Confronting a racist was a scary experience, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, writes Fiona Cooney.
I’ve spent many an afternoon walking aimlessly around Dublin’s City Centre. It's one of my favourite things to do. For the most part, it's an enjoyable stress-free experience.
However there was one afternoon in particular that was anything but pleasant. It's a memory that's been plaguing me lately due to recent events.
It had been a sunny day in Dublin. I was waiting for my bus home, happily indulging in some discrete people watching. My attention soon turned to the convenient store behind me. A black security guard was asking a man to vacate the premises.
The man in question then proceeded to hurl an onslaught of racist abuse at the security guard. He called him a gorilla amongst other things, and told him to go back to his own country.
I was horrified by what I witnessed. Without hesitation I told the man that his behaviour was disgusting and unacceptable.
He didn’t take kindly to my intervention, and attempted to intimate me. He got right up in my face, so close that I could smell his breath. He then began to verbally abuse me, calling me a “white gorilla” at one point.
I told him in not-so many words to get out of my face.
My heart was racing the entire time, and my skin felt like it was on fire. Thankfully the bus arrived and he retreated.
I spent the entire journey home trying to regain my composure. I had never felt more vulnerable and exposed. The memory of that day was no doubt triggered by George Floyd’s brutal murder. It was a stark reminder that racism is alive and well in societies all over the world, including Ireland.
I adore Ireland, I always have and I always will. It’s the country that helped shape me into the person that I am today. I don’t want my patriotism to be called into question, but I refuse to remain neutral. I can’t be, not after everything I’ve witnessed.
I’ve heard “go back to your own country” far too many times. That mentality has always baffled me. The Irish practically invented the word immigration, yet some people seem to think it should be a one-way system.
I follow Galway rapper/songwriter Celaviedmai on Instagram. She recently shared a story about an incident involving blatant racism. Her sister is an essential shop worker and was behind the till when she called for the next customer. The man who was next in line refused to be served by her. Instead he chose to wait for a white cashier. He then loudly asked “where did you get that n$%!”?
Not one person waiting in the queue said anything. Celaviedmai urged her followers to call out racism whenever they see it. I understand that speaking up can be a daunting prospect. Especially when you have no idea how the perpetrator is going to react. That’s why it’s so important that we support people when they challenge instances of racism.
We need to stand with them, let them know we have their backs. Racists are the ones who should feel uncomfortable, and exposed. By remaining silent we’re empowering them, letting them think that it’s acceptable to spew their hate-fueled venom.
I know that by simply writing this I’m opening myself up to backlash and criticism. The internet is a frightening place at the best of times. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder I took to social media to advocate for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The response was mostly positive, however I was still met with resistance from a concerning number of people.
What frustrated me the most was the “All Lives Matter” response. Have black people not endured enough to warrant their own movement? Some people were so insistent on inserting the experiences of white people into the discussion.
I was even sent videos of white people being assaulted by police. I couldn't believe that people would go to that extent, scouring the internet for footage just to downplay the validity of the black movement. They obviously don't get that “Black Lives Matter” isn't just about police brutality. It’s also about combating age-old systemic racism.
The timing of the march in Dublin was definitely unfortunate, given the current pandemic. That’s an argument that I will absolutely accept. However, I can’t accept it when people say that a protest in Ireland was unnecessary. According to some, this is an American-only problem.
That’s why I’m writing this. It’s not because I want people to think that I’m brave for speaking up that day. I share my story in the hope that it reminds people that racism is a global issue, no country is exempt.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said:
- Fiona Cooney is a journalism graduate with a passion for writing human interest pieces.
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