Coming from a country that is currently buzzing with issues of race and racism, I was intrigued to hear that as a whole, Ireland does not experience similar issues. We have been told in class that in general, Ireland experiences little issues around race and is at large not considered a racist nation. Yet, after a few recent experiences I have begun to ask myself, is Ireland more racist than it claims to be?
On a recent trip to Pavee Point, I got to see a darker side of Irish society. Pavee Point is a center for the Traveller and Roma communities and works to shed light on the many difficulties the two community face in Ireland and around the world. Established in 1985, Pavee Point works in several areas including education, drug and alcohol addiction, and advocacy for women within the Traveller and Roma communities. The organization also does outreach programs, such as information sessions, to encourage communication between Traveller and settled communities.
During my visit to Pavee Point I gained some shocking insight into the discrimination the Traveller community bears in Ireland. At present, Travellers are advocating for legal recognition as a racial minority, in hopes to reduce the marginalization they are currently under. The effects of the prejudice against the community are evident in Traveller’s mental and physical health. Within the Traveller community, suicide accounts for 11% of all deaths, and the suicide rate is 6-7 times higher in the Traveller community than it is in settled communities. Perhaps even more shocking, the life expectancy for Traveller women is 11.5 years less than that of settled women and is 15.1 years less for Traveller men compared to that of settled men.
An additional experience at a free concert in Dublin further raised my suspicion of racism in Irish society. A band called Evolution of Hip Hop took the stage at a local music venue in what I took to be a shocking and offensive manner. The all white Irish band wore matching sneakers and track suits as they performed and array of songs by black American artists. Throughout the performance I was shocked at the manner in which the band appropriated hip-hop culture while the rest of the audience did not blink an eye.
No culture is bias-free. Racism is an on-going issue, which cannot be ignored. In light of recent observations and experiences, I believe that racism is alive and well in Ireland. Hopefully with the help of organizations like Pavee Point, conversations around race will become more common. With any luck, “music” groups like the Evolution of Hip Hop and shows like My Big Fat Gypsy wedding will soon go out of style as their harmful effects are exposed.