Erica Cody: 'It's easy to excuse casually racist behaviour'

This is not my story to tell. Luckily, Erica Cody, a singer, songwriter, and artist, has agreed to tell hers.
Erica Cody: 'It's easy to excuse casually racist behaviour'
Singer, songwriter and artist, Erica Cody. Photo: Facebook/EricaCodyofficial

This week, Irish Examiner columnist Louise O'Neill asked Dublin singer-songwriter Erica Cody to write in her usual column space. Below, she explains why:


Regular readers – I know you might have turned to this page and expected to see my face on the masthead. But when I sat down to write my column this week, there was only one issue I could think about – the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matters protests. What is happening in the States right now is shocking for many of us, although our shock is, in and of itself, a privilege too.

Black people have never had the luxury of being shocked by racism as it’s been their lived experience since the day they were born. But it would be a mistake for us in Ireland to condemn what’s happening in America without taking a good, hard look at ourselves.

A study undertaken by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2018 showed that Ireland ranked as the 2nd worst in the EU for racial violence against black people, with 51% of black people in Ireland saying they have been harassed in the form of verbal, physical, or online threats.

Direct Provision, a system put in place over twenty years ago as a short-term solution to housing asylum seekers, is a human rights violation, cramming traumatised and vulnerable people into overcrowded conditions and ensuring they remain isolated from the communities in which they live by refusing to allow proper integration in the way of employment.

In recent years, we have wondered how Irish people could have allowed the Magdalene Laundries and the Mother and Baby Homes to exist, how they looked the other way as such atrocities occurred. Take one look at us today, eating brunch in bougie restaurants owned by the same corporation responsible for the operation of Direct Provision centres, and you will have found your answer.

But in reality, I shouldn’t be writing this column. I’m a white, Irish woman, working in a disproportionally white industry. I’ve never experienced racism, I’ve never been unfairly treated because of the colour of my skin. This is not my story to tell.

Luckily, Erica Cody, a singer, songwriter, and artist, has agreed to tell her story instead:

Erica Cody

Erica Cody
Erica Cody

“My heart is heavy, my brain is as coily as my hair right now. There is no denying the struggles we face accompanied by the colour of our skin. What is going on in America right now is sparking outrage over there, but it’s also happening around the world, especially on our shores. It’s easy for people to say,

Ah sure we’re in Ireland, that’s not our problem

.

It’s easy to say, “But I can’t be racist, I have a black friend!”, to excuse casually racist behaviour. It’s easy to say, “This is not the right time to protest, we’re in the middle of a pandemic”, when you have never had to endure the racism we have. Enough is enough. Don’t wait on a black person who is already exhausted from the day-to-day struggle of dealing with prejudice to educate you on white privilege and racism.

The information is there, many just aren’t looking or willing. It’s easy to spew so much hate towards a black-led anti-racism protest, but to stay silent at the photos of packed beaches all over Instagram… What double standards!

There is more than one pandemic happening right now. All it takes is the modern-day lynching of George Floyd, his life stolen from him under the knee of a cop, for the seriousness of racism to be recognised.

Born and raised in Dublin to a white Irish mother and a black American father from South Carolina, much of my existence was based on my ‘Irish-ness’ being diminished because there’s ‘no waaaaaay’ you can be black and Irish at the same time. It’s been an identity crisis for me most of my life, being told to “Go back to my own country” when Ireland is all I have ever known.

I often found it difficult to understand my father’s frustration towards racist behaviour and I realise now that it’s not that I didn’t want to know, but I had just become completely desensitised to the way I was being racially targeted in my own life. People grabbing my hair as they passed me on a bike, pulling me back as if I’m some sort of petting zoo.

The years I have endured of racial slurs, staying quiet to the casual racism so I don’t come across like the ‘problematic’ one in the group, when in reality, I’m just the minority. The monkey noises being shouted at me across streets. Being pushed into walls in the primary school yard, losing my two front teeth as a result and not knowing if they’ll every grow back again.

I robbed my mom’s razor and attempted to shave my face of my dark facial hair at the tender age of seven, just so I won’t get called a gorilla in school the next day.

The constant questioning - “Where are you from?”, followed by, “No but where are you REALLY from?” when I say I’m from Dublin. I am left questioning my own identity when I was already very sure. I have to ask the question - why are black and people of colour always the ones left to educate the ignorant on racism? You ask me how I am, how we are. This is all I have to say. We are TIRED.”

Further Reading Read: Don’t Touch my Hair. Emma Dabiri is an Irish-Nigerian author who was brought up in this country, where, she says, her hair was a “constant source of deep, deep shame.” It’s an incredible book.

Do: Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad. This is a how-to guide for white people to confront their own privilege and internalised racism. Essential reading.

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