Reflecting upon the controversies that arose in the final few weeks of 2019, 2020 is gearing up to be the year to tackle racism. And, hopefully, the year that racism is finally recognised and condemned for what it really is – rampant in all walks of life. Stormzy recently had his words misinterpreted by numerous media outlets and on Twitter when responding to a question from Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, of whether Britain is still racist. His response of ‘Definitely, 100%’ was misstated by many media giants as ‘Britain is 100% racist’, causing a hateful backlash against the artist. In the same week, Gary Neville condemned the Premier League for their careless attitude towards the obvious racism epidemic in English football. Instead of encouraging such discourse, Neville’s Sky Sports colleagues appeared visibly uncomfortable that the commentary had taken a political turn.
Privileged university students should be shocked and horrified at the mere existence of such racial abuse in the 21st century, never mind the senseless response to those who have chosen to speak out. But does our shock equate to ignorance? Do so-called ‘echo-chambers’ of liberal ideologies in UCD fuel the problem of racism even more? I believe so. If you live, work or study in a place where everyone shares relatively the same social views, it is easy to believe that this extends to the majority of the wider population.
How is this detrimental? Take the issue of direct provision. Two years ago, UCD students launched a protest against catering company Aramark, who caters for three direct provision centres in Ireland. The central argument of the students was that it is wrong for a private company to profit from direct provision. From one perspective, when considering the reports of horrendous conditions in such centres it was a valid protest. But what if its outcome was that Aramark discontinued its services to these centres? All this would have done is prove to UCD students that their opinion was the right one. What about those asylum seekers who desperately require these services – would they have cared that a bunch of privileged twenty-somethings were right, if they were forced into more struggle if their service provider had cancelled its contract? I somehow don’t think they would have cherished our victory.
As regards racism on this issue, I think it should be recognised by students who protest against the conditions in direct provision that this is often the same argument made by those who simply do not want outsiders entering the country. Or, as TD Noel Grealish once eloquently phrased it, those coming to ‘sponge off the system’. Whilst we may ignore the derogatory comments made by those who are perhaps more conservative in their views (see comments on the Journal.ie), they listen to us. Protesting against providers of direct provision centres, regardless of any bona fide motive, can be easily and deliberately misinterpreted by those outside our echo-chamber as a protest against asylum itself. Unfortunately, this fuels the problem of racism in wider society. The same argument could have been made 20 years ago regarding abortion rights. While conservative Ireland lived in fear and shame, UCD took a liberal stance and published information about abortion clinics overseas. Something I noticed on campus in the debate leading up the abortion referendum in 2018 was a general willingness to listen to both sides, by both sides.
This is where we are flawed when it comes to modern issues like direct provision and racism. We would often rather hear our own opinion echoing off campus walls than consider that this may not be what is most beneficial to effect positive societal change. Although education has significant merits, it can sometimes make us too sure of ourselves and our opinions. It seems that when it comes to issues like racism we are trapped in a bubble of false enlightenment.
Blathnaid Corless – Opinion Writer