I’ve been reflecting in the last couple of weeks on the Black Lives Matter movement and protests. I've been reading, and listening to many different voices calling for action on racism- some Irish, some international. I've been examining my world view and considering my privilege. I'm saddened, not just at events in the US, but at our history and current stories here in Ireland too.
Being in Ireland, I think many of us (white Irish people that is) may believe that these events in the US are distant from us, disconnected and not important. We may tell ourselves, congratulate ourselves that “this kind of thing doesn’t happen here”.
But it’s not true. Racism is alive and well here in Ireland, and out of these horrific events in the US, we have an opportunity to open a conversation that addresses racism head on.
I found myself feeling uncomfortable at the idea of broaching the subject of racism with my kids.
Because they are so young that they won’t really understand it, because they personally don’t have experience of it (or so I believe).
Because I don’t want to have to tell my children that the world is ugly and that people are not all treated as equal.
I don’t want to have to explain to them that people are treated differently because of their skin colour.
I don’t want to see their confused faces as they attempt to make sense of it. Because there is no sense. There is only unfairness and injustice.
And I can choose not to talk to my kids about this. I can choose to make this unimportant to me.
Because I’m white, because my kids are white, I get to choose to discuss this topic with them.
That is my (and their) white privilege.
But I listen to stories of parents who don’t get to choose whether their kid has to learn about racism. I hear a Dad talking about a stranger screaming racist abuse into the face of his 3 and half year old child on his way to school. I listen to young women talk about being told to “go back to their own country” when they are already in their own country, my country too.
I read about a woman, about my age, made to feel other and "less than" in her schooldays on account of her hair. I read stories of name calling and violence, threats and slights and "where are you really from?" and children not allowed to claim rights to the country they're born in (in this, the island of a hundred thousand welcomes).
I listen some more. I hear a young woman’s plea to “listen to understand, not to respond”, and I notice my defensiveness that might have crept into this type of discussion in the past. I read about what white privilege means, and really let it sink in. I watch for that defensiveness again.
So, I encourage you, if you are white, to read, to listen, not to respond (with defensiveness or denial of the experience of another), but to understand, and then to ask others around you to do the same.
Read all of the stories. Listen to all the accounts, check any desire to minimise or deny the experience (however well-intentioned you believe this desire to be). This is the work I'm doing for now. It's the very least I can do right now while I figure out what the most I can do in the future is.
Below are just some voices/stories I’ve found really helpful.
Don’t touch my hair by Emma Dabiri. Emma is Irish, now based in London. This book is a fascinating look at black-hair through history, and how it’s been stigmatised. In US the book is called Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A wonderful book and love story that spans three continents. It includes enlightening excerpts from the fictitious blog of one of the main characters (the blog is titled Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black). The author has been reading excerpts on her Instagram page recently – really relevant for the current context.
Not sure what “White Privilege” is? Read this clear illustrated guide.
Listen to this woman Amanda Adé on why Irish people need to care about racism too, why it’s real here, and how we need to “listen to understand, not to respond”.
I have the book “This hostel life” from Melatu Uche Okorie on order - stories of migrant women in a hidden Ireland, including experiences of Direct Provision.
I also have a few books on order to read with my kids, for a more diverse, less white-centric view of the world. But I would love more recommendations -if anyone has some recommendations I’d love it if you shared them with me. Likewise for stories I should listen to and actions that need support. Email me or drop me a message in the comments.