Last week, I attended both Black Lives Matter protests organised in Dublin, in solidarity with the movement in the US over the death of George Floyd, a death resulting from Floyd being pinned down by a white officer with a knee on his neck.
The first protest, which saw a turnout of an estimated 5,000 Dubliners, was held as a march from the Spire to the US Embassy in Ballsbridge. The second was split between two stationary protests, one at the Spire and the other in front of the Embassy. Both protests were organised as socially distanced gatherings and only protestors from within their 5 km radius were encouraged to take part.
As a first hand witness, I know that efforts were made to stick to the guidelines, but it wasn’t possible for demonstrators at all times. Does this make the protest, in retrospect, unjustified and unbecoming of a country recovering from the deadly Covid-19 virus?
There is no right answer to this, but there are compelling reasons to believe that the nature and urgency of this movement crossed a threshold and warranted the Dublin protests.
The Black Lives Matter movement is not just about George Floyd. His death is one of many that happen in the US every year, as a result of systemic and institutionalised racism in their police force. Sure, not all police officers are racist, but that’s beyond the point. Even one racist police officer who causes the death of one black man is reason for protest, let alone the thousands that have accumulated over the years. But the #AllLivesMatter brigade in Ireland has one chorus: why are these protests relevant in Ireland if the movement is from the US?
Racism is not a US problem. The movement may have been triggered by incidents in the country, but its relevance is global in our post-colonial world. On 7th June, the Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol toppled the statue of slave-trader Edward Colston in a symbolic culmination of decades-long petitions to have it removed. The Irish Black Lives Matter protests, while not as kinetic, have localised the movement to issues around racism in the Irish context. Hate-speech, direct provision, everyday micro-aggressions, and lack of minority representation in the media are all issues raised by the protesters across the republic.
A 2019 UN report concluded that Ireland was inadequate in its response to “increasing incidence of racist hate speech against Travellers, Roma, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants” and “the continuous failure of the State party to provide adequate accommodation for asylum seekers.”
In the same year, the Irish Times reported that Ireland was “among the worst EU states” for racial violence based on skin colour.
In light of the data and the everyday experiences of black people and ethnic minorities as shared in the protests, it is unsurprising that most people who think racism does not exist in Ireland are white. The Irish protests serve to remind us that recognition is the first step to solving a problem that very much exists. Pandemic or no pandemic, if the history of racial movements has taught us anything, it is that tomorrow never comes. Now is the time to join the international movement and ensure that when the ‘stay home, stay safe’ directive ends, it ends for people of colour, too.
Image credit: Vish Gain