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Conversations With

 

Friends About Race

An open conversation with friends about what it means being the ‘Black friend’ of the group

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These interviews that you are about to read will give you a glimpse into the conversations that I have with my friends. I have been able to talk about racism and have not been left feeling inadequate or worse. This is the true beauty of friendships.

Interviewer 

Sandrine Ndahiro

‘My friend is Black’

 An open conversation with friends about what it means being the ‘Black friend’ of the group.

 

For the longest time, I thought that talking about racism to my friends would make them pity me and place me in the ‘Other’ category. This fear meant that over the years I fell into the wrong friend groups where I would allow them to make racist ‘jokes’ and commentaries. I found myself condoning certain behaviours that proved to be traumatic as time passed. I internalised this trauma and brushed it aside just for the sake of keeping friendships.

 I found that my blackness was something that some of my friends pointed out when introducing me.  They would begin the introduction with “Meet my Black friend Sandrine’. When talking about my friends their colour is not something that has ever popped into my mind. I never understood why me being Black was the first thing pointed out. Over time, I saw how being the ‘Black friend’ was used as a scapegoat when people around me said something remotely racist. By not calling it out meant that those in my surrounding environment thought that they could never be racist since I was living proof of their ‘wokeness’ and ‘diversity’.

Once the documentary was released, I noticed how all my friends reacted differently to it. I noticed how racism was still a sensitive topic as the documentary forced us to talk about it. I knew that racist incident especially those of the micro-aggressive levels were not going to stop but I did become more aware of who was calling it. I saw friends stand up for me with racist trolls who were commenting on my pictures. I saw who remained silent and who called it out immediately in the hopes of educating those that still had racist tendencies. I am now able to identify who would call out racism.

When I broached my friends to participate in this interview, they all echoed this sense of being ‘honoured’ that I asked them to talk about this topic.  I am the one that is honoured to be surrounded by such amazing friends where no topic is off limits. I found myself reflecting on how over the years they have supported me when I have experienced racist incidents. Never once did they make me question whether an experience was racist or not. They always actively listened and never inserted their narrative. They are always understanding how me talking about racist incidents is not a way of me diminishing any experiences of suffering that they have gone through. My experiences are simply shaped by the colour of my skin.

These interviews that you are about to read will give you a glimpse into the conversations that I have with my friends. I have been able to talk about racism and have not left feeling inadequate or worse. This is the true beauty of friendships.

Fiona O' Catharnaigh

Fiona's Answers


1. What were the different range of emotions that you felt while watching Unsilencing Black Voices?

 

While I certainly was proud of you for making a documentary, I mostly felt anger and frustration. I felt very hurt for the children growing up with the trauma of racist bullying and exclusion and particular anger towards the Irish people for their ignorance towards racism. It’s extremely unfair that anyone in our country should experience racism, especially considering our own history with oppressive imperialism.


2. Why do you think there’s such a taboo topic when it comes to racism?

 

I think it’s down to ignorance. People don’t want to acknowledge even the “tiniest” microaggressions because they would have to admit their own biases and acknowledge that they’ve benefitted from a racist society. It seems a lot of white people think that if they admit they benefit from their white privilege it somehow means they’ve never suffered. Irish people particularly struggle with it because of our history with imperialism – which we often equate to slavery, and I think that’s down to bad education.

 

Irish schools teach us about the effect of imperialism. But we don’t learn about colonialism in the same way – we learned that Columbus “discovered” America, that European colonies “civilised savage African tribes”. Instead, we should be learning about the destructive effect of colonialism the way we do imperialism, we should be learning how they are similar, but also different e.g. how Irish people experienced indentured servitude while black Africans experienced slavery. One is a choice, with a distinct end to the suffering, the other is not a choice and trickles down through generations.

 

I’ve also noticed that racism exists far too casually in all-white spaces. White people make jokes that imply black people are inferior or much worse, the only awareness of their racism seems to be the covert “look around” to make sure there’s no black people in the vicinity before speaking. I think this is a huge issue in Irish attitudes towards racism – it’s as if they feel it isn’t bad if it isn’t directly aimed at a black person. They don’t understand that when racism exists in “private” spaces, it opens the avenue for violent racism in public spaces. A lot of Irish people don’t want to discuss racism because it means acknowledging how they participated in it (or remained ignorant to it), I think a lot of them are worried about “suddenly” challenging racism in case someone brings up moments in their past that they were racist. They don’t realise how important it is to acknowledge one’s past bigotry to challenge any future bigotry.


3. Has your understanding of racism changed since watching the documentary?

 

I think I was made a little more aware of the vast impact of racism on children. I was aware of Ireland’s aversion to difference as I experienced discrimination for my dual-nationality and religion (or lack thereof). Since then I have noticed various forms of racism towards my non-white friends – exclusion, racial slurs, stereotyping and violence. But since seeing the documentary, I have realised just how dangerous silence is in the face of racism, and how it affects every black person in Ireland, even if they are indifferent to it.


4. When I come to tell you about a racist incident how does that make you feel?

 

Angry – it’s in my nature to want to protect my friends at all costs. It makes me wish I was there when it happened so I could have done or said something and it makes me want to hunt down the perpetrator and make an example of them, even if I’m aware of how that would be counter-productive.


5. Do you feel a certain level of discomfort when you have to call out racism?

 

I have anxiety around confrontation – however, calling out racism seems to be the one confrontation that makes me angry enough to override my anxiety. I do experience some anxiety calling out people close to me as a part of me worries they’re going to react in a way that forces me to cut them out of my life.

 

The most discomfort I felt revolved around a racist incident at an old job where a colleague used a racial slur referring to a black delivery driver. Despite being slightly fearful of this colleague as she was a toxic bully, I snapped at her never to say that word as it is racist. She repeated the word 3 times and insisted it was fine since we were all white in the office. Long-story-short our manager didn’t do anything about it when I reported it and I was informed HR weren’t going to take it further as I had no proof. In the end I quit because I refused to work in a toxic environment, but I feel the experience has been somewhat positive as I feel much less anxious calling out racism at work and hopefully that person will think twice in future.


6. Are you more inclined to call out racism when I am there or would it still be the same if I wasn’t there?

 

It would still be the same – the only difference I can think of is I would be angrier if you were there as I understand the potential trauma these incidents cause. Our friendship has affected me in that I feel more inclined to call out every instance of racism, rather than just the ones where I felt it’s appropriate.


7. Do you feel like our friendship has made you more aware of different forms of racism in Ireland or has that been something that you have always been aware of?

 

Our friendship helped me understand racism better, how your experience greatly differs from my experience with discrimination for things that I could easily hide with an Irish accent and choosing not to disclose my religious beliefs or lack thereof. You’ve also helped me learn how to call out racism where I previously would have assumed it was inappropriate – for example in the past I would have assumed it’s not my place to say anything if racism is targeted towards someone in the room. But now I see it’s especially my place to help prevent that person from having to take on the emotional labour of educating yet another racist, and that it’s also a small way to show they have an ally in the room.


8. When you speak out about racism to others are you shut down immediately since you aren’t black?

 

I’ve certainly had the “why do you care? You’re not black” argument thrown at me, but I tend to use that to highlight their bias. I ask questions aimed for self-reflection such as “why don’t you care?” or “what does it matter what race I am, why doesn’t racism bother you?”, if they’re Irish I’m usually able to use the comparison to British imperialism to get them to understand the bias.

 

I’ve also noticed when I call out these instances, I get labelled things such as a wet blanket, which is horrible to me since a wet blanket is typically someone who ruins “fun”, which in turn translates to them finding racism fun or amusing. I usually point this out and, when I do, I get disregarded as someone trying to kick up a fuss for nothing. However, I don’t mind these instances, as it helps me navigate which spaces, I’d prefer to avoid (such as the old job where racism was ignored and excused).


9. What advice would you give to people when their friend comes to them about a racist incident?

I advise people to listen closely and appeal to the feelings of their friends. If you need to talk, ask them how they feel, ask them if there’s anything they’d like to do to feel better, make a note to be wary of the racist in question.

 

Don’t try to make excuses for the racist, there’s no “maybe they were feeling this way” or “maybe it was a misunderstanding” because your friend is coming to you about this – even if the racist didn’t mean the harm they caused, they still caused harm, and this is about making your friend feel safe again after an unsafe experience. Don’t ask them questions like “why didn’t you say this or that?” because that is a form of victim-blaming; it isn’t up to black people to call out every incident, their emotional well-being and safety is the most important thing. We’re privileged in that calling out racism scarcely puts us in danger and doesn’t exhaust our emotional labour.


10. What change would you like to see when it comes to addressing racism in Ireland?

 

I’d like to see public spaces having zero-tolerance policies towards racism. I’d like to see schools with programmes dedicated to educating children on racism, and I feel showing your documentary in schools is a great first step. I’d particularly like to see those programmes being implemented in workplaces, for example, people who work with children are required to take child safety training; a similarly styled racial sensitivity training would be beneficial. I feel something like that would make employees understand what steps to take to report racism and how to call it out during the instance, racism is something we need to nip in the bud, not challenge after-the-fact.

 

On a deeper level, I want to see Irish government cleansing the country of racist structures, such as Direct Provision which treats refugees like burdens despite the companies involved making a lot of money from the centres, another example is how people with degrees from non-Western countries aren’t considered qualified. I think this is ludicrous as we have a lot of people with Bachelor’s or even Master’s degrees forced to work retail and fast food until they can afford the exorbitant university fees for non-EU students (if they ever can).

Ciara Gillick

Ciara's Answers

1. What were the different range of emotions that you felt while watching Unsilencing Black Voices ?

While watching the documentary I felt a lot of emotions. I felt empathetic to what people have been subjected to, surprised at how often and subtle it was and ashamed that the country I am from has made people feel uncomfortable in their homes.


2. Why do you think there’s such a taboo topic when it comes to racism ?

In my opinion this has a lot to do with the unknown. Racism in Ireland has never been a highlighted or discussed issue. People are generally afraid to approach a topic that they know little about. So rather than discussing it and educating themselves, they tend to avoid it. Which is typical of Irish people but is the complete wrong approach.


3. Has your understanding of racism changed since watching the documentary?

Prior to watching the documentary, I was unaware of the volume of micro aggressions that is experienced. It has opened my mind to be more considerate of other people, something you might consider to be harmless may be the very thing that could be hurtful to someone else.


4. When I come to tell you about a racist incident how does that make you feel ?

Knowing you experience racism is hard to hear, this is because as your friend I am obviously protective and it is upsetting when your friend tells you they have been subjected to something that was 100% avoidable. In another sense I am glad we can talk freely about racism and you feel comfortable to confide in me.


5. Do you feel a certain level of discomfort when you have to call out racism ?

No, I am very confident in telling someone if they have made a remark or done something that is racist. Calling people out is important, it may be that they are unaware what they have done or said is wrong. Helping to educate people is spreading awareness to the issue.


6. Are you more inclined to call out racism when I am there or would it still be the same if I wasn’t there ?

I would call out racism in both instances. I feel that it is very important to know you have a friend that will support you when you are not there just as much when you are.


7. Do you feel like our friendship has made you more aware of different forms of racism in Ireland or has that been something that you have always been aware of ?

I am lucky to have a friendship where we are both open and leave no stone unturned where it comes to discussing everything. I grew up around solely white Irish, the schools and the area I was in did not have any mixed races. So growing up I was extremely uncultured! It was not until we became friends that my knowledge began to broaden. I was completely unaware of the underlining severity of racism in Ireland today. The fact that I got to my age without any knowledge of the issues with racism in Ireland is appalling.

People need to be educated.


8. When you speak out about racism to others are you shut down immediately since you aren’t black ?

Definitely, now I obviously do not see the extent of the affects of racism and have rarely seen anything that has called for my opinion. However, on a couple of occasions where I have called it out it is often followed with a look rather than anything being said.


9. What advise would you give to people when their friend comes to them about a racist incident? 

 

Listen. The best thing anyone can do is to listen and try to understand. Ask questions, know what you can do better. Be a friend and support them any way that is physically possible.


10. What change would you like to see when it comes to addressing racism in Ireland?

More education. The Ireland I grew up in, where it was predominantly catholic based teachings only is very different to the Ireland today. We are a multi-cultural country now, so it is important for there to be a better system in place for people to be informed. Giving these lessons in school will be a positive step forward and hopefully have a prolonging affect. Where one day soon we can have an Ireland where people are not subjected to racism.

Ciara Curtin

Ciara's Answers

1. What were the different range of emotions that you felt while watching Unsilencing Black Voices ?

 

 When watching this documentary, I felt a great deal of hurt for those around me as well as those further afield living in different parts of the world. While I knew what racism was and that it was unfortunately around us, I never realised all the different types of encounters of racism those in the video could have, as in I didn’t think people who aren’t of colour could actually do such horrible and disgusting things just because someone else doesn’t mirror your own reflection. While it was upsetting to watch, it hit me with a sense of “fight or flight”. Either I accept these things have happened (and may continue to do so) and brush them off, or if I ever encounter racism whether it be in person/online that I stop it and respond to those who are doing it. And from watching this documentary it enriched the feeling of fight. Now is the time to stop these things from happening. What everyone in this video went through, I mean, I couldn’t even imagine how having those things said/done to me would feel. And I honestly question, why? Why would anyone do/say those things to other people just because of the colour of their skin. I find it sick, and disturbing. I really felt for all the people in the documentary. Their bravery and the fact they are still standing and fighting to this day is incredible and shows such strength – but it’s time for them to know they aren’t alone in fighting this battle for racial equality.


2. Why do you think there’s such a taboo topic when it comes to racism ?

 

I think the concept of racism is one that is difficult for some people to understand and therefore they lack intelligence in knowing what is considered racism. This may sound silly but if I said the word chair, everyone would know what I’m talking about and be able to give me different examples. However, if I said the word racism, I think people would find it difficult to define or give all examples of it. A lot of people find it taboo as they really don’t know racisms’ ins and outs and what it contains. They also are not educated on the matter and don’t know how to approach it, if they have questions – they don’t know who to ask as they are afraid, they may say something they shouldn’t have. When in actual fact it is their own fear. If you don’t know something ask, or better yet google it first if you are nervous. What I have found is that here, people are really defensive and try and pass things off as ‘it was only a joke’ – this is for sure problematic. When someone is confronted with something they have said/done which was racist, they can’t accept it and need to put on a defensive of ‘it was only a joke’ or play the blame game. They can’t cope with being wrong and therefore pass it off as something else, if they accepted it and learnt from it – it wouldn’t be taboo.


3. Has your understanding of racism changed since watching the documentary?

It has. I now know the term “micro-aggressions” and what consists of them, which I had never knew about before. While I know about bigger incidents, I guess you called them of racism and I often knew there could be small remarks made, I just never knew how common they were or even different examples. From watching this documentary, I was literally like wow. Things I never knew to happen, happen and its so sad and opened up my eyes a lot. It really made me feel like – I have it easy, and this shouldn’t be the case, no one should have to go through what people of colour go through in their day to day life. I think learning about racist incidents has made me more aware and it made me question a lot and ask questions too. From watching this documentary, I was shocked – I found it completely mad that these things happen/ have happened.


4. When I come to tell you about a racist incident how does that make you feel ?

 

Angry, it always has made me angry. And I probably curse that person underneath the sun. It also makes me think “what a low blow”. Going down to a level of racism is just pathetic and horrible, because the person who is doing it knows it will hurt – and they feel some sort of psychotic control/power trip.


5. Do you feel a certain level of discomfort when you have to call out racism ?

 

I would say so, but I am definitely better than I was before. I don’t encounter many levels of racism in my day to day, but I do see it online. If I see it online by random people, I straight away report it, in the hopes that no one else will see it. If I see it in person, I will say it. Before I was a bit hesitant and might say “hey, that’s not nice don’t say that again” but now I’ve adopted a more firmer tone  like “look you can’t say that ” and then give reasons and examples and question why someone has done so.


6. Are you more inclined to call out racism when I am there, or would it still be the same if I wasn’t there ?

 

I think it would be the same. If I saw it in person with you I think I’d be like “hold my bag, I’ll sort this person out” (sorry can I include this hahaha) and I wouldn’t let you experience another minute of this person’s attitude and I would speak to them myself and question and just ask them why they have said such a thing, again it’s a low blow. If you weren’t there, I am sure I would be the same. since watching this documentary, it has just made me realise that like these words hurt sooo much and they are distasteful, and it actually needs to stop and not be a thing anymore. Therefore, if I see it, I stop it and then hopefully the person who I have stopped from saying it learns a thing or two and does the same themselves.


7. Do you feel like our friendship has made you more aware of different forms of racism in Ireland or has that been something that you have always been aware of ?

 

100%. I am glad for our friendship and all it has taught me, but it really shouldn’t be this way, if you know what I mean? This should be taught in schools, primary school right up to secondary and even in third level education. Like racism shouldn’t even be a thing and if it was taught in schools it could have been prevented or at least less of then what it already is. But being your friend has sadly taught me a lot about the different types of things people say and how they say it.

 
8. When you speak out about racism to others are you shut down immediately since you aren’t black ?

 

Sadly yes, people throw things like “oh sure it doesn’t affect you so give over” and then the classic “it was only a joke” – I’m like who taught you to “joke” like this *eye-roll*. It is lack of education, but also just a horrible attitude/person to be if you think these things are jokes and just for laughs. People don’t realise that others pick up from what they are saying and regurgitate it. If it doesn’t stop, it will just be learnt by others that this is okay to do.

 

 
9. What advise would you give to people when their friend comes to them about a racist incident?

 

Listen, listen, listen. And don’t ever shut it down with side remarks like “oh I’m sure they didn’t mean it” or “don’t worry about it”. Like while you think you are helping, you aren’t – you are in fact protecting the racist here. Listening is big, let the person tell you about it, let them feel all types of emotions and just let them know you are there for them if they want to discuss further. After you’ve listened, don’t give an opinion on it all – more than likely if they are telling you about it, they just want to get it out of their system they aren’t looking for your opinion. And then after that it depends – if you know the person who did it, say something to them and educate them, if it were online, report it. There are lots of things you can do to help and to prevent it from happening again – that’s what you are there for, you are their friend because they trust you enough to tell you. Please don’t sit back and ignore it, do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


10. What change would you like to see when it comes to addressing racism in Ireland?

 

Where do I begin! Education in schools straight away, from junior infants to leaving cert. There needs to be time given to this subject. Children are very impressionable therefore, if they hear/see something racist, they’ll do it themselves. It needs to be taught in schools. Teachers needs to be educated on this, they also need to know how to approach racism if they see it happen. Parents also need to have a lesson or two on racism and how to prevent it happening in their home, and likewise if they see or hear it that they know how to approach it and shut it down. From the big things like education, to even what might be considered smaller – make-up artists, hairdressers. When you are doing your training, course cater for all skin tones and hair types – be more inclusive. Learn about other types of skin tones and hair so that you can make everyone feel welcome and included. Inclusivity is big – especially on tv shows, reality tv shows, game shows - everything. Be diverse and target a wider audience so as you can educate all. Normalise friendships between people of colour and those who aren’t – because they sure as hell exist!

Anthony Carey

Anthony's Answers

1. What were the different range of emotions that you felt while watching Unsilencing Black Voices ?

 

At the start of the documentary when watching the limerick protests over the murder of George Floyd in America I initially felt saddened and angry over the need for people to feel like they had to protest, even in Ireland to show solidarity in the hurt and pain that people felt across the world. But after a few minutes I started to feel some relief and joy over the sheer amount of people that turned up to show they’re support and voice they’re concerns with regards to an injustice and inhumane act of killing that took place so far away from home. I felt amazed at home technologies such as social media enabled people to gather and protest peacefully for a man they did not know. I was surprised at the extent to which the act caused so much unnecessary pain to people in Ireland, especially the black and Irish community.

 


2. Why do you think there’s such a taboo topic when it comes to racism ?

 

I feel that racism is a taboo topic in Ireland due to Irelands historical background compared to nations such as England, Spain and America but the to name a few, that had previously had colonial rule in many separate countries around the world throughout history. I think there is a feeling of guilt and victimisation when some Irish people are labelled as “racist” when something is said or done that would classify as a racist comment or incident due to the fact that the Irish nation historically did not carry out harsh acts of violence, brutality and slavery against other races compared to such countries as England and America. I think racism does exist in Ireland but has many different layers associated with it. I think Irish nationalists who are against such policies as immigration, open boarders and asylum seekers associate one or more group of people either already living in the country or entering the country as a threat to their identity or out of fear. Then there are forms of racism that exist that are trans-generational that people inherit from they’re parents etc that can be engrained into the thoughts and processes of how they perceive “the other” in everyday life.

 


3. Has your understanding of racism changed since watching the documentary?

 

Yes, I think before I watched the documentary, I did not know that what some people would consider to be “subtle” comments or “jokes” about a person’s appearance were not in fact subtle in any way to the receiver of those comments. It surprised me that the extent in which comments received by some of the people in the documentary had affected them for so long and even to this day. I could never place myself in someone’s shoes and recognise that kind of pain and how it affected them in everyday life and above all how it impacted they’re sense of identity in a place they call home. It made me realise how lucky people are to have friends and family that they know would stand up for them and call out ignorance and racism in the moment.


4. When I come to tell you about a racist incident how does that make you feel ?

 

Firstly, I try to listen to your thoughts and understand your emotions. If I do not fully understand something, I try to give you time to explain it to me and how it made you feel. I try not to justify your experience or relate to it. I feel that this is the most important thing when it comes down to an individual’s experience and sense of self. It makes me feel angry that someone can still feel like they can hurt someone because of they’re appearance with they’re actions or words. I believe someone’s experience should be gauged through the emotions that they convey and how they describe how it makes them feel rather than the interpretation of the observer or listener.

 


5. Do you feel a certain level of discomfort when you have to call out racism ?

 

No, racism should be called out in every instance and a person should never be afraid of hurting the perpetrators feelings because “they did not know” or they “thought they were only joking”. It makes me feel discomfort when someone tries to stand up for themselves and other people feel the need to speak for them when they do not want to feel completely powerless and it can very often make the receiver feel that such comments are somehow true which is the most damaging aspect I feel.

 


6. Are you more inclined to call out racism when I am there, or would it still be the same if I wasn’t there ?

 

I think before I met you I would of overheard comments or jokes that people would have made about other people and it would of made me feel angry and disappointed but I never really understood the extent to which such incidences would make someone that I don’t even know feel. I would always call out any form of racist action or comment or otherwise no matter what even if you are there or not. What I would also do is call it out when I see or hear such things being experienced by someone I don’t know.

 


7. Do you feel like our relationship has made you more aware of different forms of racism in Ireland or has that been something that you have always been aware of ?

 

I have always been aware of different forms of racism and how they manifest and can be aimed towards a particular person and/or group but I did not fully understand how such incidences can really impact a person over time. I believe it has resulted in me appreciating your personality and characteristics in a positive way like never before, for instance the way you are able to understand other peoples experiences so well and empathise with them is one of the many reasons why you’re such a lovable person and how you interact with people in everyday life has a knock-on effect for how other people treat people. I feel I would never minimise or reduce your experience as it is unique to you.

 


8. When you speak out about racism to others are you shut down immediately since you aren’t black ?

 

Sometimes yes. Other people who aren’t black feel the need to think they know what is racist or not. Then some people don’t say anything at all. That is what confuses me. I don’t put they’re reactions down to ignorance as some people might do, instead I try and challenge they’re views or lack there-of. If not, I just don’t associate myself with them.

 

 

 
9. What advise would you give to people when their partner comes to them about a racist incident?

 

Give them your time and give them a chance to speak or not speak at all. Understand that if you know the person/s who hurt them and you do not approach it then it affects the person in an unimaginable way. Never be friends with people who hurts your friends. There is always a chance for someone to own up, apologize or even recognise how they’re actions or words hurt another person and this should be considered but if there was a conscious effort to deliberately hurt someone then you should not associate yourself with such people.

 


10. What change would you like to see when it comes to addressing racism in Ireland?

 

I think inclusivity and diversity in education. I would also like to stop seeing stereotypes of different groups of people in the media or otherwise portrayed negatively or used for promotional purposes to help label a person, group or business as “diverse”. I don’t think having dark skin should separate you from being an ordinary person.

© 2020 by Unsilencing Black Voices.