Áine Mulloy: ‘Living in Ireland as a black or brown person means you’ve probably experienced racism’

Áine Mulloy: ‘Living in Ireland as a black or brown person means you’ve probably experienced racism’

As the protests continue across America, Áine Mulloy recalls growing up in rural Ireland, the only black family in a small Irish town.

On Friday I was told it sounded like I was being pummelled. And it sounded about right. 

Like many I’ve spent weeks scrolling through various feeds reading, and watching. Reading, and watching. My heart weary in the haze of a blue light and violence. 

It felt like the world was falling down around us and so many remained unmoved. 

Worse, they berated those who are being trampled. 

That’s not the right way to protest they said. That’s not how to spread a message. If you want people on your side you need to act with civility. 

Why do you care when this isn’t happening here? You’re making us uncomfortable. 

I’ve never seen racism so there is no problem. It’s none of our business. Consider yourself lucky.

As a child I was fortunate to live in a small, and largely protective community. 

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In a tiny country school, where the most important thing was how hard you can kick a ball, the colour of my skin barely registered. 

People in the town knew our family, and we lived in a bubble. 

For the most part, it didn’t matter that you could count the number of black and brown faces in one breath; and most were my own family. 

Of course there were stares, hair pulling, comments, and ridiculous statements by teachers. 

But the more serious childhood incidents I remember happened when I went outside said bubble. 

It might sound like I’m dismissing the racism that I experienced growing up, I’m not. 

You notice it all. But eventually it becomes the hum. The baseline. 

You become accustomed to taking a breath and holding it before entering a new space; going unnoticed is not an option. 

More devastatingly, at some point you learn to determine which battles are worth fighting and which will result in even more pain, potentially physical violence, because you dared to stand up for yourself.

To react negatively is to challenge the power dynamic and the retaliation will be even more dangerous. You should know your place. 

In the back of your mind you know comments are part of same system that leads to death. 

There is an internal understanding that this is what it means to be in white spaces — in a “white country” as I’ve been told. 

It doesn’t matter if it is also your own. And so you’ll often try to make yourself small but as the bubble that I lived in widened the viciousness intensified.

College is supposed to be the bastion of education and free thinking. And while I enjoyed my time there it was tempered by a number of memories which will stay with me. 

The first was the lack of diversity on campus. Particularly in the humanities courses, but most notably amongst the teaching staff. 

I joined societies that lauded themselves on tackling tough topics. But they were part of a culture in which being able to debate was more important than learning or listening. 

It’s the same culture we’re seeing now online. 

Who cares if you are talking about actual human lives if the house wins? Who cares if you are perpetuating dangerous myths if you’ve won? 

Unfortunately, this sense of entitlement didn’t stay in the lecture halls it also spilled into the streets where people would feel emboldened to deny my heritage continuously. 

For one man to grab my wrist so hard the bones grated together when I denied his advances — I should be so lucky apparently since I’m a “half caste” — or when another tried to set my hair on fire “for the craic”. 

Moving again, didn’t solve the problem. Since coming to Dublin I’ve had stones thrown at me while I waited for the bus. 

Piercing eyes track my every move. Relentless questions abound. Been verbally abused. And countless hands continue to grab my hair.

Living in Ireland as a black or brown person means you’ve probably experienced racism. It’s really that simple. 

I know I’ll be accused of generalising but that doesn’t make it any less true. But look around. 

We have MEPs who run on “diversity” platforms then vote against enhancing protections to protect refugees in the Mediterranean. 

There are councils sitting on unspent budgets for our Traveller communities. Pubs would rather shut than serve them.

The treatment of black and brown babies in the mother and baby homes would turn your hair grey. 

And then, there’s Direct Provision. Céad míle fáilte — unless you’re a person seeking international protection. 

In which case you’ll be put into a for-profit system purposefully designed to strip you of your dignity and humanity; where women like Sylva Tukula and at least 60 others have died. 

We live in a place where the face of Savita Halappanavar can galvanise a movement, but many didn’t even learn her name. 

Where the line “…and migrants, travellers and those in Direct Provision” was clumsily tacked on during the Repeal movement, but the message dropped when convenient. 

Where despite being 13% of the population migrant people make up 40% of maternal deaths. Where reports from the UN, FRA, and Amnesty all highlight the problems we have. 

Where music acts can thrive despite peddling racism and denigrating black women, while using a sound that comes from black culture. 

Where the stories being shared include: gigs with young black crowds being heavily policed; black people being denied entry to bars; being followed around shops; racial slurs as the norm; graffiti on houses; cars burnt out; and windows being smashed in. 

And yet we’re told to consider ourselves lucky — Ireland doesn’t have a problem with racism.

Áine Mulloy is an Innovation Design Lead at The Dock, with a background in the humanities, she has been actively engaged in societal change, and community building.

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