What will the future look like for my children?
The violent death of George Nkencho, a young Black man of Nigerian decent sent shockwaves through the Black Irish community. As a white Irish mother with children of Nigerian heritage I felt compelled to speak out. Not just about the heart wrenching manner in which George was killed but also against the repulsive public backlash that followed against George, his family and the wider Black community. I watched in horror as trolls and anonymous far right accounts that have been gathering steady momentum in Ireland over the past number of years relished in his killing. But even more worryingly I watched as people I knew with their own picture and names fully on display comfortably sharing memes of untruths attempting to justify George’s death while the white Irish community at large argued ferociously and passionately that race was not a factor.
There had been no information at that point (and still at the point of writing this) released on whether or not racial bias did in fact play a part but many experts and those from the community have expressed that it should not be ruled out which I am in complete agreement with. An internal Garda survey reported in August 2020 revealed that 30% of Gardaí admitted to having negative views of Black people and many Black Irish people from both the local community in Blanchardstown and beyond have expressed discrimination at the hands of the Gardaí. Heartbroken and filled with fear I watched as the white Irish population, who make up almost 90% of the people on this Island, screamed their verdict without needing any context or factual information, and that verdict was heard loud and clear; George was a ‘thug’ who deserved to die.
When looking at all these gut-wrenching comments, I was left feeling like my heart was sinking further into my shoes. While reading these comments I looked at my little boys beside me playing peacefully and blissfully. My junior infant and pre-schooler do not know how cruel the world is for people who look like them, not yet. One day they will read what I am reading and my heart shatters thinking of its impact. The knowledge that I can only protect them for so long means life is often filled with tears of nervous anxiety and questions like “am I doing enough?”. Every day I plant seeds of future self-love, tolerance and equality, I water them, I help them to bloom. I tell them our body is our shell and shells come in different colours, shapes and sizes. Some are big some are small, some are black, some are brown, some beige and some are white. And most importantly we can’t tell anything about a person from looking at their shell. Shells are just houses for the people inside them. We are all unique and we are all worthy. Black shells are beautiful, Brown shells are beautiful. All shells are equal. My one great wish is that mothers of white children would start to teach their own children the same because my lived experience and the experience of many others affected by racism would suggest that racism is being actively thought and rarely countered, the responses to George’s death is certainly a cruel indictment of that. At the end of the day nobody deserves to die like that. Nobody. I implore those who are white to put themselves in his family’s shoes. It’s something I have done every day since.
Some white Irish people seem to think my sons are cute and adorable now with their bouncy coils and their doe like brown eyes but I wonder will they say the same when they are teens in a shopping centre with their hoods up being loud and rambunctious like any other teenager? Or when they date *their* daughters or take *their* jobs? At what age do my sweet boys become “thugs” and not the white Irish boys next door? Because I’m still an Irish Mammy and my sons are my Irish sons. When white Irish people teach their children racist sentiments or don’t correct them on the ones they learn from the street those same children plant pain into hearts of boys like mine and Mammies like me struggle to pick up the pieces. I sometimes try to tell myself it will be all be okay, did George’s Mammy tell herself the same thing?
White privilege is always being given the benefit of the doubt. But I fear my boys, and all boys with darker skin, will never be given that opportunity because if George was given it he would still be alive today. A white man brandishing a knife is ‘probably confused’, ‘he’s not in the right state of mind’ ‘I know him, he’s not like that’ but for a Black man carrying a knife through the white gaze, his skin alone is a weapon, he’s dangerous, shoot first, ask questions later. And when white Irish people try to convince me that I’m wrong they can’t - I’ve seen the way my Black partner, an incredible and honourable person, is treated by this society in comparison to my white male family members, some not so incredible or honourable at all. Or how strangers in the street look at us with faces so contorted and disgusted they make me feel alienated and alone; how can people who have never met us hate us so much? I wonder do white parents of white children ever worry about their children’s name becoming a hashtag one day. Because I do. Every day, it never leaves me. It’s like grief it hits me in waves; some days the waves are small and manageable other days they crash against me violently threatening to destroy me. But great or small I have to stand tall amidst them because if I don’t who will protect my children?
In Ireland we have an awful habit of making nice with the worst amongst just because they have power, power is much more seductive than good character. Black people and other people of colour here have very little power so it doesn’t matter how well they do or how nice they are, most white people don’t want to ‘make nice with them’. That way it’s easy to other and dehumanise and to hide behind whiteness in an attempt to justify six bullets into the body of a young man with mental health issues when nothing will ever justify it. If the white Irish community continues to bathe in its own ignorance and arrogance this is the future I see here for my boys, and this is no future. My only wish is that the community I come from would learn about power, privilege and pain like my boys will have to and like their father and everyone who looks like him had to, something that is not optional for so many. And upon learning deconstruct their value systems based on white supremacy and reconstruct it with equality and empathy for all on this island with the view that every single person is worthy of love, respect, and kindness. And most importantly life, and the benefit of the doubt that they are not a bad person. Maybe then we can begin a future where I and many other mothers in the margins don’t live in terror of our worst nightmares becoming a reality.