‘Get the eff out of this country’: Irish racism, as heard on Liveline

Radio review: Joe Duffy sounds at a loss; Newstalk has snapshots from a US in turmoil

On Liveline, Jow Duffy spoke to a publican who has decided to reopen his pub before the government’s proposed date in August.

On Liveline, Jow Duffy spoke to a publican who has decided to reopen his pub before the government’s proposed date in August.

 

In a week when fury over endemic racism reaches boiling point, Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is awash with callers voicing their grievances over unjust double standards exercised by indifferent authorities. And that’s just people complaining about Monday’s Black Lives Matter march in Dublin. Then those who have actually suffered abuse here because of their skin colour make themselves heard, to grim effect. All this before Joe Duffy has talked about the events convulsing the United States.

On Wednesday, Duffy talks to John, a publican who has decided to reopen his pub before the government’s proposed date in August. John doesn’t seem like a freebooting libertarian hellbent on exercising his freedoms. He’s been observing social distancing, as his son is at risk, while he recently “got a belt off the tick-tock” – or, to translate such arcane medical terminology into layman’s terms, he had a heart attack. But John now feels within his rights to open his bar early, not least because of what he sees as the blind eye turned by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to the crowds on the Dublin demonstration.

That’s the worst thing about racism for me: you just feel so alone. It just says to you that everybody around you agrees; they’re all complicit in the act

John, who doesn’t profess any opinion on the marchers’ cause, isn’t alone in his annoyance at people marching in close proximity. Greg, a cardiologist, agrees with the demonstrators’ anti-racist message, but worried about the public health risks of their actions. But the argument put forward by John, as well as fellow publican Michael, seems less concerned with the health implications of wrongdoing than asking, if they can do it, why can’t we? It’s a vivid illustration of how the intense economic pressure of lockdown is causing real tension, especially if people think the playing field isn’t level.

As listeners learn, some people really are treated differently from others. After hearing the march being decried, Jesse calls to explain why he went along. “The racism in Ireland is what fuelled a lot of black people to attend,” he says, pointing to the casual racist insults he receives in the street, as well as derogatory slogans once daubed on his house.

Similarly dreadful experiences are echoed by Timi, who recounts how he and his young son were accosted by a man shouting at them “to get the eff out of this country, and then [used] the N-word”. Timi, who grew up in Ireland, is unfortunately used to receiving such abuse, but is depressed that it was his son’s first – but certainly not last – racist incident. He’s even more upset at the bystanders who “sheepishly” looked away. “That’s the worst thing about racism for me: you just feel so alone,” Timi says. “It just says to you that everybody around you agrees; they’re all complicit in the act.” 

Protesters hold signs stating “I CAN’T BREATHE” during a march through Center City on June 1st in Philadelphia. Photograph: Getty Images
Protesters hold “I can’t breathe” signs during a march in Philadelphia on Monday. Photograph: Getty

Duffy is audibly outraged by such tales of abuse, but sounds at a loss about what to do. His queries about whether the Garda was informed are met by fatalistically shrugging answers that there’s little action when such incidents are reported. Timi says he feels “isolated” by racism, highlighting how some people in Ireland have had experience of social distancing long before Covid-19. 

After that, Duffy’s discussion on the rioting in the States seems like a distraction, but it’s the big story elsewhere. Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays) carries a couple of striking items on the disorder triggered by the killing of African-American George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, presenter Kieran Cuddihy talks to Maya Santamaria, a nightclub owner in the city who, almost unbelievably, employed both Floyd and Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with his murder. 

Santamaria warmly remembers Floyd as a “lovely man”. She is slightly more circumspect about Chauvin, describing him as “pleasant”, but adding “he had his issues” working as a doorman. Still, she respected the two men, so it was a “horrible moment” when she saw the video of Chauvin with his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck as he suffocated. 

My dad would always look for a way out of no way. He was always pushing us to a higher plane, to a more noble and just humanity

Things have got more horrible for Santamaria. Her nightclub was burnt down in the riots that followed, convulsions she largely blames on outsiders. She won’t speculate on motives, but talks about spotting trucks with white supremacist stickers, archly noting that such slogans aren’t normally seen in black and Latino areas. Such details convey the volatile atmosphere in American cities, not to mention the fog of confusion and blame that accompanies such chaos. It tells a more personal story: despite her “life’s work” going up in flames, Santamaria says she hasn’t been able to cry at what’s going on.

Amidst such despair, Cuddihy seeks a glimmer of hope, when he talks to Martin Luther King III, son of the legendary civil rights leader who famously spoke of his dream of racial harmony before being assassinated in 1968. Asked about current events, King is forthright. “What we saw was a lynching or a murder,” he says. “Out of legitimate rage, people begin to protest.” King invokes his father’s line that “violence is the language of the unheard”, but avoids inflammatory language. “We haven’t heard an appropriate response from the White House,” he says, exercising a restraint notably absent in US president Donald Trump’s pronouncements.

As for what Martin Luther King jnr would have made of current events, his son says he would have been “greatly frustrated”, which again seems like an understatement. King also suggests that had his father and Robert F Kennedy not been murdered, “we would probably have resolved the problem of racism”, an assertion that for all its rightful filial pride seems fanciful. But King tries to stay optimistic, stressing his father’s constructive approach to the intractable issue of racism. “My dad would always look for a way out of no way,” King says. “He was always pushing us to a higher plane, to a more noble and just humanity.” It’s a dream that seems farther away than ever.

Radio Moment of the Week: Moncrieff’s Tomás tribute

 On Wednesday, Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk) is in melancholic mood as he remembers Tomás Clancy, the wine critic, barrister, broadcaster and journalist, who died on Monday. Clancy was a fixture on Moncrieff’s regular “Movies and Booze” slot, where he would dispense wit and wisdom on wine and much else: the host is emotional as he describes Clancy’s “breadth of knowledge” and “the sweetness of his nature”. Moncrieff then plays a compilation of clips, including Clancy’s belief that the elusive time of “wine o’clock” fell between one and three o’clock. “AM or PM?” asks Moncrieff. “That’s the great thing – twice a day,” replies Clancy. It’s a poignant but appropriate way for Moncrieff to toast the memory of his friend, gone far too soon.

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