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'Call out racism - being 'no craic' for two minutes is worth it'

Although this might seem like a “trending” topic, racism is a part of my everyday reality and with your voices we can drown out the racists, writes Tobi Lawal.

Tobi Lawal

On 26 May 2020, I watched the video of the murder of George Floyd on my twitter timeline.

I am a young, black Irish woman in Ireland and seeing this senseless act of murder broke me.

It was enough to bring all my own traumatic racial experiences in Ireland back to the fore. This past fortnight has been exhausting for every single black person around the world and the Murder of Mr Floyd was no doubt a breaking point for many of us.

He was a son, a father and a brother and didn’t deserve to die. He didn’t deserve to die at the hands of ruthless, callous police officers – Derek Chauvin in particular.

I think at this point in time many people are still failing to understand why people are so triggered by George’s death, even here in Ireland.

We are so triggered because it brings back horrific memories of the racism we have endured here. Racism that I have endured here.

It is very easy when you’re in a privileged position to look at America and think this is “their” problem. But no, it is all our problem and it starts by tackling the racism that exists in Ireland.

Ireland is my home and has been since I was six years old (I turn 23 next month). But over the years, many white men and women both young and mature have contested this, be it through their words or actions.

I know I speak for many young black men and women in saying that. I speak for my father’s generation in saying that. As a young child, the racism I encountered on a day to day basis was insidious. I didn’t understand at the time that this was what I was experiencing – but looking back now I am saddened. I was excluded from games, asked if a random black woman who came into the school was my mother, heard whispers that I smell, and people touched and commented on the texture of my hair without my permission.

As I got older the racism I experienced became more aggressive. I felt othered as a result.

Both students and older adults targeted me throughout my university years.

I’ve been told to go back to my country, told I’m “pretty for a black girl”, called a dirty black c*** and the N-word.

A man once said to me “I’ve never met one of your kind before” and that “gosh you’re smart too” after he asked about my career (I am to become a solicitor). And, as if he hadn’t stripped me of my dignity enough, he went on to say that “you know what they say about the black man… he’d steal the penny from your pocket….*pause*…. but I know you wouldn’t do that”.

I had a co-worker who tried to prove to me that he wasn’t racist by going out of his way to inform me that he dated a mixed-race woman back in his day and had in his words, “done his bit for the black community”.

And then there’s what I would call passive racism – being asked where I’m from originally or being told that I speak great English. (English is my first language.)

Here in Ireland people need to understand the privilege they have. As poet and playwright Felispeaks once said, privilege isn’t money. Privilege looks like not being refused into clubs because of your colour, not having people cross the road to avoid you or holding their bags tighter when you pass.

Privilege looks like not having to research whether a country is racist before you travel and not being worried that an interviewer might take a disliking to your name on a CV or being highly educated and seeing people who haven’t worked as hard as you making it.

That last point applies to my father’s generation. A lot of educated black older men and women in Ireland often cannot get jobs in their fields and end up either as care workers or taxi drivers to make ends meet.

That is why I speak of my experience, so people can listen and understand and educate themselves on the struggle of being black or any other ethnic minority in a predominately white country.

Don’t dodge the subject of race: talk to your friends and family about it and discuss how things can change.

Self-reflect also and note where you may need to make corrections.

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Parents – raise your children to have a deep appreciation for people from all walks of life.

And please, when you see racism happen either in your very home, place of work or college – call it out.

Students, I promise you, being no craic for the two minutes in which you call out racist or discriminatory comments is worth it.

It is always worth it. Do not be afraid to use social media to raise awareness and educate yourself.

Although this might seem like a “trending” topic, racism is a part of my everyday reality and with your voices we can drown out the racists.

I have been made to feel less than, and that the colour of my skin is a crime I should be ashamed of in the country I call home. In the country I love. In the country of a thousand welcomes.

Enough is enough. The time for change is now and we all need to come together and tackle this issue here at home.

Tobi Lawal, aged 22, is a native of Offaly and current Masters student in the University of Limerick. 

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