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'I feel like I'm living in a state of hyper-vigilance, especially now' - people of colour reveal what it's like living with racism in Ireland


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Gerald Kennedy with his daugther Erica Coady. Photo: Evan Doherty

Gerald Kennedy with his daugther Erica Coady. Photo: Evan Doherty

DJ and radio presenter Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

DJ and radio presenter Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

Bryon Kumbula with his wife Siobhan McAuley. Photo: Evan Doherty

Bryon Kumbula with his wife Siobhan McAuley. Photo: Evan Doherty

Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Former professional basketball player Gerald Kennedy

Former professional basketball player Gerald Kennedy

Photos by Evan Doherty

Photos by Evan Doherty

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Gerald Kennedy with his daugther Erica Coady. Photo: Evan Doherty

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May sparked a wave of protests that spread around the around the world under the Black Lives Matter banner. Here in Ireland, it also shone a light on the uncomfortable truth about racism in this country, and the slurs and attacks that happen on our shores every single day.

In order to further that conversation, photographer Evan Doherty brought together a group of people of colour living in Ireland to create Listen — a series of impactful portraits, each meaningfully shot in black and white. ‘I wanted to tell the story of some friends and colleagues who have experienced racism in Ireland,’ he says. ‘I wanted to shine a light on how racism is actually happening in Ireland, not just in the States. The idea was to bring a few of my friends in to take a photo and tell a story.’

Here, Liadan Hynes talks to some of Evan’s subjects about their experiences of racism in Ireland, and the mental and emotional toll it takes on their lives every day


Erica Cody (23) is a singer-songwriter from Dublin

It nearly comes with a sense of guilt if I say I'm feeling OK this week, because I know my family in the States aren't OK. My great-grandfather was shot and killed by a white cop at a baseball game where he was an umpire. My third cousin was shot and killed by a cop 12 years ago. I can't let go of my family history. So when I say I'm OK, it's like, 'today's a better day than yesterday'. But it doesn't mean that I won't feel some sense of guilt, or sadness or anger throughout the day.

It kind of became normal for me to experience racism growing up, because it was so often. I remember in the yard one day, I was only in first or second class, one guy called me a monkey, and started making monkey noises at me. I was pushed into the corner of a wall and my gums were all bruised. I remember that specifically because it had a physical aspect to it, but when it came to the name-calling, racial slurs just became normal for me to listen to.

It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I realised, 'oh, this is wrong'. I think it was when people started using the n-word around me, brushing it off because their favourite rapper was Tupac.

I would get anxious getting on a bus: is someone going to pull my hair? Or take a picture and start laughing at me because my hair is in an afro? You don't really feel like you can totally be yourself. Even to this day, no matter how unapologetically I am myself, I still feel those insecurities. I love my hair now, but I still get anxious wearing it down, because I'm afraid somebody's going to do something, or make a remark.

I still feel that anxiety about being around a new group of white people, and people who don't really understand racism. I feel like I'm going to have to explain myself again if somebody says something casually racist and I'm the minority in the group who calls it out. You feel like you're fighting a losing battle when you grow up in a white society.

When you have received a racial slur in the street, when you confront that person, people look at you as if you're the crazy person. But, in reality, you've been discriminated against. Again.

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Former professional basketball player Gerald Kennedy

Former professional basketball player Gerald Kennedy

Former professional basketball player Gerald Kennedy

Erica's dad, Gerald Kennedy (57) is former professional basketball player, now basketball coach. From South Carolina, he moved to Ireland in the early 1990s

I'm so proud of Erica, the way she's using her platform.

I'm from South Carolina. I started playing professional basketball here in 1986, and I moved here permanently right before Erica was born, in the early 1990s. As black basketball players, we were pretty much treated as celebrities. But as I got older, especially having kids, you could see it - people giving you looks, making smart remarks.

When your child comes home having experienced racism, your heart is broken. But what you try to do is you teach them right from wrong: 'Just because one does it doesn't mean you have to. Kill it with kindness.' But it would break your heart just to know your child is going through something like that.


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Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Fashion stylist Lawson Mpame (27) was born in Zimbabwe and moved to Ireland in 2008

I was in town one night and as I approached the first taxi in a rank, the driver locked the door just as I was about to get into it. I thought at first it was a mistake, but he said, 'No, get in the one behind'. The driver in the car behind was like, 'What's going on?' And I said, 'He won't take me'. He got out of his car and said, 'What do you mean?' But the guy in front just sped off. Right in the moment, there's a bit of confusion. You don't understand what's going on... And then you're like, 'Oh Jesus, it's to do with the fact that I'm Black'.

I'm kind of in a weird state of mind at the moment, with everything going on. As much as I'm very much Black, I grew up here, I have spent half my life here, I consider myself Irish. Most of my friends are white. You often hear people saying, 'Oh I don't see colour', and I kind of get where they're coming from - sometimes I forget that I'm Black, until something like that happens. It brings you right back to that realisation of that you are different from other people. It makes you feel very alone.

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Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

Lawson Mpame. Photo: Evan Doherty

I am Black, and I am always going to experience prejudice based on the colour of my skin. So it puts me on edge, and it just ruins everything for me. All I'm expecting now is people to point out my Blackness.

It makes me really question: when am I going to be accepted? When is it going to be OK to be Black and Irish?' For the most part, I don't really talk to my friends about it. As much as they want to help, they won't really understand. I feel like I'm living in a state of hyper-vigilance, especially now.


Jeanne Nicole Ni Ainle (21) is model from Dublin

Quite soon after Black Lives Matter came alive in Ireland last month, I was cycling past a group of people who stood out and called me the n-word. I screamed, but no one else around me did anything. It was very difficult to see the 'support' that was happening on social media but then, when it came to the actual reality of it, no one around me did anything.

The first time I experienced racism was around age five or six. There was a random person sitting on a bench who shouted out to my mum and me: 'Don't bring the half-c**te kids into the world.' Even though I didn't know the meaning of what he was saying at the time, I could tell there was hatred behind it. My mum had to explain to me what that meant.

Now, in situations where any kind of racist incident has occurred, I'm always the first person to react. It's very difficult when no one around supports you. It feels quite isolating. It's difficult to even know yourself when to call it out; you feel as if you're maybe in the wrong for giving out to someone. It took me a while to understand that there were some slurs that were not OK to say, even among friends.

When I wear my hair naturally, I know that I'm going to be looked at strangely, or someone might come over and grab it. I'm always on edge about it.

Or even because I look - and I'm air-quoting right now - 'more Black' when I have my afro, certain people kind of treat me differently. There have been times when I've gone for job interviews and been afraid to wear my hair down, because they may perceive me differently.

When I know I can go out and not have my hair grabbed is when I know that things will have begun to change.


Byron Kumbula (39) works as senior cabin crew. Born in Zimbabwe, he moved to Ireland when he was 20

If you've experienced racism in the world, psychologically, emotionally and mentally, you go about your day with that kind of mind preparation, that you may encounter it again. You have this anticipation almost of feeling you will get a micro-aggression or be in situations of racial injustice. You have this heightened awareness of what your identity is, and how people may take that physical identity. You can end up having a build-up of suppressed emotions which may affect how you go about your daily life. In some cases, people find themselves being closed off.

If you argue the case all the time, you are in a constant argument. So a lot of the time you find you have to say, 'OK, I understand what's going on, but right now I don't want to make a big scene or fuss about it', because it's what you deal with every day.

You don't feel safe, because you're walking in feeling like you're a threat, and you're not. You're simply not. Then when you stand up for yourself, or speak out about things, you're being aggressive. Which isn't the case - you're literally speaking out about what you're seeing and what you're experiencing.

There is a feeling of not only being attacked for going about your daily business, you have a heightened sense of alertness. So you don't feel like you're human; you don't feel like you belong.

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Bryon Kumbula with his wife Siobhan McAuley. Photo: Evan Doherty

Bryon Kumbula with his wife Siobhan McAuley. Photo: Evan Doherty

Bryon Kumbula with his wife Siobhan McAuley. Photo: Evan Doherty

Byron's wife Siobhan McAuley (31) is a HR professional and travel writer and Instagrammer @they.wanderlust. Born in Zimbabwe, she moved to Ireland when she was 11

My five-year-old son Mason's hair is afro. A mother in school one day at collection time said to me, 'You really need to brush that child's hair. You should put some gel in his hair. It looks so scruffy'. I went blank. My friend who was with me said, 'You just went into another dimension, you disappeared'.

Over time, we've learned to suppress these feelings, the anger. I checked out. I have learned how to check out. Because if I said something to that woman, about how incorrect and incredibly racist that was, she would then say, 'you're aggressive'. I wouldn't be able to speak up about how wrong that was.

Having a white father, from a very young age it was made apparent to me of the power of the colour of your skin. Being white was the most important colour to be. I'm mixed race. So having a bit of white in me definitely helped to protect me, but then it was people trying to put me into boxes.

As a mother, all I want is for my son to not have to live and suffer the way Byron or I have; forced to live in a constant state of vigilance, having to suppress our feelings from every injustice and painful encounter we have had. And our parents, and parents before them, have had to teach us to always 'be', act, or look a certain way to protect us


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DJ and radio presenter Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

DJ and radio presenter Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

DJ and radio presenter Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

Tara Stewart (29) is a DJ and 2FM radio presenter. From Alice Springs in Australia, she has been living in Ireland for nine years

The first time I myself experienced something as an adult, I was about 20, and I had just moved to Ireland from Australia. I was at the supermarket, and I moved in front of two people who I didn't realise were in the queue. They got really angry and shouted, 'What the f**k are you doing pushing in, you black ba****d?' I was just shocked.

I know from when I was really, really young, people used to think my mum was like a mail-order bride for my dad, and that he'd bought her, from Malaysia. Or that she was my nanny. My mum laughed it off, because that's all she can do. And that's what I do as well.

But the older I get, the more angry I get about it. You can't say it's because people are old, because I have experienced it from people who aren't.

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Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

Tara Stewart. Photo: Evan Doherty

One of the more recent times was when I was walking down Camden Street in Dublin. I had just been nominated for a VIP Style Award, so I had got dressed up, and I was feeling myself. I was walking down the street and I had a bindi on. These two guys walked by me and said: 'Jesus, what boat did you come off?'

I didn't laugh it off that time. I was so embarrassed, and I shouldn't feel embarrassed. But I was so caught off-guard, because I was feeling so confident. I took my bindi off before I went to my meeting, because I couldn't deal with the attention. I hate that I did that, but also I'm not made of steel.

I'm half-Indian and half-Irish. I've been talking to my Black friends about whether I should talk about my experiences, because it's not my time, it's not my space. But they're like, 'Well no, it is. You're a person of colour'. I just feel so much for all of my Black friends, and I've been trying to be there, and share and support as much as I can on social media.

Photography by Evan Doherty

Sunday Indo Life Magazine