Bonnie Greer: ‘Ireland needs to understand the world is changing’

The broadcaster and writer spoke to Sorcha Pollak at the Irish Times Winter Nights festival

Ireland needs to listen with intent and understand how "the world is changing" and be open to everyone who is born here and arriving here, according to Bonnie Greer, the Chicago-born playwright, novelist, critic and broadcaster who has lived in the UK for over 30 years.

“Africa will be the continent of this century because it has the youngest population – and young people there are moving ahead. I’ve met a lot of Irish people of colour and there has to be a mechanism for these communities to speak out and be themselves and be Irish too,” she said.

She was speaking to Irish Times journalist, Sorcha Pollak on the second night of Winter Nights, the Irish Times online festival.

Prompted by Pollak to speak about “the crisis of manhood” following discussions about male violence here recently, Greer referenced her 1993 film, White Men Are Cracking Up.

“We are at a very dangerous point because not enough white men are talking about what they are afraid of – women, people of colour, their place [in society] being dethroned,” she said.

Greer suggested that political leaders such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Putin and Orban all exemplify “the dying mythology of masculinity that will go down fighting”.

“The unstoppable, inevitable impact of change is affecting this section of the population and people go towards [leaders like] Trump in fear of their displacement,” she said.

However, on a more hopeful note, she said that she believes racism will end towards the end of this century. “It won’t end in my lifetime but my nieces, great nieces and nephews won’t look like me with their Russian, Jewish, Latino [heritage].”

And while the Greer family name can be traced back to a white American slave owner from Ulster, she said she’s not particularly interested in tracing these connections. “My family were owned by him. We were his property so it doesn’t interest me,” she said.

In the UK, Greer is a celebrated writer and commentator who received an OBE for her work in 2010. But, her comment on how Ireland owed the UK nothing during a Brexit debate on BBC Question Time in 2019 gained her whole new audiences in this country and beyond.

“I was surprised by the huge response to that but it still amazes me how few people in Britain know about the history and politics in Ireland. I don’t understand how Ireland isn’t the first country British children would know about as it [Ireland] is so connected to the story of [the UK], she said.

Speaking about whether British prime minister Boris Johnson will be forced to resign following the latest controversy about hosting parties in Downing St during Covid-19 lockdowns, she said: "He'll go if he wants to go. He's quite Machiavellian. He'd throw everything to the wolves to save himself."

“He’s very intelligent and he understands the British people to a tee. He’s not above sending the first troops to Ukraine as a distraction. And, if he doesn’t survive, it’s because he’s tired and bored and will go back to writing,” she added.

The 2022 Irish Times Winter Nights online festival, supported by Peugeot, continues until Thursday, January 27th.Still to come are paralympic gold medallist swimmer Ellen Keane, rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll, writer and feminist Caitlin Moran and Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole. For tickets, go to irishtimes.com/winternights.

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