March 22, 2012

Racism in Ireland

Ooh, that's a heavy title, isn't it? Don't worry, I just wanted to jot down two things that have struck me lately.

1) In my Inequality and Social Exclusion class, we're talking about Irish Travellers. For the uninitiated, Travellers are a nomadic group with a distinct culture within Ireland. Most of Europe recognizes them as an ethnic group, though the Irish government does not.

We spent the whole tutorial talking about the horrible racism they face, and it took me a good forty minutes to work up the guts to ask the completely ignorant question that I couldn't get out of my head.

"Can you, like, tell Travellers apart from settled people just by appearance?" I finally asked. I knew full well that I couldn't - I'd seen them in documentaries and while their clothing is distinctive, it wouldn't be enough for me to feel comfortable identifying some random person on the street as a Traveller.

"Oh yeah," the class assured me, and began mentioning not only their clothes but their accent, their attitude, but even before they spoke just somehow you could tell...

"But it's not a skin color thing, right?" I clarified.

"Oh, no. They're white."

Obviously, racism isn't just about skin color. There was racism against all sorts of white ethnic groups when they first immigrated to the states, so I understand that the same thing is what's happening to Traveller communities; they're a racialized group. But for me, coming from Virginia, where all of our discussion of racism tends to include skin color in some way or another, it's really hard to get my head around the fact that these people who I can't tell from any other Irish person are this despised minority group.

2) There was a Confederate flag bumper sticker on one of the floats in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The theme of the parade was multiculturalism, and there was a Confederate flag. I was absolutely appalled, but no one else even noticed - when I pointed it out, my American friends just shrugged and said they supposed the meaning wasn't as loaded here. I guess not, but damn, that was unexpected!

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