WHEN speaking about racism, many Irish people will be quick to reply with “what about our own?”
Those living here are our own, and many of those who are discriminated against were actually born here in Ireland. Many of our best music artists (Denise Chaila, Erica Cody and Tolu Makay) have told us that they are constantly asked “Where are you really from?” when they say they are Irish.
Surely we can now see that many people from minority backgrounds are Irish at this stage? Many have Irish accents, can speak Irish better than I, and many of them are immersed in our music, sport and culture too.
“But what about the homeless” is another phrase that is quite popular, but we need to stop blaming migrants for homelessness too. Ireland is a vast country that is far from overcrowded and it’s a country that’s proud of our own migrants all over the world. How many of your friends and family are living and working abroad?
It’s roughly about 20 years since Ireland first experienced mass immigration and it’s fair to say the suddenly prosperous country wasn’t ready for it. Our government hastily introduced Direct Provision as an emergency measure that made sure Ireland wasn’t seen as being too comfortable a destination. I’ve friends whose families were fleeing war and famine who ended up here in a Direct Provision system that still exists, and still draws huge criticism from those of us who care about basic human rights. Sadly, most Irish people know little about the system or the conditions.
The centres, which are privately run for profit, are mostly situated out of sight in the countryside, further isolating migrants from society here.
It was very much an Irish way of dealing with a problem that would perhaps just go away. It wasn’t exactly Céad Míle Fáilte.
We market Ireland as being friendly and welcome, but sadly those who most need this hospitality are often left isolated and frustrated.
Though my work DJing and writing about music, I was always involved with multi-cultural events in Cork and I got to know many people from many different communities over the years. In recent years, I’ve headed a youth project at the Cork Migrant Centre in Nano Nagle Place, where the amazing Naomi Masheti drives a number of initiatives. The centre was started by the Presentation Sisters and is in the spirit of Nano Nagle’s own ideals.
My own project is now three years old and it started with a group of about 12 teenage girls from migrant communities here. Over the years we have started working more and more with those living in Direct Provision at the Kinsale Accommodation centre plus Millstreet, Macroom and now Mallow. The kids became a dance group initially but have since gone on to do numerous artistic projects with the likes of the Glucksman and Cork Printmakers, and recently installed artwork expressing their own views on the Black Lives Matter protests on the front windows of Nano Nagle Place itself.
They were involved in a webinar after the George Floyd murder, attended by the Cork Lord Mayor and many important policy makers, and are currently finishing the My Generation project with Kate O’Shea and the Glucksman, where they will unveil huge artwork in the city centre on culture night.
We have been lucky to work with great dancers, artists, writers and music producers. The kids are amazingly talented and I’ve got to know them really well. The main thing I’ve learned is we need to listen to our young people.
None of them ever complained, but recently I’ve got to learn at first hand that many of them have experienced institutional racism in schools. Speaking up has often made the situation worse, and many live in fear that they will be seen as trouble-makers if they do complain. The racism from other kids and adults is often in your face, but tellingly, it’s often quite subtle too, and most Irish people don’t even realise that there is much more to racism than calling people offensive names.
Teenagers have it tough anyway, but being from a minority makes it more challenging, and sadly many of those living in direct provision feel even more isolated. They are in a permanent state of the lockdown that none of us enjoyed recently, but with far worse conditions and far less rights.
Our projects bring great joy and help integrate teenagers, but I don’t think it’s logical that migrants are sent to centres in the countryside that make access to more opportunities even more difficult. Many tell me privately they are made feel like criminals here and have had great difficulty fitting in, which is all many of them want.
There have been lots of positive initiatives lately and the Cork Migrant Centre is one such body working hard all summer to try and help educate and change the way we look at racism here. Ireland is fooling itself if we don’t think we have a big problem with racism. Most of us get on well with other cultures but it’s important that we listen to them.
We are all the same and we should all face the same challenges together. Homelessness, unemployment, the economy and the current pandemic are all huge challenges for each and every one of us. It’s time that Cork recognised that this beautiful mix of people and cultures that makes our city and county so amazing is on our side too, and we are all rebels dancing to the same groove!