George Floyd’s brutal murder sparked nothing less than a revolution. Watching the video evidence shocked a lot of people, most of whom were clearly unaware of what happens in America everyday: the biased treatment of black people, which often results in the loss of their lives or baseless imprisonment. The Black Lives Matter movement didn’t start last week though, and if you thought it did then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. The movement started in 2013, founded by three black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, in response to the Trayvon Martin case where his murderer was acquitted. The streets of Minnesota this week were a mirror image of those of Los Angeles in 1992 after the Rodney King trial, where police officers got away with viciously beating up a black motorcyclist to a violent extent, despite the whole incident being caught on tape. Fast-forward to 2020, people are sharing the video of George Floyd, voicing their outrage, and demanding justice. Rightly so. How can anyone argue that what happened to this man was not abhorrent and inhumane? However, what happened in America affected black people across the world in a different way. While white people saw a man named George Floyd, we viewed that video in an entirely different light. We also saw ourselves, our brothers, our mothers. Black people around the world found themselves doing a thorough internal reflection of all the times we have experienced racism ourselves, in all its forms.
From reliving impactful racial altercations that we’ve never forgotten, to unearthing experiences we convinced ourselves were minor and not worth the fuss. Which led to us asking ourselves, “why have we stayed silent for so long?”. Why do we tolerate racism in any capacity? More importantly we have collectively decided that we are exhausted of having to accept things as they are. I want real consistent change. I want it reflected in my day to day life, not just my Instagram feed. Racism exists in Ireland. There is no way to dispute this fact. Even if you are not actively racist, we must acknowledge that we are born into a racist society and world. Racism has an enormity of manifestations. You might call me a racial slur, you might deny me a job, or you might think that you are inherently better than me. However, don’t forget that it is also systemic. Racism is as present as the air around you, which is dangerous because at times you may not even recognise that it is at play. Some passively breath it while others are continuously stifled by it. There’s no hiding from it, and that’s why we must learn to identify it. Merely claiming to not be racist isn’t enough. Being sympathetic on an individual level isn’t enough. Knowing that there are people out there who will see my colour and deduce my character from only that is a heavy burden to bear. There are people who look at me in disdain. There are people who hate my existence. I’ve been uncomfortable for too long. I’ve dismissed too many things for the sake of keeping the peace and not wanting to risk friendships. My classmate shouldn’t have told me that I should be grateful to Ireland for saving my life. My teacher shouldn’t have allowed the other students to say the n-word because I was being “too sensitive”. Those girls shouldn’t have touched my hair and expressed shock at its texture. They shouldn’t have asked me if I’m related to the only other black girl in the school. They shouldn’t have always confused my name with hers either. My vice principal shouldn’t have referred to me and my black friends as a “mafia” that should mingle with the rest of the girls. The white girls. They shouldn’t have called me the n-word when I got off the bus and followed me home. I shouldn’t have to decide where I want to visit in the world based on googling the extent of the racism there. I shouldn’t have to pick from three shades of make-up. I shouldn’t have to add “for black people” at the end of every online search in order to see myself represented in the media. You can’t choose to remove yourself from this conversation. For most people in Ireland, your first lesson about racism started in a primary school classroom.
You might have learned about Martin Luther King Jr., or maybe Rosa Parks. The pictures were in black and white and it was a thing of the past; a problem in America that started there and ended with the Civil Rights Movement in 1968. It’s a closed chapter, we’ve moved on from it. However, things have not changed, they’ve just evolved. Black people in Ireland deal with racial violence and racist micro-aggressions far too often than you may realise. We have accepted a feeling of being seen as less-than, a feeling imposed on us by a racist society. We have seen it and lived it from a young age. Many of us have been called racial slurs, followed around shops, asked ignorant questions and given backhanded compliments. What is striking is that in these instances, there is a lot of silence from the people around us who witness it. While you might not know what to say in these situations, your silence speaks volumes to the people involved. George Floyd. Say his name. But don’t forget about the others, and don’t forget about the systems in place that oppress them. Your words lack substance if you are disgusted by what happens overseas without acknowledging the ignorance that exists around you. Reflect on your own implicit biases and prejudices. What did you mean when you said “your English is good for a black person?”. What did you mean when you asked “where are you really from?”. The issue is universal and deeper than you might think. It is ingrained into daily life and continues to afflict this world. We need to fight to dismantle a generational system that has long hindered black people and people of colour while favouring white people. Use your voice to speak out against racism in all of its forms. You may think it’s a tiring battle to fight, but trust me, it’s nowhere near as exhausting as living it.
Author of this post, Lena Dablouk: