But we were oppressed too…

The problem with being proudly Irish but ignoring race

I haven’t lived in Ireland for over 10 years. I have spent that time living, working, studying and loving in Aotearoa New Zealand -a bicultural country with a multicultural society. Culture and race ( the good stuff and the awful stuff) is embedded in everything and audible from every one. I expect it is something more at the forefront of life here than it was as home until very recently.

In the time I have been away Ireland has changed dramatically. Marriage Equality and the Repeal Campaign leapfrogged Ireland into a position as a shining beacon of progressive society and didn’t we deserve it. After years of colonial, catholic and capitalist oppression ( I see you Celtic Tiger), the Ireland of today emerged screaming for our rights to be heard. I heard it 18,000 km away and relished everything about it. But we never quite got there with race?

All over the world you will hear Irish people say sur’ weren’t we oppressed too, ‘ Ireland never colonised anywhere and the OG favourite, ‘800 years of oppression’. Any moment, any chance, any where we can get it in, we do — and god knows after 800 years we are entitled to I suppose — but it is not an absolution from our ability to be racist. Irish people who emigrated have benefited from the land confiscation of many native peoples. Irish people have benefited from an ability to assimilate into the “normal” western culture when it would deliver us better opportunities. And in 2020 Irish people accept the deeply racist system that is Direct Provision.

Ireland is white and that whiteness has enabled us to reach a position of global power that is not offered to most of our oppressed brothers and sisters around the world. But we forget that if we weren’t so pale, we would not have been allowed to shake off the oppression of the past and with that comes responsibility.

Responsibility for the subtext of “We were oppressed” to never mean we no longer are, so we no longer care and to always mean we are committed to using our power and privilege to do everything within our influence to dismantle racism. Doing nothing helps no one. And helping no one is contributing to the harm. In this fight there is no fence, especially for us, because if we sit on the fence, singing four green fields, quoting Padraig Pearse but pretending that Irish people are not indebted to so many who got off the fence for us, who even are we?

Pic from Sapeurs Guinness ad — 2014

write this piece as a white woman from the South of Ireland, living on Ngāti Whatu whenua. I acknowledge that if you are from the North of Ireland or are an Irish person of colour your worldview is imformed by a different experience to what I am writing about.

Quick Irish History — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgA05KB1UeE

Quick Aotearoa History — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMWk2CtUVKs

Welcome to the Ordinary Bean Project……..a writing project by me, Aoife Healy, an ordinary bean from Cork, living in Aotearoa