Being a full-time Asian
Dealing with racism in Ireland.
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"Go back to China," says one of my fellow pupils in class, straight to my face. And this, sadly, is probably the most PG comment I can write here.
As Brendan Gleeson famously said in The Guard: "I'm Irish sure, racism's part of my culture." Hilariously, for the land of a thousand welcomes, I often hear this quote used as some sort of excuse for blatant racism.
I’ve lived my 17 years in Ireland as a half-Chinese person and can say that: yes, racism is as much a part of Irish culture as liking potatoes. People are probably sick of hearing the term "racism" constantly – but the reason we still hear about it is because it still happens.
All people of "different races” are unfortunately seen as novelty – not just us Asians. Our names are usually different, our skin is usually different – but we still are all commented upon the same, looked down upon the same, mistrusted the same.
I was at a party just last week, when we started discussing some horror movie where the horror initially begins when a black man is allowed into the protagonist’s home at midnight, before committing manslaughter. One person exclaimed "Well, why would you ever let a black man into your house?!" This is 2014, in Ireland, in a fairly liberal suburb of Dublin – might I remind you.
What does the term "racist" mean nowadays? In my opinion, it's not as dramatic as people think. Slurs or stereotypical comments, even when they're done in a seemingly affectionate way, can be hurtful. I'm often told that I "must be good at Maths, because you're Asian!" That makes me feel a bit crap sometimes – for a start, I'm terrible at Maths and it's placing this weird expectation on me based on my race.
But I'm not talking just about black and Asian people. I'm talking about the rudeness towards Romanies, Irish travellers (Pavees), Hispanic, Europeans and even Americans (my American friend is openly slagged by teachers for her accent).
There was a time when I wished I wasn’t “different.” And it saddens me to think about that time. I would’ve done anything to escape the remarks I used to receive (they've slowly become less wounding but more ridiculing as I've grown up).
To think that I wasn’t the only kid, who went through or is currently going through racial abuse at the moment, is sickening. Nobody should feel guilty for their own existence, for where they're from, for how they were born. And yet – so little is being actively done about it.
In 2006, the ESRI found that a quarter of black people living in Ireland have been racially abused or threatened. Yet, sadly – I do not find this statistic surprising. Why Ireland, as a nation that experienced its own discrimination (albeit a long time ago) seems to have this underlying nastiness is a mystery to me.
The real problem is ignorance. At the root of the problem, it’s not an individual’s fault but the society in which they’ve grown up. I hear adults saying things just as bad as teenagers – and they're passing this on to their own children in turn.
Then the media here doesn't help – you've got constant racist comments on everything from radio to shows. A quick Internet search and you've unlocked that rare key to Irish rudeness.
The government can’t just half-heartedly condone racism – real action needs to be taken. If that means imprisonment for offenders, media quotas or just a study on finding the root as to why people are racist, then I fully support it.
Even better would be to start teaching children from an early age about the issue, as to stop future generations from making the same mistakes. Parents need to cut out slurs from their speech and be able to talk to their kids about this sort of stuff, instead of pretending all children are innocent (as I said, the worst bullying and isolation I experienced was when I was a child – when kids didn't know how to react to having someone of a different race in their class).
If you're a teenager reading this, think about the last time you heard something racist said. Next time it happens, do your best to step in – even simply pointing out that someone's comment was racist can have a big impact and make someone rethink their words.
It’s 2014. The Civil Rights movement began over 50 years ago. Where are we now? H.G. Wells once famously said: “Our nationality is humankind.” Why then do we still fail to accept each other as we are?