I faced derogatory comments and insults, including being told to go back to where I came from and having my skin colour compared to excrement

An Anti Racism Summit will take place in The Millennium Hall in Cork City Hall on Friday, May 26. One of the organisers, FIONNUALA O’CONNOR, tells us about her experience of racism and the power of young voices
I faced derogatory comments and insults, including being told to go back to where I came from and having my skin colour compared to excrement

Fionnuala O'Connell of Cork Migrant Centre, at Nano Nagle Place. Picture: Clare Keogh

MOVING back to Ireland in 2010 from Liberia, I was excited to return to my father’s home, my home.

Being both Irish and Liberian, a person of mixed ethnicity, I made a promise to myself that I was not going to be defined as half Irish/half Liberian or half black/half white. Bodies cannot be split into fractions; I am lucky enough to have two homes.

During my formative years in the midlands and later in Cork, my Irish identity was frequently called into question. I faced derogatory comments and insults, including being told to go back to where I came from and having my skin colour compared to excrement. My rich Liberian heritage was reduced to stereotypes of poverty and pity.

In my current work at Cork Migrant Centre in Nano Nagle Place, I encounter young people whose families have migrated to Ireland with the hope of finding a new home. 

Sadly, these youths continue to experience rejection and exclusion in their schools and among their peers. Home should be a sanctuary of safety, welcome, and belonging.

The Irish Network Against Racism’s iReport of 2022 reveals a total of 600 reports of racism. This data demonstrates the ongoing prevalence of racist incidents in Ireland, underscoring the daily reality of discrimination experienced by individuals from marginalized groups.

The Power of Young Voices

At Cork Migrant Centre, young people have taken the lead in making Cork an inclusive anti-racist county by hosting an Anti-Racist Youth Led Summit, they are joined by a network of organisations and groups including Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) and Children and Young People Services Committee Cork (CYPSC).

The younger generation’s initiative in combating racism and promoting diversity brings hope to the struggle against discrimination. However, their efforts require support from attentive and proactive individuals who are willing to listen to and act upon their voices.

It is essential that young people’s voices are heard in the fight against racism. They are the future leaders of Ireland, and their attitude toward diversity and inclusivity will shape the country’s future. By promoting education on multiculturalism for teachers in training, racial bullying policies in school, and creating a safe space for conversation on race, Ireland can become a more welcoming and inclusive society. The value of young people’s contributions in creating a more equitable and just society cannot be overstated.

What can you do?

Solidarity involves standing in support of those who are experiencing oppression and committing to taking action to address the issues they face. It is important to recognise that racism is not just a problem for the individuals who experience it, but for society as a whole. By denying others their humanity, we risk losing our own in the process. By showing solidarity, we acknowledge that racism affects all of us and commit to working together to create a more equitable and just society.

To be effective allies and show solidarity, it is important to listen to the experiences of those who are affected by racism. It is not enough to simply say that we are against racism; we must actively work to dismantle the systems that perpetuate it, systems that we benefit from. This involves educating ourselves, speaking out against racist attitudes and behaviours, and advocating for policy changes that promote equality and justice. It is about recognising the humanity in each other.

Written by Fionnuala O’Connell, Youth Coordinator of Cork Migrant Centre.

Fionnuala is a board member of INAR, Artist and graduate honors degree in International Development and Food Policy.

She is a founding member of the CMC Youth Initiative Against Racism, working to support young people through coordinating activities, capacity building, mentoring, etc.

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