Black Lives Matter Movement through the eyes of a black student in Ireland

Kinga Piotrowska

As the Black Lives Matter movement makes its way around the world, we have to realise that racism is prevalent in our own society and take a look at how we can change ourselves in order for greater change to happen.

No matter what age, race or social class we have to acknowledge that racism exists and that we all should try to understand and listen to the stories and experiences of people who suffer because of it. We must put ourselves in their shoes and notice that white supremacy exists in all parts of life and take the responsibility of educating ourselves and not waiting for someone else to do it for us. During the movement many people have shared their experiences and opinions for the rest of us to become more understanding and anti-racist in our everyday life.

A 20-year-old African student nurse who wishes to remain anonymous speaks about her experience of racism in Ireland. She came to Ireland when she was five years old and said that her primary school was very inclusive but as she became older and entered secondary school she started noticing little things that she found offensive in the classroom, as well as in her mostly white friend groups at school. She remembers a teacher reading To Kill a Mockingbird and saying the word n***** in the book frequently, without asking if it’s ok to do so or asking if it makes her and the other black girls in the class uncomfortable, which it did.

She said that the use of the word is completely unnecessary, and she never uses it herself. Similarly, she feels uncomfortable when her white friends have no issue singing it repeatedly in songs around her. She said that it’s such a negative word, that black people have tried to make it more positive, when talking to each other in order to try to make it their own and forget the past that comes with it. Therefore, she finds it strange and offensive that her friends or other white people feel very comfortable signing it when she herself does not.

As she was a very sporty person, something that also stood out to her in secondary school was that as that from first to sixth year that there were no black girls on the sports council in her secondary school. She had applied to be on it two years in a row because she was very actively involved in multiple sports teams throughout her school years but was never accepted to be on it. Similarly, she wanted to join the Gaelic team but felt intimidated to, as during the years in school she never saw a black girl on the team.

In her friendship group there were also times where she noticed passive racism but didn’t want to say anything in the fear of the response being something like “how is that offensive?” or “stop getting thick about nothing”, so she just stayed silent because she didn’t want to cause any tension. She said her white friends would often say things like “omg I’m nearly as black as you”, after applying fake tan or “I wish I was as black as you”, which she often thought was insulting as they wouldn’t actually want to be black and thought that making the comment refer to her race was unnecessary.

It’s clear that subliminal racism by white people can add up and is just as bad as someone saying it straight to their face. When she was younger, she also felt like she was something boys would like to experiment with because of the colour of her skin rather than wanting to be in a serious relationship. They would often say things like “you’re actually pretty for a black girl”, which she never took as a compliment, but rather as an insult. She also said that her boyfriend who is white didn’t see racism in Ireland until he started dating her.

In Ireland, racism might not be as direct as it may be in the likes of America, but it is still present. She said that she feels more comfortable in bigger cities where the black community is more present rather than in more rural parts of Ireland where she finds she could be the only black person in a village or small town and therefore often feels more anxious going there. Although she feels more comfortable in bigger cities, she said she would still get abuse shouted at her walking from college in Dublin, simply because of the colour of her skin. Even with already stressful things such as job interviews or CV’s, she said, “sometimes I make my CV look or sound more white because I’m conscious that employers can be racist.” She also mentioned that if she was to work in an office, she would never think of wearing braids to an interview because it makes her look more unprofessional than others.

Already working as a nurse on placement in a nursing home, the job sometimes entails elderly patients giving abuse to nurses, but she said in her case, it’s mostly racist remarks that are made. She said that “someone can have dementia and forget everything, but they will still remember to call you a n*****, even when you’re trying to take the best care of them.”

Summing up and talking about what we should learn from the movement, she said that for her racism is “not being comfortable in your own skin because some people don’t make you comfortable in it” and that we should all be especially aware of subliminal racism, as it’s easily missed by white people and therefore hard to stop.

Most of us would be unaware of some of the things she faced and does because of the colour of her skin and that’s because as white people we never had to think, and that shows exactly what white privilege is. As Ebun Joseph, module coordinator of the first Black Studies programme in Ireland, talking to Irish Tatler said, “We have to say, I believe you. Maybe I don’t understand it, but I believe it”.

We need to take action and stop ignoring what black people are facing just because we never experience it. It’s time to call out racist comments in our friend groups, work, school, college and educate ourselves and really listen in order to create lasting change and help be better allies in the fight against racism.

Kinga Piotrowska

Image Credit: Flickr

If you wish to donate to help the Black Lives Matter Movement in Ireland:

Irish Network Against Racism: INAR is a national network of diverse Civil Society Organisations committed to combating racism and all related forms of discrimination in every sphere of life in Ireland.

Sport Against Racism Ireland: Sport Against Racism Ireland is an anti-racist not for profit organisation founded in Dublin in July 1997 ‘as a direct response to the growth of racist attacks from a small but vocal section of people in Ireland.