Thursday 15 November 2018

'A stranger warned my friend that I may have a bomb on me' - meet the young people who experience everyday racism in Ireland

Independent.ie caught up with a few people who tell their own stories of everyday racial abuse

(Pictured left - right) Ellie Kisyombe, Joseph Loughnane and Payu Tiwari
(Pictured left - right) Ellie Kisyombe, Joseph Loughnane and Payu Tiwari

David Fleming

The issue of racism in Ireland was thrust into the spotlight last week following reports of alleged racial abuse perpetrated against Rose of Tralee winner Kirsten Mate Maher in a Kilkenny takeaway.

The Waterford Rose, who grew up on the Kilkenny border, is half-Zambian half-Irish, and is the first African-Irish woman to win the competition.

Incidents like these are far from rare.

Earlier this year, a report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, in conjunction with the European Union, found that Ireland is "seriously deficient" in tackling hate crime and that Ireland has some of the highest instances of this type of crime against Africans but no legislation to tackle it. 

Gardai recorded an average of 158 discriminatory related crimes in the period 2006 – 2014, the majority of these were identified as racist. 

However, following the expansion of the range of categories for which a crime can be classed as discriminatory, including homophobia, Islamophobia and an anti-Semitism, the number of recorded crimes rose dramatically from 114 in 2014 to 308 in 2016, the report said. 

Last year, a report by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) in Ireland highlighted an “alarming growth” in the number of racist incidents being submitted to its iReport.ie system. 

There have been a number of high-profile racist incidents in Ireland over the last few years, from former mayor of Naas, Fine Gael’s Darren Scully saying he would no longer represent "black Africans" (Scully resigned from his post but is now back representing the people of Naas in his capacity as a councilor), to the racial abuse directed at a number of sportsmen, notably Cyrus Christie following the defeat to Denmark in the World Cup playoffs last year. 

Irish racism has even made headlines in other parts of the world.

Last summer, a number of Indian publications reported on a shocking incident on public transport that was caught on camera. 

Those, sadly, are just the tip of the iceberg. What of the incidents that do not make headlines? 

Independent.ie caught up with a couple of people who told their own stories of everyday racial abuse.

Payu Tiwari (21) moved from India to Ireland last year: "I’ve had fully fledged conversations with people where the only topic of discussion has been the colour of my skin".

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Payu Tiwari
 

People think racism is an issue only when you’re staring down the barrel of a gun and there’s an old white man opposite you telling you to 'get out of my country'.

Harping on about the colour of my skin and my accent are two classics; it seems impossible for people to talk to me without acknowledging my skin colour and talking about it with the air of a person examining an exhibit in a museum. 

I’ve actually had to have fully fledged conversations with people where the only topic of discussion has been the colour of my skin; I’ve also given a fair amount of explainers regarding South Asia, insisting that 'no, we’re not all the same'; I’m a human being, not a memo representing the entirety of the brown population and their details.

Micro aggressions like these are a part of my daily existence, and despite my best efforts, they crawl into the back of my head and stay there.

They come home with me and get louder and louder every single time I try to initiate any conversation with a stranger. They make me feel less like a human being, as if my identity has been reduced to a colour and the incorrect information people possess about countries that brown people traditionally hail from.

One question is 'How is your English so good?'.

In simple terms, my English is so good because I’m a native English speaker, along with millions of other Indians. India is now the world’s second largest English-speaking country, second only to the United States. About 125 million Indians can speak fluent English. English, along with Hindi, are the two official languages of the country.

This, along with questions like, "are you allowed to work here?", "do you only eat Indian food?", are staple questions thrown at me from highly educated politically correct people who believe themselves to be torchbearers of equality.

Rarely, they arise out of honest curiosity. The thing is though, curiosity about someone else’s origins is not harmful but when one seeks to satisfy that curiosity by putting the other person in the hot seat and demanding answers as if they are entitled to them is what makes it unpleasant.

Ellie Kisyombe (30s) has lived in Ireland for almost a decade. She co-founded Our Table, a community-driven project to highlight the need to end direct provision.
"I have been attacked in many ways that have left a mark on me".

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Ellie Kisyombe
 

Since arriving here as an asylum seeker from Malawi, I have lived in direct provision with my two children.

I am coming from the asylum community so if you ask me about the state of racism here in Ireland, to me it will be more personal because that's what I'm dealing with every day.

Every part of the institution has a way of discriminating and knocking people like me down. I don't think we are living in an Ireland that is open to being inclusive and accepting.  

I have been attacked in many ways that have left a mark on me. Sometimes I choose to ignore it but it's not easy. 

It is very hard talking to people you have newly met, you can have a normal conversation but once you just mention who you are, the conversation can take a dramatic turn, either to your advantage or disadvantage. 

This affects me quite a lot and it makes me conscious every time I meet new people. 

Very recently my name is everywhere and that has also come with a price. Sometimes it makes me not even trust some people who are close to me.  I have been attacked through my Facebook, people asking me why I am fighting to end direct provision, sometimes threats and also inappropriate words are used to make me feel small and to remind me that I am an asylum seeker.

This is a form of racism - that you are reminded that you don't belong on this table and your contributions are not counted.

I don't think the attitude is changing here in Ireland, it depends where you are, sometimes you feel scared to meet new people. 

I always have reservations when I am talking to somebody I have never met because they might have prejudice, so I watch what I say and make sure it suits the environment because I don't want to go home and feel hurt. 

These are truly everyday feelings and I think Ireland needs to do more to tackle racism. Legislation has to be put in place that will at least build a better Ireland that will be inclusive with no racial divisions.

Being an asylum seeker can take a toll on you. I don't want to give fake smiles, I want to live in a society where the smiles are genuine so that we can build communities that are stronger to tackle racism.

Joseph Loughnane (31), a Galway city native: 'A stranger has warned my friend that I may have a bomb on me'

Joe l.jpg
Joe Loughnane
 

I have been a community activist for almost a decade. I'm half-Pakistani and hold a master's in international human rights law. I am also a local election candidate for People Before Profit. 

You can be one of those people that compares the Ireland of today to an older less tolerant Ireland. Our little island always comes out like a beacon of inclusion when you follow that process.  Or you can listen to marginalised communities and ethnic minorities and analyse how our current crises are disproportionately affecting them. I prefer to do the latter.

A society should always be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. We have inflicted almost two decades of a desperate institutional existence on asylum seekers.

Our Traveller community have seen their most basic health, housing and education needs ignored for a longer period. 

People of colour who work on the frontline of essential services are forced to accept that racial abuse is a part of their job... if only we had Hate Crime legislation. We don’t.

We haven’t welcomed in anywhere near the number of refugees we’ve committed to take. An irresponsible media has allowed a discourse of horizontal blame – don’t blame the banks and the developers, blame the foreigners. Fake moralism abounds about the plight of the homeless. We’ve a lot of work to do.

I’m a mixed-race Irish person. Fortunate to spend the three decades of my life in the insurmountable Galway City. The most multicultural city in the country, the current European Capital of Culture.  Yet I still must experienced a stranger warn my friend that I may have a bomb on me on a night out; I still must stand down as three lads roar racial abuse at me for daring to walk past them. Not on.

There is hope though. It’s the communities that make up Ireland – the village resisting a deportation in the midlands, the students speaking out about African Taxi drivers being racially abused, the open arms between those of different faiths. A politics of solidarity and real equality is the answer."

Victims of racist abuse can make a confidential report by visiting ireport.ie.

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