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On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2023

I would like to start by sharing with you this idea, which I find very thought-provoking: “there is a big difference between being not-racist and being anti-racist”.

Even though both attitudes may seem similar, they are not. People who are not-racist tend to be a bystander and keep quiet when they witness a racist interaction. They don’t say anything despite not agreeing with what is happening. These people don’t act racist. However, by keeping quiet, they help to keep the status quo, and nothing changes.

I have a story. A few years ago, the hip-hop duo Versatile was an Electric Picnic hit, and their songs “Ketamine” and “We sell brown” have millions of views on YouTube. But sadly, the lyrics of this song are filled with racist comments about women. These songs created a sort of debate in social media about their content, but most commentators said these songs shouldn’t be taken seriously and instead taken with a sense of humour. But for me, Versatile songs are not funny, they are racist, full of prejudice and stereotypes and disrespect African women. 

There is a point when we must draw a line and stand up against jokes and comments that reproduce a negative, false, prejudiced image of people of colour and ethnic minorities.

Being anti-racist means acting accordingly to your anti-racist values and doing something about it, standing up, learning and engaging. So, that is what we need if we want to eradicate racism and discrimination. We need to be vocally anti-racist and commit to social change. 

Learning about racism and discrimination is a powerful tool for growing awareness and taking action. And when I say action, we don’t have to think of a mega campaign. Instead, we can trigger important changes through our daily interactions. It is about how we treat people and talk about them. 

Especially now, when there is a wave of false information about refugees and asylum seekers all around us, we need to stand up, and for that, we need to learn. 

For that reason, I want to share some facts about discrimination and racism in Ireland.

Did you know that:

1. People of colour and minority ethnic groups are paid less than their white peers.

A ‘migrant wage gap’ exists in Ireland. Non-Irish nationals earn, on average, 22 per cent less per hour than Irish nationals – for every €1 an Irish worker earned, a non-Irish worker earned 78 cents.

Yet earnings differ considerably depending on country of origin. East Europeans earn 40 per cent less per hour than their Irish counterparts (20.5 per cent less). For African nationals and descendants, employment rates are very low, and they earn, on average, 14 per cent less than Irish nationals.

Non-Irish women experience a double earnings penalty: being female and being a migrant. Non-Irish women earn 11 per cent less than non-Irish men and 18 per cent less than Irish men. 

Although Ireland has among the highest percentages of people with third-level qualifications in the EU, working-age migrants are even more likely to have a third-level education than their Irish-born counterparts. 

2. People of colour and minority ethnic groups face racism at different stages of the criminal justice process.

As a result of the demographic changes in Ireland, the prison population is today more ethnically diverse. Unfortunately, recent data show that some minority ethnic groups – for example, those from African backgrounds or Travellers – are over-represented in the Irish penal system. This situation, as it happens in other countries, could be the result of racial bias and the over-policing of people of certain backgrounds. 

These issues are highlighted by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as a matter of racial and ethnic equality since minority ethnic communities are frequently ‘over-policed’, with high levels of harassment and confrontational policing styles.

A report of the Irish Penal Reform Trust in 2022 found that foreign nationals may receive longer sentences than Irish nationals for controlled drug and sexual offences. And also faced barriers to services, respect for different religious backgrounds, and language barriers.

Regarding racist incidents in 2021, there were 404 reports, including criminal offences, hate speech and discrimination – including discrimination in access to public services and state support. 

However, it is known that racist incidents are unlikely to be reported because of the victims’ lack of trust in being taken seriously by the police and the unlikely outcome of those committing the offence being charged. 

A report by the Irish Council for International Students also found that two in five international students have experienced or witnessed racism during their time in Ireland, with the majority of incidents going unreported as students expressed feeling the authorities did not protect them in such cases. 

So, we have two levels here:

1. We have structural racism and discrimination against ethnic minorities enacted by institutions such as the justice system, the labour market, service providers, the educational system, etc

2. Then, we have the level of people’s interactions. The day-to-day encounters. The level of the songs of Versatile and the bad jokes we have all heard.   

We can act against racism at both levels. Maybe we feel structural racism is too powerful and enormous, and we are powerless to face it. But we need to believe in the power of organisation and community action. We are stronger together, and campaigns and advocacy are powerful tools of social change.

On the other hand, at the level of our daily interactions, how we speak about others, and how we treat people. We all can do something about it. 

If you don’t know much about these issues, educate yourself, join others and create a group to learn and discuss these issues. For example, why not create a book club, and instead of reading fiction, you read a book about racism or the book a Hostel Life to learn about the experience of Direct Provision in Ireland? Or maybe you can become a volunteer or join a campaign. If you are a teacher, discuss these issues openly with your students. If you are a civil servant, advocate for people of colour and those from ethnic minority groups. 

Above all, I invite you to:

-Educate yourself

-Understand your privilege

-Put yourself in the shoes of those that are discriminated against

-Listen to those who look and sound different to you

-Advocate for those from minority groups

I want to finish this presentation by sharing an extract from a very powerful piece that was written by a student from a secondary school in Dundalk. She won a competition in 2021 which asked students to write about racism in Ireland. 

Her name is Victory, and these are her words:

“As a Black Irish teenager, who has been called racial slurs since primary school; who has been told that I would be “prettier if I were white”; as well as judged as “loud and intimidating” due to my race, and so much more. I am particularly keen on creating a world without racism. How do we dismantle racism when racial bias exists in the majority of people in Ireland? 

That is why it is important to raise this generation, my generation, into adults that raise their children without hatred and bigotry. 

I have endured racism for many years, as has my mother before me. And despite having heard stories of my mother’s patients growling at her and calling her multiple slurs, and though I myself have been a victim of these slurs, I still believe that we can fulfil Martin Luther King’s dream for a world where we “will not be judged by the colour of” our “skin but by the content of” our “character.” I still believe that my own children will not doubt the worth of their skin the way I did, and I still believe that we can come together and create a world without racism”.

Photo Sebastian silva







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