Racism in Cork series - Day One: Campaigners aim to defeat Cork’s racists

Racism in Cork series - Day One: Campaigners aim to defeat Cork’s racists
Nomaxabiso Maye, from South Africa, speaking at the Anti-Racism march in Cork on SaturdayPic: Eddie O'Hare

Every day that passes, Cork city is becoming more and more diverse.

All across the world, people of different nationalities and ethnicities have heard of the famed friendliness of our nation and have decided to travel here – to live and work, to get an education, or simply to give their children a better quality of life.

But while most Irish people embrace this growing diversity, racism, even in this day and age, still rears its ugly head.

On the streets of Cork city, for example, muslim men and women have been shouted at and abused both physically and verbally.

Women wearing headscarves have been publicly berated and told: “Take that thing off your head".

Men of middle eastern descent have been targeted on Cork city buses. One man was told: “Dogs aren't allowed on the bus”.

A teenage girl from South Sudan was told: “Go back to your own country”.

Another teenage girl from Brazil asked if she could sit next to someone on the bus. He replied: “No f***king way”.

These stories are but a few examples given by those who attended an anti-racism march in Cork on Saturday. It was held in advance of World Anti-Racism Day which falls on March 21 every year.

Speaking at the event was South African woman Nomaxabiso Maye who is currently living in Cork and studying in UCC.

The outspoken anti-racism campaigner has been here for seven years and has first-hand experience of the direct provision system.

“I love Cork and I’ve made great friends here but the amount of racism that is happening... it’s unbelievable,” she said.

“I have experienced a lot of racism here but I do challenge it, I don’t let it go. It’s important for me to challenge such issues. I’ve been told a number of times to go back to my country. I turn around and say well there are a lot of Irish people in my country too, and there are a lot of Irish people everywhere. Everyone is a foreigner if they go to a different country.” 

Ms Maye said she is also aware of anti-racist graffiti that has been sprayed in the Shandon area and in the area around Kent Station.

“People are taught to be racist, but they can also unlearn it. We are all one people who are facing day-to-day life equally, whether you are black or white or any colour you may be.” 

She said that while some people learn racism from their parents, some also learn it from their Government.

“The migrant crisis is a good example that European countries have imposed such racist policies on people coming into their countries,” said Ms Maye.

“I would like to see EU countries sharing the burden of migrants equally. That’s not much to ask. Germany has been an exception, but it can’t just be all up to one country. When Governments impose racist policies it has an impact on the people, and they learn to be racist too. And you also need migrants for labour reasons. Countries that have migrants have been proven to be doing economically well. If you have people willing to sell their labour, why not let them? It’s economics." 

“We eat the same food and we breathe the same air”

Participating in Saturday's anti-racism march was a man whose ancestors hail from the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

Protestors taking part in the march againt racism in Cork on Saturday. Pic: Eddie O'Hare 
Protestors taking part in the march againt racism in Cork on Saturday. Pic: Eddie O'Hare 

While he asked not to be named publicly, he said he has experienced racism on the streets of Cork, despite the fact that he was born in London and has lived in Cork since 1984. 

“I’ve been told to ‘F**k off home’, that kind of thing. And I've being called a coconut, and told to f**k off back to Africa, things like that," he said. 

He said that protests like the one in Cork at the weekend are important to highlight racism.

"It’s about making people wise to the fact that we are all one human race. And anyone who suggests they have the right to saying anything to anybody because of skin colour or dress or religion or ethnic background… it’s disgusting, despicable and ignorant," he said. 

“Sometimes it’s out of fear. Fear of the unknown. That we’re different for whatever reason. We’re not, we’re the same. We eat the same food, we breathe the same air. It’s one of those things. We’re all just people. When I moved to Cork there were very few darker people over here. That’s changed now, which is a really good thing.

“My kids are in schools, in Gaelscoils, where they’re completely integrated and it’s fantastic. Even the word integration is wrong there. There’s just lots of Irish people and some of them are different colours. That’s all. And that’s a wonderful thing.” 

Taken aback by some comments

Ten years ago, Isadora Alves' mother left Brazil and moved to Cork. Three years ago, Isadora joined her mother and now lives and studies here.

Isadora Alves and Danya Ukanu at the Anti-Racism march in Cork on SaturdayPic: Eddie O'Hare
Isadora Alves and Danya Ukanu at the Anti-Racism march in Cork on SaturdayPic: Eddie O'Hare

While Isadora explains that she has many friends in Cork now, she was initially taken aback by how much racism she encountered here.

“When I came here, I didn’t think that racism was something that happened... but when I experienced it, and witnessed it, I was so shocked. 

“On the bus, some people don’t like it when I sit next to them. It has happened a few times. One time I just asked to sit next to this guy and he said ‘No f***ing way. Go back to your own country’. It was terrible. It literally made me want to cry. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to give him that satisfaction. But I think it made me stronger.

“Another time I was on the bus there was a woman sitting next to me. She was an older woman. I tried to be friendly and I said hi. She looked at me, she gave me a look as if I disgusted her, and then she looked away. Things like that… they are small I suppose, but they don’t feel nice. They feel awful.”

Mother here 11 years says “racism is everywhere”

One woman at the march said she moved here from Mauritius with her husband and her son in order to “have a better life”.

They are currently facing a deportation order.

She said that sometimes racism can come in very subtle forms, and is present in institutions she has had dealings with.

“I’ve been in Ireland for 11 years and racism is everywhere. My personal experience is that sometimes when you meet people, on face value they don’t show you that they don’t really like you, or that they have a problem to do with your colour. But after a while you realise it,” she said.

“I decided to come here for my child’s future, to give him a better life and education. He has been in Ireland all his life and he likes it. We want to stay.” 

Joe Moore, from Anti-Deportation Ireland, said the story is a common one.

He said racism can be both blatant as well as subtle, and that neither form is acceptable.

Joe Moore from Anti-Deportation Ireland. Pic: Eddie O'Hare
Joe Moore from Anti-Deportation Ireland. Pic: Eddie O'Hare

“The Government is responsible for the direct provision system which has been compared by most commentators now as being akin to the Magdalene laundries,” he said.

“But despite that, the Minister for Justice is still saying that this is the best way of keeping people. And that then percolates down into society and you have people being harassed on buses and on the street.” 

He said it must be “very scary” for the people who are being targeted, but that the more subtle discriminations can be more emotionally hurtful.

“I’ve often heard African people saying to me that they know if they get on the train or the bus that they’ll have the full seat to themselves because people won’t sit down with them. It's very upsetting.” 

South African anti-racism campaigner Nomaxabiso Maye said she has also heard of people of colour being discriminated against when they apply for jobs.

“At the end of the day, everyone is seen as a burden on the social welfare system. I know there are a lot of Africans in the city, but I don’t see many of them being given the chance to work, which is another form of racism. They’re not getting jobs. That’s one of the issues worrying me,” she said.

“I would like to see Africans being economically active and paying tax. You hear people saying Africans are only here for social welfare and for free houses and how we need to take care of our own first. In that case, give people the opportunity to work and to pay tax. People are willing to work.” 

She said Africans in Cork have been moving to Dublin because they feel they might have a better chance of getting a job there. But Nomaxabiso said Cork is her home now and doesn't want to move away.

“I’m studying here and I would like to remain in Cork when I graduate because this is where my friends are, where I’ve been living. But if I can’t get a job here because of the colour of my skin… that is a problem.”

Even children can be victims of racist bullying

Lijuan Qian is originally from China and has been living in Cork for the last four and a half years.

Lijuan, Chin and Oliver Qian, Till Weinhartmer and Jill Rogers at the Anti-Racism march in Cork on Saturday. Pic: Eddie O'Hare
Lijuan, Chin and Oliver Qian, Till Weinhartmer and Jill Rogers at the Anti-Racism march in Cork on Saturday. Pic: Eddie O'Hare

While thankfully she has not been subjected to any racist attacks herself, she said she has heard stories from other mothers in her son's school that children are being bullied for the way that they look.

“My son, his friend is Polish and he is always being abused for it and being called names. I know his mother went to a teacher about it, but they didn’t do anything. So they had to change school,” she said.

“I met another lady, also from Poland, and she was in a supermarket one day and was blocking the aisle with her trolley by accident and another lady trying to pass her got mad and told her ‘Get out of my country’. Rather than say excuse me, can I get by, this is what she said. She cried after that. So I know it happens.”

Overall, however, Lijuan said Cork people have been friendly to her. 

"I like Ireland very much. I was in the UK for a few years before I moved here and I think here it is more relaxed and the people are generally nicer."

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