With the Black Lives Matter movement going global, and solidarity protests being organised across Ireland, Samuel Ajetunmobi argues that Ireland must reckon with its own antiblackness. (Content Warning for Racial Slurs)
I wonder how much abuse from trolls I will face upon the publication of this article. How many people will tell me that if I have a problem with Ireland, I should go back to where I come from, or how I’ll be pointed towards the violence of black gangs against this country’s peace, or whether I’ll just be called a nigger. From personal encounters I know just how aggressive racist people can get, and that to be honest, they don’t even require online anonymity to espouse hatred to those who are not white.
Asking if Ireland is racist is a form of gaslighting that Black and other people of colour are presented within this country. “How can this country be racist?”, they say. The Irish can’t be racist; what about the whole 800 years of British occupation that this island faced? By focusing the conversation of race in Ireland around notions of racism being an equal opportunity oppressor where all are confronted by racial prejudice and power is a dangerous narrative that invisibilises Black struggle. Black and lives of other non-black people of colour are therefore considered as disposable and naturally less than under contemporary white supremacy. Irish society is rife with colour-blindness which has attempted to make overt racism a hidden phenomenon. Irish national identity conveniently forgets their part and participation in the transatlantic slave trade. It forgets that, with the justification of spreading Christianity, Irish religious leaders migrated to the African continent where they imposed white religion and law on Black Africans.
Irish people like to distance themselves from their Irish American cousins who perpetuated and continue to perpetuate antiblack violence, but in doing so Irish people attempt to elide themselves from being accountable for white supremacy
However, reckoning with antiblackness must also take place in Ireland itself, and in how it treats its Black population. This same Ireland has racially stratified workplaces where non-white people engage in strenuous labour that the white Irish don’t have to do owing to an economic situation that isn’t as precarious. This supposedly post-racial society was where Mixed-race children’s intelligence was subjected to eugenicist judgments of “negroid” the features of that child were, so as to determine whether they should be placed in an industrial school in the 20th century. Operating as if Ireland doesn’t function under racism cannot be intelligible when the carceral placement of asylum seekers into the violence that is Direct Provision takes place. Irish people like to distance themselves from their Irish American cousins who perpetuated and continue to perpetuate antiblack violence, but in doing so Irish people attempt to elide themselves from being accountable for white supremacy and how they themselves have reproduced racist conditions for people of colour in this country that have made our lives more difficult.
Racism is permeated and undergirded throughout Irish society, experienced by all those who are regarded as non-white
Racism is permeated and undergirded throughout Irish society, experienced by all those who are regarded as non-white. For Black people specifically, this has manifested in plenty of circumstances. Black people are too familiar with the antiblack microaggressions that have been used to subject us to harm in our lives. The same constructions of what it means to be Black under chattel slavery and African colonialism are conveyed in the way in which Black people in Ireland are perceived. The images that are placed upon Black people include our conflation with subhuman status under the infantilising treatment that is the hyper fixation on our hair, or the level of surveillance that nonblack people incur against Black life in how we conduct ourselves and our relationships with our families and communities.
These microaggressions, as innocent as they may seem, seek to reify black oppression where black people’s proximity to poverty is rendered biologically essential because white understanding of Black life is understood as lazy, immature and inadequate. As a result of this racist imagery we can’t be honest workers or good parents or good role models. This picture of Black people in Ireland is dangerous because it justifies measures put in place to ensure that Black people and other people of colour are not given “unfair advantages”. It is recognisable how this plays out, where people in Direct Provision are given a measly €38.80 per week for all expenses they may have.
White propositions of a black inferiority are visible by the way many migrant families are subjected to higher third-level education fees owing to many not having the required Irish citizenship for access to substantially lower Irish fees, or the lack of access to SUSI. Because of the white Irish imagination, structural barriers that affect Black people in this country are overlooked and not considered in our relationship to poverty. Lower socio-economic status becomes justifiable where the narrative of Black Irish people is that we are not deserving of social protections or self-actualisation because we have not worked hard enough for the kindness that the Irish state has to offer.
Narratives around how black people are more passionate or even animalistic in our sexual relationships are pernicious, and visible in Ireland.
Racist imagery of the oversexualised black body also reflects the voyeuristic image enforced on black people on this island. Narratives around how black people are more passionate or even animalistic in our sexual relationships are pernicious, and visible in Ireland. This view of black sexuality is what I believe is the only way we can comprehend how the placement of the 27th amendment in the Irish constitution could have been passed by popular referendum. This antiblack and racist law, where children who are born in Ireland are no longer given a constitutional right to citizenship unless their parents had Irish citizenship, was passed by 79.17% of Irish voters. The reason for the 27th amendment was to cease Black women’s supposed birth tourism to gain entry to this country. Such a depraved consideration of Black women could only be given power through an understanding of Black women as uncontrollable overtly sexual beings with an animalistic lack of control leading to overbreeding. Utilising this misogynoiristic stereotype, the Irish population could organise to disrupt Black women’s supposed uncontrollable urge to overpopulate.
Black Lives Matter has shown that antiblackness is a world-wide phenomenon. Ireland has done the easier part of being able to say that Black life should matter through protest and solidarity, but the reality is that the work is not done. Ireland has not come to reckon with its role in antiblackness both in the Black diaspora, and the continent. An Ireland that says Black Lives Matter is a misnomer where Black people have no avenues to address hate speech inflicted on our communities, or where Ireland imprisons Black and Brown migrants in Direct Provision. Ireland and all its institutions have done little to uplift and support Black Irish people, betraying the performative acts of solidarity that the Irish government has decided is adequate. If Black Lives Matter is a mantra of a movement where we seek liberation for black folk globally, Ireland must confront where antiblackness was a simpler solution than supporting Black people.