Rose Marie Maughan: In 2021, we’re still raising our children to face hate

As International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination approaches on March 21, Mincéirí (Traveller) mothers continue to fight an unequal battle for their children’s futures, writes activist Rose Marie Maughan
Rose Marie Maughan: In 2021, we’re still raising our children to face hate

Rose Marie Maughan is a human rights activist and Accommodation Policy Officer with the Irish Traveller Movement.

Becoming a mother is a precious gift that changes every woman’s life. No longer is your life only about you but now you have babies, small little humans you are responsible for. 

All parents know too well the weight of that responsibility at times — the feeling that you are failing, not good enough when in truth we are all trying to be the best version of ourselves in order to parent.

Every mother wants the best for her babies — a safe home and a secure, safe, stable loving environment where they can blossom and grow, without pain and suffering, into whoever they want to be. 

For most Mincéir/Traveller mothers this hope far too often seems like 'mission impossible'. We have childhood memories of being cast aside and othered simply for being a Mincéir*, taken out of mainstream class based on identity (not need), left to play on the ‘Mincéir’ side of the school yard. 

We have memories of having to try to understand as a child why she was hated for being a Mincéir. Why everything she heard about Mincéirí was so negative, so wrong in school, in the media and from non-Travellers. The unanswered question — Why was she punished for being a Mincéir?

A Mincéir mother carries this pain from her lived experience as a child with her into her parenting, when she’s thinking — how can I protect my babies from this pain? 

How can I beat the odds of oppression and ensure my babies don’t become one of the 11% of Mincéirí who die by suicide but instead become one of the 1% who survive the education system making it to third level?

How can I keep my babies healthy living in overcrowded, poor conditions often lacking the basic facilities such as water, toilets, electricity? 

How can I explain the hate they witness when we are evicted from the roadside often with numerous guards and members of security companies instead of being accommodated? 

How do I manage to hold my tears back as they ask me: “Mummy why are they moving us, why don’t they like us?” 

In our developed country that is the reality for Mincéir mothers — numbing our pain so we can raise strong proud Mincéir children who can face the cruel world that awaits them.

In our country Mincéirí, who make up less than 1% of the population, die younger than our settled counterparts due to our oppression. 

The All-Ireland Traveller Health Study 2010 recorded only 3% of us live beyond the age of 65; Mincéir women die 11.5 years younger than our settled counterparts while Mincéir men die 15.1 years younger than their settled counterparts.

So for Mincéir mothers the clock is ticking at an alarming rate. It seems like time, life, love is not on our side. 

The weight of responsibility on our shoulders is a burden we wish on no mother, knowing regardless of how hard we fight it simply will not be good enough to turn the tide of Mincéir hate.

Mincéir mothers have to digest survey results from settled people such as the Traveller Community National Survey 2017 which stated 55 % would not have us as community members, 83 % wouldn’t employ us, 91% wouldn’t marry us, and 85% wouldn’t want us as a friend. 

These statistics are soul-destroying for Mincéirí having to read as an adult, but try imagining a young Mincéir coming across them, and asking their mummy to explain the hate behind them. 

Try feel her pain as she asks herself: How can I ensure my children are loved and don’t have to fight this battle when I am gone?

Our unemployment rate is 83% within a population of about 40,000 Mincéirí. Mincéir mothers don’t want unemployment for their children; like all mothers we dream of our children graduating from university and leading successful lives — but not at the cost of their ethnicity and mental health. Not at the cost of having to assimilate. 

Mincéir mothers have watched far too many of our young people die by suicide as a direct impact of oppression and feeling hated and without equal opportunities.

Mincéir mothers should not have to fight this battle. In a just world we would be respected and loved for ourselves — not judged on stereotypes, not held accountable and punished for the wrong-doing of some members of our community. 

We would have the privilege of leading successful, healthy lives becoming doctors, teachers, lawyers, performers, gardaí, firemen, politicians — whatever we dreamed of. 

Our dreams deserve to come true too. 

The privilege of not having to prepare our children for racism and hate but instead an equal, happy childhood. 

The privilege of not watching your child broken by Irish society just like you were, like your mother was, your grandmothers were, and all before them.

But the sad reality for Mincéir mothers in Ireland in 2021 is we do still have to fight this battle, we do have to prepare our children for racism and hate whilst knowing we can’t protect them from it.

* Mincéir/Mincéirí is the word for Traveller/Travellers in the language of Cant or Gammon.

Rose Marie Maughan is a human rights activist and Accommodation Policy officer with the Irish Traveller Movement. She is a mother to two young children.  @Minceirbeoir

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