What are we doing here?

I've been meaning to write something on the issue of race, race baiting, racism and cultural appropriation for a while, but the time never seemed quite right.

Photo: Claire Nash

Photo: Claire Nash

Today however, I'm a little on edge and I have a few thoughts I would like to share and maybe start a discourse with people of all races, colours and nationalities. I've been in Ireland for thirteen years now and that is almost half my years on this world. The last thirteen years have been the longest time I've spent in one individual country and it has seen me become the person that I am today. When people ask me where I'm from, I tell them the truth, I tell them that I am from Dublin. I wrote about that in an article in the Journal, you can check it out here.

So what is my problem today? Well it seems like in the last few months, nothing has been as prevalent in the media and in general conversation than issues surrounding race and racism with one of the main issues being discussed as white privilege. Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I abhor all forms of discrimination and segregation in society. I am passionate about diversity and inclusion in schools, the workplace and society in general. I abhor people who make life difficult for others based on unsubstantiated claims that the person is somehow 'less human' than they are.

Having said that, diversity means nothing without inclusion and I feel like we're missing a trick here. I live in Ireland, one of the most welcoming countries in the world and I'll be honest when I say that yes, I have experienced racism in the past, however over the years, I've experienced racism less and less and I can honestly say that in the last year, I have experienced zero incidents of direct racism.  While that sounds like something that should be celebrated, it isn't. I've seen an enormous amount of I direct racism from anonymous posters to applied undertones... 

The problem however I'm finding is that as I am seeing less and less of white on black racism, I am seeing more and more of what I recognise as a form of racism going in the other way... Just before I launched this website, I showed a rough template of the site to a friend of mine, someone of African origin and they loved everything about it; except for one thing. They told me to remove my face from the site as some brands may not want to work with me. I was puzzled and I asked them why brands wouldn't want to work with me and very bluntly I was told that it was because of the colour of my skin. I was perplexed to say the least; what is this attitude and why am I hearing it? I sort of put it down to a once off thing.

Yesterday, another friend went on to say that all they want in life is to marry a strong black woman who takes no shit from anyone. It seems like an innocent enough statement but I had to ask why he felt the need to say so explicitly a 'black woman'. Bearing in mind that this is also another friend of African descent I needed to understand why they would only ever consider marrying another black person when they live in a place like Ireland (I'm not saying they have to marry a white or Chinese person, I'm just wondering why only a black person?!)

You see, it is instances like this that make me a little annoyed. As much as I like the people who made the comments above, I can't help but wonder how those comments would be taken if they had been uttered by a person with white skin. Imagine a white man from Dublin saying, "I'll only marry a white person because only a white person can understand me" or the reverse of the other comment, "Oh that person is black and therefore cannot work with our brand"... That sounds racist to me and I'm sure to most other people; so why is it okay for some black people to make such comments and think that way? Especially in a place like Ireland that has been so accepting of a multitude of nationalities in the past decade? 

I've spotted a worrying trend over the last few years that has me worried for the next generation. I see a large number of Africans moving into the same areas and only associating with other Africans in those areas. I see their children only socialising with other African children and I see the families only part of a community that revolves around their religion. It has me worried because there is a lack of inclusion, a lack of understanding, a lack of appreciation and a lack of integration as a result of this. I understand that people tend to stick with the familiar for an easier life but why would you travel thousands of miles to settle in another country if you are not going to learn about the country, its culture and have your children who are born in that country get to learn about their homeland? 

When I say that I am seeing less and less direct racism personally and I see certain people report that they are seeing more and more racism, I have to ask what their approach to life here in Ireland is. I have to say that when you step outside your house with a sense of caution, when you walk out guarded and expect some kind of racism, you are more inclined to get it from the people who are inclined to be bigoted. It becomes a kind of self fulfilling prophecy. I really wish that wasn't the case, but it seems to me that the mindset that as a black man, I have to work harder than your peers to be successful is misguided, but that is what I've been told my whole life. Regardless of your colour, you must work harder than your peers to be successful and that is my attitude to life.

I am incredibly weary of seeing people debate endlessly about race and I am aware that there are severe structural problems when it comes to race in some places but in order to overcome them, it has to be a joint effort of inclusion and the integration of all parts of our society. Divisive comments from one side will inevitably lead to the same from other sides. Meanwhile, mindsets must change drastically on all sides of this race war that seems to be permeating society and from my perspective, the side of the victims; the inferiority complexes, the cautionary tales, the lack of integration has to stop and change now or we can never be a proper multicultural society.

Later this year my first child comes into the world. It's parents are African, Irish and a hint of Trinidadian. It will truly be a child of the world, but what world will that be? What will it be labelled? And what difficulties will it face? We will be giving our child the tools to be an open minded and accepting human being and we'll be hoping that in doing so that they will positively impact others in society, no matter their race, color or creed.

I am Timi