Then the other elephant in the room: out of 1.4 million who voted, 1 in 5 voted for Peter Casey. Over 342,000 people thought this man who sat on a platform and spouted a tirade of hate against a minority and to those less fortunate should be the face of this country when abroad.

Yes, he resorted to using spin to get him ahead, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the spin worked on many. Of the people I spoke to that voted for him they said: “But he’s not racist, it’s only against Travellers, they are filthy and will rob you blind when you’re not looking” or “we are a social welfare state, why should I pay for someone else to not work?”

And that’s the depressing part, the justification that it’s OK to be discriminatory. Last I checked it was a group of Irish lads who held a knife to my throat when they burgled my home when I was just 11 years of age after scoping out the Chinese takeaway (ours) in the area and figured we’d be an easy target.

It was a group of Irish locals who whacked an ashtray across my mum’s head when they refused to pay after a meal.

It was Irish boys who hurled insults and abuse at my brother and landed him in Tallaght emergency department.

But I don’t hate Irish people.

I am Irish. And I will not let the action of some make me not care about my own people.

So, even if you did have a bad experience with a member of the Travelling community, they’re not all the same people. Classified as minority or not, they are still a member of the state and due the respect of one.

On the matter of welfare, we’re not a welfare state – we’re a State that has neglected its people when it comes to jobs and housing. In 2009, I returned home from travelling unable to get a job no matter how hard I tried. I was on welfare for months and I will always be in favour of paying taxes for social welfare.

Freedom of speech

People claim that Peter Casey represents freedom of speech and rolling up your sleeves to make the country great again. Sound familiar?

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They also claim they’re not being racist because it’s not against an actual minority but the thing is there’s no such thing as just being a ‘little bit’ racist. There’s no magic line that can be drawn.

I remember when I was working in my mum’s takeaway I had plenty of customers that give out about Africans, Romanians, Polish, refugees and then looked at me to say “but the Chinese are great because they’re so hardworking”. But when you refuse to give them their curry chips at 2am you’re suddenly a “guest in their country and should feck off back home”. So yes, if you can think that about Travellers and people on social welfare, you most likely can think that about my daughter.

But what’s the solution apart from calling everyone a prick (and I’ve done that)?

Be a little more tolerant and actually celebrate our differences, call shit out when you think it’s wrong and be open to the fact that someone might call you out. It sounds all saintly but it’s not, it’s just the way to a nicer society.

In the meantime, my daughter Alex will be learning Kung Fu and hitting her godfather Jackie Chan up for fighting tips – so I pity the fool who calls them her ‘little yellow peril’ in future.

Hazel Chu is the Green Party’s National Coordinator, spokesperson for enterprise and local election candidate for Pembroke, Dublin. (Formerly Head of Communications with Diageo – and unfortunately doesn’t actually know Jackie Chan).

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Hazel Chu

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