Et tu, Ireland?, By Wole Olaoye

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Reading Time: 5 mins read

Since man left the Garden of Eden, there has been no blight more despicable than the evil of racism. Based on the fallacy that the worth of a person is totally dependent on the colour of his skin, this tempest has actually been responsible for countless crimes against humanity and the polarisation of the world on the basis of skin colour, with the ‘white-skinned’ person claiming superiority over the ‘yellow’, the ‘brown’ and the ‘black’ persons. 

No race is more sinned against than the black race. From the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, through colonialism, which eroded the civilisation of an entire continent and showed the bestiality of man to fellow man, to the current global economic arrangement, which has been rigged against Africa and its descendants, racism is now so entrenched in some societies that you don’t need to scratch beyond the surface to encounter it.

Lunchtime Murder

It looked as if the world had become unshockable by overt racist crimes after the catalogue of such crimes in the US and other parts of the world, particularly the choking to death of George Floyd. But Italy refused to be outdone in the lynching department when, on 29 July, 2022, an Italian man killed a disabled Nigerian street vendor for attempting to sell a handkerchief to his girlfriend.

The 39-year-old Nigerian, Alika Ogorchukwu, had lived in Italy for over ten years. He was married and had an eight-year-old son. He started hawking wares on the streets of Civitanova Marche, a busy upmarket shopping district in the province of Macerata, after a bicycle accident left him disabled and unable to return to his regular job.

The Italian man, Filippo Ferlazzo, possessed by whatever demon controls his type, turned on the limping street hustler and used his crutches to pummel him repeatedly, before wrestling him to the ground and choking him to death —  all in broad daylight before hundreds of lunch-hour passers-by, many of whom were busy recording the murder with their phones. No one intervened to physically restrain Ferlazzo. 

The outrage that greeted the incident forced the Italian government to react quickly. The Italian Anti-Racist Coordination published an open letter denouncing the use of racist imagery in media coverage of the murder, while the Human Rights Watch stated that Italian police had historically failed to respond adequately to hate crimes. 

A national protest was staged by the growing community of black Italians, who saw Alika’s death, along with a number of other such incidents, as expressions of growing racism and the political ascendancy of right-wing, anti-immigrant hatred in the country. The police, however, tried to steer the discussion away from racism, preferring instead to toe the line of official excuses of ‘mental illness’ and ‘provocation’ for Ferlazzo’s behaviour. 

The good news, if good can ever come out of such a savage separation of a poor black man’s soul from his body — is that last week, Ferlazzo was finally sentenced to 24 years in prison for his crime.

As Ferlazzo’s case was being rounded up, a trending video of another crass display of racism hugged the world’s imagination and showed the urgency of the need to help those in denial come to terms with their racist disease. This time, the shameful sight was in Dublin, Ireland.

Irish Racism 

I must confess that I have admired Ireland all my life on account of the positive influence of great Irish reverend fathers of the Societas Missionum ad Afros (Society of African Missions, SMA) who were part of my early training. Indeed, I was privileged to enjoy the friendship and mentorship of the legendary Fr. DJ Slattery, founder of St Finbarr’s College, Lagos, and was delighted to play some part in getting him to write his autobiography.

For some reason, it had never occurred to me to associate racism with Ireland, until recently when the video of an event that happened in Dublin in March 2022 pierced through the carpet under which it had been swept by the authorities, and caused global outrage. In the video, a female white judge is seen handing out medals for participation to a line of young gymnasts, but she bypassed the only black girl in the group. A photographer, coach and other officials watching the show of shame failed to intervene.

The black girl was Initially cheerful and excited. When she was bypassed, she became disappointed and embarrassed and became a mere spectator as her colleagues proudly caressed the medals hanging down their necks. The only difference between the girl and the others is that she is black.

After the girl’s parents protested, the authorities tried to downplay the seriousness of what happened, claiming that it was a honest mistake and that there was no tinge of racism in the whole affair. They even refused to disclose the name of the offending woman to the media. There were no apologies, save tepid excuses, offered — until someone released the video on social media, thereby exposing the naked racism of the Irish setup. Gymnastics Ireland was forced to issue a statement shortly after the video became viral. 

Nobody is deceived. Systemic racism is alive and well in the Republic of Ireland. That video made me probe further into racial relations in Ireland. I was shocked to discover that the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) had done an extensive study of the problem and its research findings ought to have nudged the authorities to face the problem headlong, instead of living in denial.

The ICOS research, in which more than 420 international students participated, found that:

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of international students in Ireland have experienced or witnessed racism.

The most common form of racism was verbal (42 per cent). This was followed by ‘indirect’ racism (39 per cent), and physical racism (12 per cent), including physical assaults, the throwing of objects or being spat at. A further 4 per cent had experienced or witnessed online hate speech.

The majority of racist incidents occurred in Dublin (68 per cent), however, incidents occurred in both urban and rural settings 

A quarter of all racist incidents occurred on the street (25 per cent), followed by social settings (restaurants, pubs or nightclubs), the workplace, or public transport (each at 15 per cent), social media (6 per cent), and a series of other public settings (31 per cent). 

Of the participants that provided information on the perpetrators of racism, 35 said the offenders were youths or teenagers. There were 34 accounts of racial discrimination in the workplace at the hands of work colleagues, supervisors, and customers; 25 cases involving strangers; and 23 cases involving individuals or groups of men. In addition, 17 respondents from the survey reported institutional racism.

Scorpion and Frog 

A racist is a human scorpion. It is in his nature to dispense venom. The Greek fabulist, Aesop, gifted humanity the didactic tale of the frog and the scorpion. Unable to swim, a scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. 

The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” 

The scorpion replies, “If I do, we will both die”. 

Midstream, the scorpion stings the frog and in his dying breath, the frog asks, “Why?” 

The scorpion replies, “It is my nature.”

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