Opinion

Let's Talk About Race and Identity in Ireland

Emma Dabiri portrait
Emma Dabiri

Emma Dabiri is an Irish-Nigerian academic, writer, and broadcaster. She is currently a teaching fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and is working on her first book.

“Yeah, but you’re not really Irish, are you?”

“I really love black girls/guys. That’s a compliment, right?”

“Is it racism, or banter?”

“What is white supremacy (and what’s it got to do with Ireland?)”

“What the feck do I do with my kids’ hair?”

“Which gender pronoun should I use?”

“What language should I speak in to my kids at home?”

“Can I touch your hair?”

“I feel left out at work because my faith means I don’t drink. How do I broach that with my colleagues?”

“Who’s Becky?”

A lot of you are going to be familiar with these kinds of questions. There’s been some new additions in recent years, but, as you can see, there’s still also loadsa old-school classics for the traditionalists out there.

Far too often I have been told that the discrimination I have experienced, or witnessed others experiencing, is not in fact “racism” (or insert other -ism of choice), but rather only the result of good old-fashioned, innocent “ignorance”.

Ah, so it’s okay that I was called the n-word twice this week because those guys aren’t actually racists, they’re just ignorant? Deadly. Thanks! I feel much better.

Or when – as is typical in Ireland – “friends” try to placate you with the “it’s just a bit of craic” line. When you protest that it, in fact, deviates quite far from craic, and swerves far closer into the dull old world of bigotry, it’s you that’s got a chip on your shoulder.

It’s draining, it’s exhausting, and it’s time to set a few things straight.

Until recently Ireland was a homogeneous, socially conservative country. It was really fucking difficult to be different. In the last 20 years there have been more changes then I could ever have foreseen, and it’s exciting, but at the same time much work remains to be done.

Certainly when I was growing up I didn’t necessarily have many people around that I could talk to about it all. I often felt extremely isolated.

As the non-white population of Ireland grows, gender identities expand, the world becomes more digitally interconnected, and we see the rise of far-right fascism and polarization around identity, it’s time to reflect on the state of race relations and equality in Ireland, and to think meaningfully about issues both of difference and of belonging, in a context that is unique to this country.

Drawing on my background in critical race, feminist and queer theory, post-colonialism, my own personal experiences of being a black mixed-race Irish woman, as well as my interest in popular culture (and my general, inherent soundness of course), I am here to answer your questions on race and gender, social and cultural identity.

These kind of conversations are often charged, and there is often a great deal of discomfort and defensiveness around these topics. But over the years I have heard it all, believe me, and I’m here to share that experience and insight with ye.

While my concern is always with social justice and fairness, I am not beholden to the current orthodoxy of “safe spaces” nor the prescribed use of language that dominates in such spaces, mainly because I find most forms of conformism stifling, even when their aims were originally socially progressive.

The goal of one of my favourite thinkers, the Martiniquais psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, was not “the end of colonialism, but the end of the standpoint from which colonialism makes sense”, as the academics Fred Moten and Stefano Harney put it.

Likewise, I have little interest in a society where bigots merely feel they have to disguise their bigotry out of a fear that being publicly racist, sexist, classist, or homophobic is no longer cute.

Real progress will only be made when people are no longer any of these things, not out of some imagined fear of “political correctness”, but because to be a racist, sexist, classist homophobe no longer makes any sense.

So yeah hit me up, keep it trill, remember no topic is too sensitive, too silly, too big or too small, ask away, I got you!


Every two weeks, Emma Dabiri will field your questions on race and identity in contemporary Ireland. You can send her your questions through the form at dublininquirer.com/ask-emma

 

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