Three yellow daffodils growing on a verge in front of a stone wall

2024 Grateful 49: Am I racist?

In what seems like a vain attempt to understand the mentality that appears to be running rampant in some sections of Irish society and other parts of the world, I’ve resorted to quoting fiction.

More on this later. First…

In recent months, Ireland has given voice to an intolerance of strangers. More specifically refugees. It’s hard to believe really, as you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the country who can hold up their hand and swear never to have had any relative emigrate. To anywhere. Ever.

We’re a nation on the move. Since the great famine in 1847, we’ve populated the world’s four corners. Meet a fellow Irish in Timbuktu and you’d find someone in common within minutes.

And yet old stately homes are being burned to the ground because they’ve been earmarked to provide accommodation for refugees. Individuals who have provided (nay, attempted to provide) accommodation for those same refugees are being threatened (as in ‘we know where your kids are’) by a right-wing faction who seem inordinately well-versed in the law and apply it to the letter.  Then there were the riots in November. Street riots. In Dublin. Young lads on camera tossing flaming bottles into squad cars.

The Gardaí? They’ve their hands tied.

With everyone and their mother armed to the teeth with cameras on their phones and immediate access to a global audience, they daren’t raise as much as an eyebrow.

Rights, says you. It’s easy for you to say. You’ve never faced the prospect of 200 coloured lads moving in across the road. Quare fellahs, from quare places, with quare beliefs. All terrorists. Our women and kids will never be safe. And as for the value of my house – it’ll be worth nothing!!!

It’s a tired argument. It’s one I hear in Hungary too: fear of the unknown.

At the start of the Ukraine war, Ukrainians were like accessories. Social media was peppered with photos of ‘me and my Ukrainian’. Or so it seemed. People were tripping over themselves to help because Ukrainians were the right kind of refugees. In Hungary anyway. They were white. And neighbours. African students studying in Ukraine fleeing the war and looking for places to stay didn’t get the same effusive welcome. Because they were black.

A few years on, and the war is showing no signs of abating. Those darn refugees have no homes to go back to. They’re still here. Like guests who came for Christmas and decided to wait out the summer. Of the following year. This wasn’t part of the plan. The novelty factor has worn off; the patina is visible.

Yet Ukrainians still need refuge. As do Syrians, Afghanis, Somalians and way too many more.

I don’t have the answers.

Back to my quoting fiction…

Not all refugees are fleeing from war. Does that make them less desirable, less deserving?

I recently filtered the 340+ unread books on my Kindle to show them alphabetically by author. I resolved to read them as they came up, rather than automatically go for the whodunnit.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was one of the early runners.

I’d bought it at some stage intending to read it at some other stage, but I probably would never have gotten around to it had I not alphabetised.

The universe works in weird ways. Just before I started it, I’d been asking myself if I were racist. And, apparently, just asking the question indicates that I am.

For instance, I have an unfounded racial bias against Nigerians. It’s mad really. I know it’s fuelled by what I read of Nigerian scammers [a must-read post on Reddit about this very thing]. In life though, I’ve only met a handful. One was a gay chap who I worked with in London – we got on great – I loved that lad. I’ve had a few in my workshops over the years and again, no issues. But there is that bias. I’ve similar irrational biases against the French (arrogance), Germans (language), and aristocrats from anywhere, particularly England (poshness).

So, putting together the world’s growing intolerance for refugees and my concern that I am racist and whether some immigrants are more or less desirable/deserving, this quotation from Americanah jumped out at me:

 Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well-fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.

When I left Ireland for the first time during the recession of the eighties, I was mired in dissatisfaction and hungry for choice. And I was from Ireland. Not Nigeria. Only once did I come across anything approaching resentment – an Irish passport used to be a good one to have. I met lots of biases though and a hefty amount of stereotype expectations.

I should know better.

Not for the first time I am grateful that I love to read. Because in reading, I learn. About myself. And that’s a good thing

And did I mention that Americanah is an excellent read?





One Response

  1. Loved your self reflection. It was inspiring. It is so timely and important in these days when immigration from so many people on the move. Thank you.

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