Racism in Ireland“If you told yourself you weren’t black, then you weren’t the n-word.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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The late Christine Buckley campaigned for more than 25 years for victims of abuse in industrial schools in Ireland and her son Conor Buckley, talking to Ryan Tubridy on Tuesday, said he believed she would have been to the forefront of the protests supporting Black Lives Matter in recent weeks, if she was still with us. Conor had a very frank conversation with Ryan about his experiences of racism growing up and how he’s coped with the way white Irish people can behave towards people of colour. When Ryan asked Conor how he sees himself in terms of heritage and race, Conor was disarmingly honest:

“I suppose growing up I didn’t want to be seen as being black because, I suppose, some negatives associations and obviously people would call you the n-word and this kind of thing and if you told yourself you weren’t black, then you weren’t the n-word.”

Conor’s father is white and for a long time Conor saw himself as a half-caste, a term he says now is offensive to a lot of black people. So he identifies as mixed race now, but he says, “First and foremost, I’m Irish”.

When it comes to race, language can be tricky, as Ryan demonstrated, running through descriptives, from “coloured” to “person of colour”. The key element, obviously, has to be respect. And respect has been in short supply for a lot of black people in Ireland. Conor told Ryan that he believes he’s compartmentalised the racial abuse he’s suffered since he was a child, so that he doesn’t have to think about it every day. Ryan asked him for examples of the sort of thing he’d experienced. Conor didn’t have to pause for thought.

“Loads of stuff on the sports pitch, loads of n-words on the sports pitch and that kind of stuff. But I’d forgotten that actually yeah, there was this time that Darragh and I were abused by a girl. And then there was another private time where a girl said things about monkeys to me and everything. So, I’d forgotten, I’d parked that away.”

Conor also mentioned the fact that he’d been subjected to a lot of casual racism, although he doesn’t like the term “casual racism” because “all racism is racism”. The protests in the last few weeks since the death of George Floyd have been tough for Conor and his family, but he told Ryan he reckons it’s been therapeutic as well as traumatic. Ryan asked if Conor had a hard time with racism as a child. The answer, depressingly but unsurprisingly, was yes.

“When you’re younger you really want to be accepted and fit in. You don’t want to be different. And when someone shouts ‘Brownie’ in front of you and everyone laughs or whatever, I mean, you know, as a 6 year old, you don’t want to be that person.”

Conor’s mum Christine made sure that her children felt special, without in any way denying their heritage. She told Conor that children don’t use names like ‘Brownie’ or use the n-word, unless they hear it from their parents. She would, Conor said, talk to parents of children using offensive terms in an educational, non-confrontational way and that’s something that he tries to do as well.

For more from the conversation between Ryan and Conor Buckley, including more on the extraordinary work of Conor’s mum Christine, go here.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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