As a mixed race student, racism has always been a battle

A Trinity student dissects the topic of race through her lens as an Irish, mixed race young adult

When I was out in public with my mother as a child, I always made a deliberate effort to call her mam out loud when other people were listening. It wasn’t for my own benefit, or for hers. I was trying to stop questioning stares – stares from people trying to wrap their heads around a mother and daughter with a different skin colour.

I am Irish, and I am mixed race. I have a black father and a white mother. In the eyes of many, I am too white to be black, too black to be white. I am perceived to be racially and culturally diluted. My mother and those who look like her are awarded a certain privilege. This privilege exempts them from the very discrimination which my father and those who look like him are continuously subjected to.

As a young child, I instinctively knew that while in the company of my mother, some people would question our biological relationship. Although we share an abundance of characteristics which undeniably link us as mother and daughter, the same cannot be said about our most obvious feature – our skin colour. Her fair, freckled skin contrasts with my own. Calling her mam out loud was my way of trying to correct the ignorance of anyone within earshot.

Growing up, I felt as if my father’s evident intellect as an academic provided him with a partial shield from racial prejudice, as if his achievements surpassed the expectations of a black man living in Ireland, or that his contributions to Irish education increased his value in the eyes of a predominantly white-Irish society.

To have ever thought this, I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that what I thought was a veil of protection was actually playing into the hands of the racial prejudice I was trying to avoid. A certain paranoia surrounding the colour of my parent’s skin was embedded in me from an early age, and it was planted by societal ignorance and prejudice.

On a recent holiday to Malawi, my father’s country of origin, I was referred to as a “mzungu” by a group of local fishermen, which is a term for a white person. But in Ireland, I know that I will never be seen as white. I am not white. I naively thought that in Malawi’s predominantly black society, I would integrate without any reference to my “whiteness”. That hope stems from an envy of the simplicity of being strictly black or white, and belonging absolutely.

Society categorises people. I am constantly labelled according to my supposed “whiteness” or “blackness”. My identity is always, however subtly or explicitly, under question. It exists in a state of flux at the hands of both white and black society. This external labelling at times threatens to shake my sense of self. I often question whether my view of my own identity is the right one. However, with age came self-acceptance. I grew to know that the colour of my skin does not define me. I define myself.

Growing up in the Ireland of the early 2000s, “mixed race” was still an unfamiliar concept to most – as was the interracial couple. My parents’ relationship was often scrutinised. For some, an Irish woman unapologetically loving a black man was an extremely hard pill to swallow. Because of this, people were sceptical of my very existence, and I felt it.

Since then, attitudes towards biracial children have changed, but not necessarily for the better. Now, in today’s world of the Instagrammable family, biracial children can be overly glamourised. This trend fails to acknowledge the issues of colourism it disseminates. My mother and father did not fixate upon the aesthetic value of their potential offspring. We must not contribute further to colourism by fetishizing those of a lighter complexion. It is as simple as that.

In the wake of the Gardaí shooting and killing of George Nkencho, his memory was corrupted by racist fuelled propaganda. Misinformation and slanderous allegations circulated like wildfire as though the content of the lies could justify his death. Those who dismiss concerns about how he has been portrayed are part of the problem. Racism is alive and well in Irish society and unless we recognise its manifestations, progress is impossible.

As a minority in university, you can often feel outnumbered. Your peers may endorse the fight against racism, but have often never experienced racism themselves. Thus, a feeling of camaraderie or being entirely understood is absent.

As a person of colour, it is not my duty to always initiate dialogue addressing racial issues, nor is it my responsibility to educate against bigotry. We should all be able to talk openly about racism. Yes, it can be an uncomfortable subject to discuss, but we must face it head on. I know that people are frightened that they may say the wrong thing and cause upset as a result, but dialogue is a sign of solidarity. It says: “I acknowledge your struggle and I want to learn how I can help.” A head-in-the-sand attitude leaves people of colour fighting against racism alone.