#WeAreIrish and proud, but the online racism is exhausting

Úna-Minh Kavanagh started a hashtag to celebrate diversity. Then the trolling started

Let me give you my story in a nutshell: In 1991 in Vietnam I was adopted at three days old by a Kerrywoman. Six weeks later I was in Ireland. My home.

Over the years, I’ve experienced a lot racial abuse due to my Asian appearance. But lately I’ve been getting more than fed up. And so, one day, I got a notion.

Were there other people like me, who didn’t have the stereotypical “look of the Irish”? Who were maybe mixed race, who were adopted, who happened to have different colour skin?

Earlier this week, I reached out to people on Facebook and Twitter and soon a collage of faces formed, faces from all walks of life, of all ages, who had one thing in common: they were Irish.


They shared their stories, how many of them had been challenged on their Irishness and how many had been on the receiving end of abuse because of what they claimed to be.

That's how the #WeAreIrish hashtag was born. It was a celebration of diversity. I shared the collage online and the reaction was immense.

Messages of support

I got a flurry of stories from all over Ireland and abroad: stories from Irish people who had such love for our culture; emails and messages from people I’d never met but knew exactly what I meant:

“As an Irish person I am proud to support equality, diversification, multiculturalism and tolerance. #weareirish”

“I am an Irishman. A proud, half-white, half-Asian, Irishman. I pity those that upsets. They’re sufferers of a disease of the mind #weareirish”

“Níl aon áit i mo Éirinn do chiníochas, leithcheal, fuath ná Twitter-amadán gan ainm. #weareirish”

Hate messages

But while there were messages of pride, joy and support there were others of hate.

“Sh**y brown parasites”.

“Stop trying to be us you f**king c**t. I don’t staple my eyes slanty and say I’m Chinese, do I?”

“F**k out of my country ya daft c**t

“Harro maybe iv I spell name in Irwish I’ll become rike rem [SIC]”

You may say, “ignore them, block them”, but that’s easy to say when it doesn’t happen to you again and again.

For them, it doesn’t matter that I’ve both an Irish birth cert and an Irish passport. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been here all my life (27 years). I’m just too brown for them. I’m “anti-white”, “anti-native-Irish”, I’m committing “genocide” on the Irish people by stealing their identities.

As these hate messages piled up, I began to question – was starting #WeAreIrish actually worth it?

My initial reaction was “no, it wasn’t” because though I claim to be doing “grand”, hate can chip away at your self-esteem, especially when some people get hold of your personal Facebook account or email address and send you personal messages.

I decided to switch my Twitter profile to private for a while, for a breather. It wasn’t that I was hugely upset, but I was exhausted. I knew there would be backlash to this but it becomes tiresome, especially when all the haters do is hide behind anonymous accounts.

But on further reflection, I believe it was worth it.

With the support of the people involved and many who shared the image, we’re showcasing a modern Ireland – a country that’s rich and diverse and one I’m proud to be part of.

As my friend Ciara says: “All bigots want is to divide us so we’re as isolated as them. No thanks.”

I’ve no doubt the trolls will continue to spew at me in their cowardly way, but I know that I don’t live in their world of hate.

The people I gathered for the #WeAreIrish collage contacted me for a reason. We share our Irishness and our pride to be Irish – regardless of the colour of our skin.

Online problem

While I do my best to ignore the hate messages from anonymous account holders, they are part of a real problem online – one that should not be ignored.

In February, Twitter said it was going to get better at combating abuse, but my experience over the past few days tells me that social media is still getting the judgment wrong again and again.

When it comes to online abuse, I don’t think it should be up an algorithm to decide what’s bad – because it’s not just about “bad” words, it’s also about phrasing, sub-tweeting and meme mockery.

I’ve made various enquires to Twitter. The typical response goes like this: “We reviewed your report carefully and found that there was no violation of Twitter’s Rules regarding abusive behaviour”

I find this response unsatisfactory. Twitter’s rules claim that: “We do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.”

“You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others.”

Those are high-minded statements but here’s the thing: all of the above happened to me and continues to happen to hundreds of others. And yet, the accounts remain. Their putrid hatred lives on.

Do I feel safe on Twitter, a place that’s been like an online “home” for me since 2009? That remains a question for me. The company’s continual refusal to acknowledge abusive accounts is exhausting.