The tragic death of George Floyd has opened a conversation about racism in Irish society. It is a welcome development. The stories of the ‘lived experience’ of racism we are hearing are very difficult to digest and are a sad reflection on Ireland. The coverage as to the extent of racism in our communities is stark and poses questions in relation to how inclusive Irish society is. Sadly, as evidenced by what we are hearing, racism is very much alive and well in Irish communities and society. It did not take the death of George Floyd for us to realize that.
There are many reasons why racism is present in Ireland. Ireland has a legacy issue with attitudes to ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’. ‘Othering’ is very much alive and well. Traditionally, the reference point in terms of the hierarchy has been, white, catholic, heterosexual and patriarchal. There have been positive changes in terms of attempting to make Ireland a more equal society, however, there is a long way to go. Unless and until we all acknowledge that racism, othering, discrimination, reductionism and prejudice exists, it will remain with us. As Jensen (2010) puts it, ‘If we don’t acknowledge and recognize it, we can’t dismantle it’. To curb the spread of exclusion and to make Ireland a more inclusive society, we all need to question our ‘unconscious bias’. Most of us are aware of our ‘conscious bias’ and have the capacity to reflect on our thoughts and our actions when it comes to working with diversity. If we are committed to making our communities and ourselves more inclusive we need to tackle the power imbalances that exist. We also need to take every opportunity to educate ourselves on how we can become more inclusive in our thoughts and actions. We need to ‘call out’ anyone who makes derogatory and offensive remarks, subtle and not so subtle. We all need to work together if we want to live in and create a more inclusive society.
As a staff and student body in Carlow College, it is important to send out a strong message that racism is hurtful, detrimental to mental health, well-being and is damaging to everyone, both perpetrators and victims and survivors of racism and exclusion. All lives matter, including Traveller lives (the most acceptable form of Racism in Irish society). Racism is not only directed at people whose skin colour is not white but anyone who does not fit into the majority ethnic group. Ireland’s treatment of the Roma is described by human rights organizations as falling far short in every indicator on the human rights scale and are one of the most disadvantaged and marginalised in Irish society.
To evolve into a more caring and inclusive society we should continue to check our conscious and unconscious biases in relation to Travellers, Roma, people whose skin colour is not white (and please refrain from using the term ‘coloured’, everyone is coloured, in fact white people are probably the most ‘coloured’ with shades of pink, grey, red not to mention the variety of freckles on white skin), migrants, Muslims, asylum seekers and refugees. Cultural competence can be learned. The majority of people know that diversity is a strength, an addition to our college and communities throughout Ireland. Diversity expands viewpoints, opens minds, opens worlds, expands understanding and increases a sense of solidarity, hope for the future and ultimately shapes a better more equal world.