“We don’t get to have one month of Black Lives Matter and leave it there”

Claire Stalhuth speaks to Activist Amanda Ade on unity and the black Irish identity

It’s been 149 days since the murder of George Floyd. There have been protests, uncomfortable conversations, re-evaluations of institutions. Companies and universities have put out press releases, promises have been made. And yet with the hope, progress, and pain this movement has brought about and revealed, it feels as if things are going back to normal. For some, this may be a comforting prospect. But we must question this normality, and if the status quo is something to be resurrected at all. 

To help tackle this, the Arts and Culture section will be running a three-part series of anti-racist educational resources, featuring books, movies, podcasts, activist accounts, and more. While your feeds and dinner conversations may fade back to brunch photos and spur of the moment quarantine puppy adoptions, the real lived experience of people of colour in Ireland and globally will not change unless there is mass, educated action. 

However, education is not the be-all and end-all for racism. We spoke to Black Irish activist Amanda Ade about taking steps towards anti-racism in Ireland. After educating yourself using the recommendations in this series, she urges everyone to address the reality of racism in Ireland, amplifying and representing the Black Irish experience, and most importantly, talking about it. Through this grassroots method, Ade has real hope for Ireland to set a precedent for future generations as the nation becomes ever more cosmopolitan and diverse. 

“For Ade… the first step is addressing those who deny the existence of racism within Ireland, a state she calls ‘blissful ignorance’, which education and conversation must disrupt.”

Ade recently graduated with a degree in Analytical Chemistry from the Institute of Technology Carlow, but she has long been a leading voice in the Irish Black Lives Matter Movement. Born in South Africa, she’s lived in Ireland since she was three, calling the country the only place she’s actually known as her home. Her Instagram video, Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room, posted three days after the violent murder of George Floyd, has amassed over 534,000 views. For Ade and many anti-racist activists from, and active in, Ireland, the first step is addressing those who deny the existence of racism within Ireland, a state she calls “blissful ignorance”, which education and conversation must disrupt. Ireland’s colonial past, and historically racial homogeneity, offer what Ade calls a crutch, something “some people tend to lean on and say because of everything that Irish people have been through historically that it’s impossible for them to now be on the side of like the oppressor.” While acknowledging the colonial past of Ireland, Ade stresses that racism is very much alive in contemporary Ireland.  

Within Irish culture specifically, Ade sites banter and slagging people as a specific area where the line can be crossed and personal experience of racism denied. Within this exchange, the concept of programmed and unconscious racism is introduced. What may begin as simply a bit of craic, no harm intended, can enter into the territory of being offensive, even without the awareness of the speaker themselves, according to Ade. “And they don’t realize that they don’t have that knowledge yet, and that’s why I’m so like pro-conversation on pro-educating each other about these things. People genuinely don’t know… in their minds, it’s a big joke.”

Beyond frequent offensive jokes, a deep, harmful manifestation of racism in Ireland is a denial of Black Irish people’s own identity as Irish. In the workplace, in representation in media and positions of Irish society, and a constant stream of microaggressions and verbal abuse, Ade describes an alienated identity. “Even little things such as if your surname or skin color kind of looks out of place people will automatically have something to say about it and will consider you that little bit less Irish.  Even though you may have even been born here.” Admitting Ireland has racism is just the beginning. 

Education: Do Your Homework

The first step towards dismantling the racism that lines much of Western society is education. While Trinity has supported the creation of a Black Studies Elective Module, 5 ECTs come Hilary Term,  it is not sufficient in and of itself. It is imperative that students educate themselves independently, to question their own education, and, as activists call for, to decolonize our minds.

Growing up in the Irish education system, Ade noticed a problematic attitude regarding race. In reading books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men, she describes being the only Black person in the class while other white children threw around the N-word “all in the name of education and reading.” In reading about books related or centered around racism, there was no background discussion on racism itself in the context of the books, and so a deeply rooted derogatory slur became just another word: “everyone had the pass in English to say the N-word.” While Ade presses for standard education to be updated, in the meantime, she stresses the importance of unlearning problematic ideals.

“Listen with an open mind. Listen to understand, not respond.”

Ade makes it clear that this is a personal responsibility for all to pursue. Anti-racist self-education can be university-level modules, books, movies, podcasts, or even simply listening. As Ade urges, “Listen with an open mind. Listen to understand, not respond.” A large part of the global Black Lives Matter movement has been centered around telling personal stories of experiences of racism. Ade says it is important to learn from their stories, but allow emotional breathing room for such pain. “Let people have their experience. People are angry, people are upset, people are hurt. Let them be hurt, let them go through those emotions so that they can get to a place of healing and get to a place where they’re even open to having conversations like that.”

For Ade, the Black Lives Matter movement is a true progression towards unity. The first step, through listening and self-education, is acknowledging that racism is an issue in Ireland. To Ade, this acknowledgment is key for the unity needed for progress, not a divisive tactic: “There’s no pointing fingers and saying ‘okay well you did this, you did that’; that’s not what it’s about.” However, throughout her platform as an activist, Ade makes it clear it is not just the responsibility of Black people to bring about change or educate; there has to be unity in the work, everyone has to pull their weight. And the work doesn’t stop at the educational resources we’re going to be printing. The next key step is to start a conversation with the education you pursued in your artillery. 

Become comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations

Ade’s linchpin of productive anti-racist activism, attacking the problem at its source, is having conversations even if they’re uncomfortable. Ade urges people to jump into conversations with those in your own community and sphere of influence a personal grassroots campaign at family dining tables, during pints with your friends. After educating yourself, calling out acts of racism from the ground level is the only way things are going to change, according to Ade. 

This was the impetus for Ade’s podcast Box’d Up. She was looking for self reflection and growth within her communities and was looking for change in the best way she knew how: by broadcasting important conversations and sharing people’s experiences. “In normal life, [people] don’t have opportunities to speak to Black people, to white people, to whoever, people just don’t do that. So, this is another way for people to listen in.” 

“This is not a trend for me. This is my life. We don’t get to have one month of Black Lives Matter and leave it there. We don’t have that privilege.” 

Ade acknowledges that this may be a daunting task, but educational resources, the arts, and communities can spark these conversations. Public community events and mediums however limited and distanced they may be nowsuch as music, sports, tv, and film, bring people together in more relaxed conditions to open up discussions and build relationships. Conversations like these create the unity Ade’s antiracist activism is built upon. 

What Now

Ade’s sentiments came soon after her empowering, passionate speech at the Dublin Black Lives Matter March back in June. She described it as a turning point, her voice full of hope:  “Just seeing the range of people there like people, different ages, different walks of life, genders, ethnic backgrounds like it was such a great mix of people. It was so beautiful to see everyone marching together and singing together and kneeling together, it just kind of showed me a picture of what Ireland could be like.” Now, at the beginning of term three months later, she hopes the momentum and commitment she saw doesn’t become just another trend. In a more recent IGTV video, Time to Put on Your Grafting Boots This is not a Trend, Ade states that while progress has been made, people are more aware and a conversation has been started, it does not end there. “This is not a trend for me. This is my life. We don’t get to have one month of Black Lives Matter and leave it there. We don’t have that privilege.” 

Ade hasn’t stopped. She views the arts as a site of anti-racist change. However, black artists in Ireland encounter many barriers. She points out that the talent is out there, they’re just not being given a platform and aren’t being heard. While we start the year out with this educational resource list, it is the responsibility of this section to amplify these voices. Art is an arena for change and culture is the repository and manifestation of our collective consciousness. It is neither a-political nor innocent. But it can give voice, express ideas, expose pain, navigate the nuances of human experience, point to uncomfortable truths. This is the activism of Amanda Ade. 

Her recent docuseries, Scéalta, explores the topic of racism in Ireland by delving into lived experience. The interviews, all available on her Instagram page (@the_amanda_ade), are intimate, first-hand accounts of young Irish people’s day to day encounters with racism. Her most recent work, Brown Baby, A Spoken Word Visual, is a proclamation on her identity as both Black and Irish. Interwoven with her spoken word poetry is music, moving portraiture of her fellow Black Irish subjects and experimental Avant-garde shots; it’s a proud reclamation of her own narrative. Her reverberating first stanza concludes: “My existence is paralleled to the original sin, because my green, white and gold came draped in black skin.”

There is racism here in Ireland. Through the global Black Lives Matter Movement, we have begun to recognize and face it. But Amanda Ade challenges us to unify and attempt to dismantle it. It starts with some of the educational resources we’re recommending here. But that is just a first step. We must listen, we must start having uncomfortable conversations, and it must culminate in action. 

Claire Stalhuth

Claire Stalhuth is the Arts and Culture Editor, and a Junior Sophister student of English Literature and History.