YOUNG Offenders star Demi Isaac Oviawe has been called the 'n-word' thousands of times and says even her four-year-old brother has been subjected to racial slurs.
Demi, who plays Linda in the hit RTÉ comedy, has spoken out in support of the Black Lives Matters campaign, which has been the focus of attention since the killing of George Floyd in the US.
Demi insists racism in Cork is nothing new. However, seeing her four-year-old brother subjected to it at the park affected her deeply.
“I’ve been called the ‘n-word’ thousands of times but my youngest brother is only four so it’s really terrible,” she said.
“I don’t believe that anybody is born racist. It’s what you see. Most of the time it comes from parents. The children who called my brother this name were not much older than him — between the ages of about four and seven.”
The Mallow actor explained the difficulties of explaining racism to a four-year-old.
“My brother was saying that he didn’t understand,” she said.
“He was so confused. I remember him saying to me, ‘I was just playing here’. It’s so hard to explain to a four-year-old that you don’t have to do anything to be called these names. It just happens. I want people to know that racism isn’t just physical. It can be emotional too.”
Demi described one such experience from her own childhood.
“I can remember complimenting a girl about her tan after she went on holidays. She hit back saying that she ‘wouldn’t want to be my colour anyway’. That really hurt. I’ve been pushed just because I was the only black girl. Little things like that stay with you. Unfortunately, I’ve had to live with it and bite my tongue.”
She asked how long someone should have to live in a country before they can feel accepted.
“All my brothers have been told to go back to ‘their countries’. The funny thing is that I’m the only one who wasn’t born in Ireland. I’m not sure what they want them to do. Do they want them to change their birth certificates?”
Demi stressed that racism is not confined to white people: “I’ve had friends who have said things about white people that disgusted me. I’ve told them that if it had been a white person saying these things about us, there would have been world war three.
“Black Lives Matter isn’t about black people versus white people. It’s about all people versus racism. You get white people who are racist and black people who are racist. It works both ways.
“We are lucky that we don’t have the same problems with racism in Ireland as in the US. I’ve never been pulled over by a garda because of the colour of my skin.”
Demis said she would like to see more diversity on television. “One person contacted me on social media asking what I was complaining about because ‘wasn’t I on telly’.
“It made me mad because they were basically saying that all we needed was one black person on television for us to be showing diversity.
“If you look at Irish television shows they don’t reflect the communities we live in. I wasn’t the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl you normally see on TV but I was the one who got that lucky chance. There are others out there who deserve that same chance.”
Demi advised people to educate themselves before speaking out about racism.