I think white people are afraid to talk about race, and that in itself is privilege. Over the past few days, we've all shouted into the echo chamber of the internet: black people! We stand with you! We don't understand, but we stand with you! We are learning! We are listening!
But why did yet another innocent, unarmed black man have to be killed by racist US police for this to happen? For us to just..listen? If you read up on police brutality against black people in America, you'll find a litany of horrendous incidents in the past five years alone. And, murders by Stateside cops aside, we all know that racism is alive and well here, in Ireland, whether we admit it or not.
For some reason, it's fobbed off. We swear that racism "isn't that bad here". That black people are treated equally here. Sure, don't we love Lizzo and Morgan Freeman and wish Obama was back in office? There's no problem here. Nope, move along, all is grand.
The truth is less cushy though. Take the time to *listen* to black people's experiences and they'll paint a very different picture; one of being called the n-word, stared at, made feel like an alien in their home country. "But where are you actually from?"
51% of black people in Ireland say they have been harassed, in the form of physical, verbal or online threats. Ireland ranks second worst in the EU when it comes to racial violence against black people. If you think there isn't a problem here, you just haven't been targeted.
I've seen it first hand: once on a bus to Ballymun, a woman started to shout, with venom in her voice, at two young black men. "Monkeys," she spat. "Go back to where you came from." Nobody said anything. They shuffled their feet and looked out the window. A blind rage came over me, and before I knew it I was standing in front of her telling her she should be ashamed. She had to be held back from attacking me as I dashed off the bus a few stops early. All I could think of that night as I lay in bed was...nobody said anything.
Another time, a family friend joked with me when I didn't offer them a sweet. "What am I, black?!" they laughed. This casual racism - which comes in many forms - might not seem as insidious as the videos of police brutality swallowing up social media, but it is wrong, plain and simple. An awkward laugh in return no longer suffices.
And, lest we forget Direct Provision. For some reason, it's swatted away, like an annoying buzzing bluebottle. But, the facts are that almost 6,500 are living in this way. Placed in centres awaiting asylum, people have been stuck there for years, in shared rooms, with up to eight others, often strangers. Forgotten about.
I've gone through my whole life without worrying about my skin colour. Imagine the privilege in that, when you really sit with it; when you consider how black people have been made to feel since the day they are born, when in America, parents have to sit their kids down to coach them in how to always comply with the cops, because if they don't, they'll be shot dead. That anytime a black person dies this way for no reason, black people everywhere have their heart broken again and again as they think "in a different place and time, that could have been me."
I don't know why it's taken until 2020 for us to finally really listen. George Floyd's pleas for his "Mama" while that cop kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes was horrifying and rage-inducing, but so too were the videos depicting the murders of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray and Laquan McDonald. The list goes on. And on.
But, we are listening. That much is true. We will continue to listen, we will call out racism when we see it, we will rethink our language, we will sign petitions, we will donate to the Black Lives Matter movement, we will educate those who say "all lives matter". We will not just be not racist, we will be actively anti-racist. We will do better.
To donate to the Irish Network Against Racism, and to become a member, click here.