Irish Examiner View: First step in tackling racism is to listen

There are common themes that emerge in public debate when considering racial abuse suffered by people here.
Irish Examiner View: First step in tackling racism is to listen

There are common themes that emerge in public debate when considering racial abuse suffered by people here.

One of the more ill-considered is that what the abusedclaim is abuse, only amounts to fun. “Don’t take yourself so seriously”, “learn to take a joke”, “we’ve all been teased at some point or another.” This noise is amplified when spoken from behind a screen, on anonymous social media accounts.

Another is that racism charges are orchestrated, a liberal trait that comes around every few years that is self-serving or virtue-signalling. Looters, no matter what percentage of the overall numbers protesting on US streets, are held up as evidence that all protesters do not have honest intentions at heart. A knowing wink or furrowed brow, followed by a poorly-researched statement about racial divisions are held up as fact. This is a daily struggle for people from BAME backgrounds being brought up in Ireland. On any given day they may not hear these words spoken out loud, or even insinuated, but they don’t have to go very far to find these attitudes being openly and proudly expressed.

“I have been extremely fortunate to grow up as a proud black Irishman. I love Ireland — it is home,” says former Kerry minor footballer Stefan Okunbor. At 17, he was called a black bastard by an elderly colleague, who later claimed it was just “friendly banter”.

When Miriam Olamijuwon moved to Ireland in 2002, she would get on a bus and people would change seats to get away from her. She was three years old.

Most of us will never be told we should be “sent back to where we came from”. Most of us will go through our lifetimes without ever having to battle racism. Most of us need to act on racism. Listening is the first step.

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