Rejecting Racism: We can be generation that stamps it out for good, say young Cork people

A spate of unpleasant social media incidents may have raised questions about the younger generation’s attitudes to racism and tolerance. In this week-long series, entitled Rejecting Racism, young Cork people outline their abhorrence of racism, starting with Anna O’Connor, a sixth year student in Cork
Rejecting Racism: We can be generation that stamps it out for good, say young Cork people
Black Lives Matter protest in Cork city

AMERICA is a far off and different place to Ireland. Watching CNN can often feel like a dystopian TV show. People are being killed in the streets because of the colour of their skin. Racism is thriving. But it’s over there, it’s far away.

Except it’s not.

We like to think that we are so much better here. Céad míle fáilte. “The Irish are the friendliest in the world!”

But all it takes is one look at social media to know that racism is here, alive and kicking. And it seems like it’s getting worse.

I am lucky, extremely lucky, to not be able to speak about this on a personal level. In a sense, I am not the one who should be telling this story. How can I say what racism is?

Like many, I’ve spent lockdown trying to educate myself, trying to learn how I can be a better ally, how I can be actively anti-racist instead of just not racist.

But recent incidents on social media have reminded me (and hopefully everyone else) just how important it is to speak out.

I’ve always thought that my generation was more open-minded than those before us, that we were inclined to fight for what’s right.

Generation Z successfully ruined Donald Trump’s rally through TikTok, we rallied the world for Black Lives Matter. We were raised on The Hunger Games and Divergent. We are not afraid of a little rebellion.

I see now how wrong I was. Perhaps we are more open-minded than older generations but that doesn’t excuse us. ‘One bad apple spoils the lot.’ I am afraid of just how many bad apples we have.

What happened to a woman who was pushed into the Royal Canal in Dublin was, sadly, not an isolated incident. I have seen how young people racially abuse others and brush it off as a joke. “We’re only messing.” “It’s only a laugh.”

It can be as basic as mean nicknames and mocking how someone speaks. It can be scrawling their classmate’s name followed by a racist word on the walls of school bathroom stalls. It can be much more violent, like what happened at the Royal Canal.

These things are happening here and they are no less excusable than the events in America.

People aren’t born racist. It’s a phrase commonly said. It’s true — no child is born hating another person. These things are learned, whether from parents or classmates. We need to start teaching better principles.

The idea of learning from our peers is widespread. We learn how to dress, how to play, so many different things. It’s not peer pressure, per se, but fitting in with the crowd.

The most recent large scale example of this happened durning the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. Instagram was flooded with pictures of plain black squares and hashtags of support. Everyone saw their friends doing it so they had to do it, too. #BlackoutTuesday was a movement that began in an effort to get people to educate themselves.

The idea was that after posting your black square you would log out of social media and instead spend the day educating yourself on racism and how to be anti-racist.

Except it instead turned into a fruitless trend, with people immediately returning to posting as normal and not learning or changing anything about themselves.

This idea of ‘social media activism’ is extremely damaging. People post in an effort to show that they are a ‘good person’ but do nothing else. It is extremely rife amongst those my age and gives you an unsettling feeling of the students shouting louder than the teacher.

The problem, you see, is that these expressions of goodwill are drowning out the true activists and diverse voices.

And while sharing on social media is extremely important to raise awareness, it cannot be the only thing you do.

But despite all of these things, I am hopeful. A change is coming, it has to. Today we are calling out racist acts. We are bringing awareness to the lack of diversity in media and workplaces. We are being more conscious of what we do and say. We are supporting diverse authors and business owners. We are listening to diverse voices.

People seem to be so afraid that diversity is making us lose our Irishness, but nothing could be further from the truth. Being Irish is about being kind and welcoming. It’s about having the craic, but not at the expense of others. It’s about having open arms and doors and sharing a cup of tea. That is what we have to remember. It is time for us to realise that the only people making us lose our Irishness are those that are still maintaining racist beliefs and actions.

As for those of my age, I can only hope that the good outnumber the bad. That the voices of support are louder than those that say cruel things. That some day those racists change and that they don’t infect their children with those same beliefs.

Some day, we will turn on the news without being ashamed, some day the world will exist without racism. It will change because it has to.

To my peers: let’s make sure that we are the generation to make it happen.

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