Let’s Talk About Racism in Northern Ireland

Photo: The Conversation

More and more, we are seeing and hearing racism being discussed openly due to recent events that have taken place in America. It’s hugely positive that we are having these talks and opening this discussion in a way to make things better and improve not only ourselves, but those around us.

However, racism doesn’t just take place in America. Nor does it just take place in football (as we’ve seen many times in the Premier League). Racism happens every day, all over the world, even in Northern Ireland, which is often dubbed as the ‘race hate capital of Europe’ in the media.

You may deny it, choose not to believe it and turn a blind eye to it, but it’s there.

IS RACISM OUR MAIN PROBLEM?

Growing up in a small town of Northern Ireland, race wasn’t the main divide between the people of where I lived. It didn’t matter much about the colour of your skin. What really mattered was the religion that you practiced.

You may not have went to mass or church on a Sunday, or ever for that matter, and you may never have practiced your religion at home or elsewhere.

However, a lot of people in Northern Ireland identify as one of two religions and some hold a grudge against those that identify as the opposite to their own. We’ll leave the religious divide of Northern Ireland for a separate blog post, but for reference here’s a recap of a book I read called Reporting the Troubles.

Even though it may seem that sectarianism and discrimination in the way of faith seems to be the main problem of Northern Ireland, racism, in one form or another, is present and is also a problem.

THE DEMOGRAPHIC OF NORTHERN IRELAND

According to the 2011 census (waiting for a more up-to-date stat) the population of Northern Ireland is 1,810,863. Make that 1,810,862 since I no longer live there.

48% of the population are said to be Protestant and 45% Catholic, leaving a very small 7% to be ‘Other’. In terms of ethnicity, 98.28% of the population of Northern Ireland in 2011 was White. 98%.

When I tell people in America and those from other parts of the UK that there were only one or two Black people in my town, my schools or places that I visited in Northern Ireland while growing up, they wouldn’t believe me. They would assume that I was probably being ‘colour-blind’.

0.2% of people in Northern Ireland (in 2011) were Black. 3,616 of the 1,810,863 people.

Can you imagine being Black, or a Person of Color (PoC) in Northern Ireland in 2011, when you represented only 0.2% and 1.5% respectively, of the entire population?

Racism Northern Ireland
Photo: The Irish News

‘THEM-UN’S’

There is very much a ‘us’n’s’ and ‘them’un’s’ way of thinking in Northern Ireland. If you can’t make that out, it means ‘us vs them’.

During my younger teens I started to notice a lot of Europeans moving to the area along with a lot of hate crime and violence because of it.

Europeans from mostly Poland and Lithuania were being employed in local businesses and said to be ‘stealing our jobs’. They were speaking in their own language and told to ‘go back to their own country’ and sometimes even burnt out of their homes.

There were now students with foreign-sounding names in classrooms and speaking a language other students couldn’t understand. There were signs in the corridors in languages other than English and Irish.

These people were labelled as ‘foreigners’ and the word was often said as if it left a bad taste in one’s mouth.

ARE THEY STEALING OUR JOBS?

Many people in Northern Ireland like to stick to what they know. They live in comfort knowing that their neighbours are the same religion as them, have the same beliefs, speak the same tongue and live their lives the same way.

A lot of people in Northern Ireland don’t like that these ‘foreigners’ are moving in beside them, taking all of the jobs and having their children mix with the foreign children in school.

God forbid.

From my own personal experience, those not originally from Northern Ireland that I have had the pleasure of working with are probably the most hardworking people I’ve ever met.

These people come in search of a better life for themselves and for their families. They leave warzones to come to another warzone, but hope that they won’t get caught up in the war of religion that we still have in Northern Ireland.

As a nation, Northern Ireland needs to become more open to diversity and see that it only improves the areas where we live – it doesn’t make them worse.

WHY ARE WE SO INTOLERANT?

A survey by the Northern Ireland Life and Times in 2017 found that:

  • 36% of people wouldn’t accept an Eastern European as a close friend (38% of 18-24 year olds)
  • 52% wouldn’t accept an Irish Traveller as a close friend
  • 47% wouldn’t accept a Muslim as a close friend
  • A third of 18-24 year old’s wouldn’t accept a Muslim as a neighbour in their local area

To me, this is incredibly shocking. Growing up, I always had hope for the younger generation of Northern Ireland. It’s had a fair amount of troubles in the past, but I thought that a more open-minded generation would be coming through, paving the way for a more tolerant, liberal and peaceful generation.

It would appear not.

Why are the young people of Northern Ireland among the most intolerant of other race and religion? Has it been instilled in us from a young age?

In the same survey, respondents were asked whether they thought racism had gotten worse in Northern Ireland in the previous five years. 49% said that it had while only 13% thought it had improved.

THE NEW TROUBLE FOR NORTHERN IRELAND

In 2016-2017, there were more racist incidents than sectarian. Are we moving on from a Protestant vs Catholic problem to a White vs Black problem?

But what is the cause for the racial tension in Northern Ireland? Is it fear of the unknown? Is it because we don’t look alike that we simply can’t get along with one another?

To me, it’s ludicrous to even think that someone would be rude, hurtful or cause physical harm to another person just because their skin appears to be of a different colour to their own.

WE NEED TO BE ALLIES

What we should have learnt in the last few months is that it’s not enough to be non-racist, we need to be anti-racist. When you see a form of racism happening, step in. Do something.

Your friends and family may think it ok to use racial slurs as they’ve been brought up to think that it’s ok, but no matter what age these people are, you can tell them that it’s wrong.

It’s not ok to say ‘but we’ve always said it,’ because it’s time to stop. It’s time to pave a way forward so that everyone is treated equally and fairly, no matter of their race or their religion.

The same people that shout racist remarks or think they are having their jobs ‘stolen’ by these ‘foreigners’ are probably the same people that spend every weekend eating their favourite Chinese takeaway and kebabs after a night out.

THE REAL TROUBLE WITH NORTHERN IRELAND

Northern Ireland has a lot of issues. Sectarianism and racism being two of the largest. But how do we go about fixing these issues?

You would think that we would start at the top with our leaders and councillors, but how can one do so when our leaders are so opposed to each other and can never seem to agree?

Our leaders may not see colour when they look at one another, but they do see ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’. Until this changes, I can’t see anything else changing in Northern Ireland.

We need leaders that want the best for everyone in Northern Ireland. We need leaders that will stand up to the issues of sectarian attacks, racism, hate crime and poverty. We need leaders that will listen to everyone in Northern Ireland, not just those on their side of the fence.

We need change.

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