Why we’re still waiting for racial integration


The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a 17th-century Baroque sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, housed in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in the heart of Rome. It depicts an angel appearing before the eponymous saint and striking her with a divine sensation, an experience previously alien to her that leaves her swooning with reverence. As well as the obvious godly intervention, it’s the rarity of such an encounter that leaves the subject in such a state of awe.

In Irish society, and in other societies, some of us experience a similar awe when faced with the phenomenon of other cultures. That’s not to say that our society is insular, or lacking multiculturalism, but simply that this fascination with diverse cultures is almost a contemporary version of Teresa’s religious ecstasy. It’s not there at birth, but comes in gradually and attaches itself to the culture your social circle doesn’t belong to. Here we see the root cause of this fascination; a lack of integration.

Of course, some people would cringe at the idea of cultural or racial integration, but xenophobia is another topic for another day. The fundamental building blocks of this interest derive from a separatism of cultures that can be found all over Ireland and Western Europe. This is not an imposed separatism, but a quiet separation of social circles probably stemming from the slurs of children.

Although 12% of Ireland’s population is of migrant origin, Frances Fitzgerald voiced concern over the looming ghettoisation and unemployment of migrants that prompted the introduction of the Migrant Integration Scheme last year. This Scheme aims to combat the usual things we would expect from a lack of racial (and not just migrant) integration; discrimination in educational facilities, isolation in local communities and barriers to jobs in areas such as politics.

It’s probably too soon to tell if there’s been any progress, but keep in mind that there have been delays with similar initiatives. Calls are still being made to review the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act (1989), as academics consider it unsuitable for addressing hate crime. Twelve years ago, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance was told that a review of the Act was “nearly complete”.

In addition, the National Action Plan Against Racism expired ten years ago and no replacement has been introduced. As many of this Plan’s aims were almost identical to the Migrant Integration Scheme’s, one cannot be blamed for fearing that the recent Scheme might too be forgotten after its expiration with yet more work needed.

Observing these past delays, it becomes clear that the issue of racial integration may be overshadowed by other concerns. The question is whether this is because of apathy or the sheer number of deeds to be done in tackling discrimination and dwindling employment opportunities.

By returning to my pseudo-comparison with Saint Teresa, we find a possible answer; policymakers are less appreciative of diverse cultures than the youth of today. The cultural apathy that some may associate with the previous generation has been replaced with a fetishistic enchantment, with due thanks to celebrity culture and the music industry. In an interesting parallel to Bernini’s Saint, our generation has been struck by international entertainment in a manner so overwhelming as to be almost sacred. The followers of this doctrine are nearly old enough to implement strategies for racial integration, but not quite. The sad fact is that they still have to wait, despite their fervent devotion. For now, the only thing they can do is repeat their daily rituals until the time comes to finally bring a bit of change.