Let me be very clear. Using a term that is a racial slur makes an environment where a Person or People of Colour are present, feel hostile and unsafe.
Using what is a racial slur or racist language smacks of dismissal and disregard. It puts a Person of Colour on their guard and gives them the message that they are not truly welcome or safe in your presence or environment. It is designed to put People of Colour ‘in their place’... but it doesn’t work as well as it used to.
A Person of Colour may not say anything to you in a situation where a racist word is used in their presence, perhaps because...
- they are in a minority in an all/majority White environment and suspect (or know) they will be dismissed, gaslighted, silenced or ‘put in their place’.
- they don’t want to be accused of ‘playing the race card’ or told they are too/over sensitive’.
- they’re actually in shock and trying to process what’s just happened or trying to form an exit plan (seriously).
But please do pay attention to their body language. It speaks volumes. There might be a sharp intake of breath, shallow irregular breathing or holding of one’s breath. Do they move away from you or appear to close down, retreat or even disappear (emotionally or physically)? You could sit with why they might subsequently appear hesitant, guarded or closed around you.You might just write them off as being ‘odd’ or not having the requisite social skills. You might think they’re uppity or aloof when the likelihood is that they don’t want to let their guard down for fear of feeling attacked again.
Because that, folks, is actually what it feels like. An attack. Not just a verbal slap. It feels like little knives being thrown at your solar plexus or a punch to the gut that takes the breath from you.
It’s a visceral response to a deeply, deeply hurtful term of abuse (whether or not it’s meant ‘jokingly’ or isn’t meant in ‘that way’).
I’m not talking about intentional racism here. I don’t entertain those people.
If you consider yourself a non-racist but casually use a racist term/word around a Person of Colour, it’s highly likely that they do not see you as non racist. You are not a safe space for them. You will never get to see their authentic self, the wholeness of who they are or inhabit their world. If that’s ok with you then I wish you well and Godspeed.
If it makes you uncomfortable yet willing to sit with the discomfort then please think, listen and take heed of what is said.
Ireland is the third country I have lived in. I have no feeling of what it is to be indigenous; I left my country of birth as a toddler but I dearly love the city I grew up in.
It doesn’t really matter how I label or present myself. My pigment speaks for me. I am seen as immigrant, foreigner, possible refugee. Ex-pat doesn’t even make the list.
I moved to Ireland, from Manchester, with sunshine filled ideas and a real sense of hope. I’m safe here, I thought, perhaps naively.
Within a few weeks of my arrival I got called a w*g by someone as he pushed past me in the street. It blindsided me. Was I back in primary school again? It took me a few moments to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.
I’ve also been called a p*k*, as has my lighter skinned son and we’ve both heard the ‘n’ word being dropped casually in polite society.
Believe it or not, what hurts even more than the names, is the (non-) reaction of some people. It’s the misplaced excuses and reassurances that ‘it probably wasn’t meant that way’, or I ‘must have misunderstood’, or ‘oh no, that person is really nice.
Thankfully I have met and know a good number of really lovely, like minded and welcoming people who have really cushioned my experience, but I am still left saddened at the perception of immigrants of colour, particularly in view of the historically high level of emigration from Ireland.
What baffles me is that the Irish also know the pain of being ‘othered’ and abused. So why is there still such hostility towards people who have undergone similar experiences, just because of their skin colour?
Your history and struggles give you an insight into why people have to leave home and the heartache most feel at having to go. There is almost always a pull or yearning to be back where people understand you, where you can exhale, let down your guard and be authentically you.
IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER HOW I LABEL OR PRESENT MYSELF. MY PIGMENT SPEAKS FOR ME.
I AM SEEN AS IMMIGRANT, FOREIGNER, POSSIBLE REFUGEE.
EX-PAT DOESN'T EVEN MAKE THE LIST.
The majority of people go to their adoptive country wanting to make a new life and be embraced as part of the community. So why does the treatment change for an immigrant of colour?
You tell us to be more like you but that we’ll never be one of you.
If we have an accent you tell us to speak English properly, but can you speak a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language?
You tell us to assimilate but do you include us or make us feel welcome?
You can’t/won’t get our names right or you refuse to try, yet you expect us to correctly pronounce names of villages that we’ve never even been to and that white immigrants mispronounce .
You tell us this country isn’t racist so you won’t listen to our direct experience of racism and daily micro-aggressions, or you’ll search for any reason why it can’t be racist. ‘Perhaps we’ve misunderstood or said something to provoke or we’re playing the ‘race card’, or or or... just smile and rise above it. Don’t complain. Grin and bear. Endure and be grateful we’ve let you in.’
We are not ‘playing the race card’.
What is this elusive race card anyway?
Where can I get one?
Does it come with benefits?
Do you get loyalty points for every micro aggression you encounter?
I know that Ireland is capable of inclusivity. I’ve seen it for myself. Just look at the the numbers of Irish immigrants who returned ‘home’ to vote in the referendum for same sex marriage. It was so wondrous to see how Irish people came together to ensure that human beings were not discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality.
The question is, is racism as important a topic to you?