Racism in Ireland: ‘‘You dirty black *****’ – I don’t want to say the word out loud’

Three young black Irish women share their experiences with the Irish Times Women’s Podcast

Racism in Ireland: Amanda Adewole, Felicia Olusanya and Tobi Lawal talk to the Irish Times Women’s Podcast

Racism in Ireland: Amanda Adewole, Felicia Olusanya and Tobi Lawal talk to the Irish Times Women’s Podcast

 

A couple of months ago Tobi Lawal, a trainee solicitor, was walking to the pharmacy when she was almost knocked down on a zebra crossing by a speeding car. “I said, ‘Hey, watch where you are going!’ and the man shouted out the window, ‘You dirty black*****’ I am sure you can fill that in – I don’t want to say the word out loud. I couldn’t believe it. You are in the wrong and your first instinct is to use my colour against me? How does that make sense?”

Lawal is one of three black Irish women in their 20s who speak to the Irish Times Women’s Podcast today. In a wide-ranging conversation, Lawal, Amanda Adewole and Felicia Olusanya talk about their experiences of racism, about white privilege and the direct-provision system, and about what positive change they hope might emerge from the outrage surrounding recent events in the United States.

In a racist society it is not enough to be nonracist. We must be anti-racist

The year 2020 will not just be remembered for a pandemic. It will be remembered for the dying words of George Floyd as he lay on the ground, the knee of a Minnesota police officer pressing down on his neck: “I can’t breathe.” The words of the political activist Angela Davis have also been carried around the world in recent days: “In a racist society it is not enough to be nonracist. We must be anti-racist.”

The women speak about how white people can become anti-racist, acknowledging their privilege and calling out racist behaviour. “It’s not enough to post about it on social media. Bring it into your everyday life, talk about it at the dinner table… It has to start with your groups of friends, from the roots up,” says Olusanya, aka the spoken-word artist Felispeaks.

“You have to actively show that you are with the black community, that you are open, that you are willing to understand, even though you can’t put yourself in that person’s shoes,” says Lawal. “Show that you can understand the struggle and understand your privilege, in the sense that you get up every day and go out; you don’t have to think about whether you’re going to get refused from somewhere, whether when you go to work you’re going to have to fight to get a new position; you don’t have to think about whether you go to a nightclub and someone is going to say something to you about your hair or your colour.”

Don’t keep quiet after everything dies down… I genuinely see a change happening in the psyche of the whole country

Despite the grim events in the United States and the ongoing discrimination faced by people of colour, the women say this is a moment of change they hope will have a lasting impact on the fight to end racism.

Adewole, a youth worker and presenter of the Box’d Out podcast, describes the large crowd gathered at the recent Dublin protest as “the most beautiful mix of races, ethnicities, genders – such a great mix of people… To see the unity in that moment gave me a feeling that there is hope and we can actually do this.”

She says she hopes the momentum of recent days will continue. “Don’t keep quiet after everything dies down… I genuinely see a change happening in the psyche of the whole country. I feel like we’re at the stage where people are hungry for change.”

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