I had a funny conversation once. I was answering a New Yorkers questions on Northern Ireland. He asked me if there was any hope for here, would we ever have real peace and a normal healthy society. I said yes. His response was that the only solution he could think of was to put all the bigots on an Island and let them fight it out. I laughed as I responded – we are on an Island!! That is the thing about here, geographically we are small yet in terms of morality many of us are worlds apart.
I won’t name the exact year my parents met, let’s just say it was long before Ebony and Ivory ever hit the charts! Anyway like most couples back then they dated and married. They worked hard, bought a house and had children. How about we throw in a few obstacles… let’s say my Mum was white and my Dad black. Did love conquer all back then? I believe it did or at least it tried. Then it was a case of sticks and stones. Lots of bile was levelled at my parents but they were a strong unit and for the most part they laughed it off. After all, they had their friends, they had their professions and they had hope, hope for their children and the future. Times were changing.
Fast forward almost forty years, let’s stop in 2014. Does the hope that my parents had still exist? Did times change? Yes times did indeed change but in the aftermath of the troubles they didn’t necessarily change for the better. Now as regards racism it is a case of more than sticks and stones. We have two racist attacks every day, words may not harm (although that is debatable) but damage to a person or their property certainly can.
I grew up amidst questions as to where I was from etc etc I’m sure everyone has heard it all before. But how about I turn it around? How about I ask you to be born somewhere, to grow up somewhere, to know no other place yet not feel a part of that somewhere? It’s ok though because Northern Ireland is for all, the Good Friday Agreement spelled out equality quite clearly, didn’t it? Cue our First Minister and his remarks. I believe what he said implied so much more and all the apologises and back tracking cannot take away the upset he caused. When one group is persecuted and this is condoned by our First Minister it has a domino effect on all minority groups, it hurts us all.
Dare you speak out if someone makes a derogatory comment? Ideally yes, but for too many it’s no. This isn’t any surprise considering when people do they are vilified. I have watched people demeaned with caustic remarks like I get ‘racism’ because of my beliefs or my politics. My response to that is NO you don’t. You cannot suffer racism unless you are a different race. You do not wear your politics or your political views on your skin or features. If you are condemned for them or abused for them then that is wrong, but what is more wrong is telling someone that racism is the same thing as political abuse. Yes dislike someone for their politics or stance you certainly have every right to do so. I simply do not see how an individual’s race has anything to do with this. I am not going to be condescending here and say everyone is the same, because quite clearly we are not BUT I will say that everyone deserves the same respect, the same baseline.
Last month I went to a meeting in Belfast City Hall where racism was discussed. Oh wow was it discussed! I was compelled to take the microphone, something I do not do lightly. We had people saying that they wouldn’t allow Belfast’s name to be tarnished, that racism needs to be tackled and what they were doing about it. The packed room was essentially a meeting for the cities groups to congratulate each other on their efforts and discuss the great work that they do. It was a press call, ‘look world, look how seriously we take this’. I am still waiting to see the outcome. Yes it is great to condemn racism and maybe even to have meetings to see who can condemn it the most. BUT it is simply not enough to merely condemn racism any more. We need to do something about it. I told the audience that day that ‘Belfast was a horrible city’ and do you know what? I don’t retract that. Right now Belfast is a great city for bigots, if it isn’t a racist attack it’s sectarian. Belfast has potential I agree and I do not dispute that. Now and again with events like the Giro we see snippets of how great this place can be but too often we are drawn back to becoming the hate filled cess pit that we are becoming known as.
It is time that the people of Northern Ireland stood up and were counted, time to show the world a different side to Northern Ireland. For too long our decent people have sat back, left or contemplated packing up. There is no point in running away from Northern Ireland because right now wherever you go you will have to admit where you are from! Stand up, speak out and reclaim your city, your dignity and your global respect. Northern Ireland is not full of bigots, but unfortunately the bigots shout the loudest. For once let’s drown them out and I sincerely hope in the next election that we vote them out. Let’s show that Belfast can be a rainbow city that it can actually be ebony and ivory and green and orange!! I won’t go so far as to say living in perfect harmony but right now any harmony would be a start.
Unfortunately, I think there are many more Jolene Buntings waiting in the wings