Why Do We Discriminate?
Racism and Xenophobia are Universal
Ireland is a warm and welcoming country. You often hear musicians saying they love playing to Irish crowds or movie stars saying how friendly we are. When there’s an international sporting event it’s always the Irish fans the media gush about as having the right spirit. However, talk to someone of colour, someone of a different origin, someone from the LGTBI+ community, someone with a disability, someone from a low socio-economic background, or someone over a certain age and you’ll get a whole other view of Ireland.
It’s widely considered important that an individual joins in with their community or risks being isolated. But by participating in this sheepish way you are defining a world of infinite possibilities through a prism of set colours. Some of us go off to find a new tribe that shares our personal values. However, it’s often those born into their tribe that are the worst offenders when it comes to ignorance and discrimination.
Ignorance Doesn’t Mean Misinformed.
Often, discrimination is a case of fixed views decided by the communal perception of the world. Going against those group-views risks lowering status and hindering opportunities. Therefore, an individual is less likely to take notice when the glaring truth is in front of their face, and blame will continue to get misdirected onto groups or individuals.
Take business schools for instance. They teach students to consider how people think, spot problems, and how to capitalize on said problems. Morals never come into it. If a problem happens to cause hardship for an individual or community, there is no problem in our society with saying ‘it’s just business’. If we have a housing shortage, there are those would jump to the conclusion it’s because of immigration. Or our society being ravaged by porn, some would suggest it’s ‘the gays’; members of the LGBTQI+ community attaching their identities to their sexual activity and little else.
Apathy Makes You Happy
But the truth is, vulture capitalists are buying up vast swathes of properties and fixing rents, not to mention keeping properties off the market during a housing crisis to keep demand seemingly high, and thus the price (well done whoever permits that little money spinner to carry on, I’m sure you parents are proud of the great work you do for the country), and the likes of Air B&B is turning carefully-planned residential zones into commercial ones (again, governments, where are you?).
When it comes to porn, and more to the point, porn addiction (that you have to admit, is destroying our ability to be intimate with the opposite sex and widening the divide between the sexes in many ways), it’s down to the ease and accessibility of free porn. (You have to ask why governments don’t clamp down on the ease with which FREE porn can be accessed). Apathy is an inevitable by-product of hard work; an oxymoronic endless strive for convenience that requires a lifetime of your time and investment that rarely merits its rewards from most involved—bar the end consumer and the board of directors—when you consider how much of yourself you lose in the process.
Our twisted sense of democracy and freedom has allowed apathy, towards much of what past generations treasured, to ferment like it’s some tasty new flavoured beer. Sexual deviancy and perversion is extremely unhelathy if your goal is be successful in life (nihillists and you lovely bon viviant wastes of space, you may ruin your own life but sit down when it comes to everyone else), but has nothing whatsoever to do with the LGBTQI+ community proudly coming out to say standardized sexual identities are exclusive and draconian.
When Joe Big-Balls sacks Joe-Soap because he’s older, wiser, and doesn’t massage egos or jump through hoops like he used to, it’s because of a fixed view formed by the business community. Never mind Joe-Soap wants better for his three kids, and one on the way, and is getting himself into debt on a regular to do so, he’s perceived less effective by the new middle manager, who’ll make up some excuse to sack him because he’s been taught ‘it’s just business’. His boss will say he’s being squeezed by Joe Bigger-Balls and he’ll roll out some pseudo-psychology that amounts to that old adage, ‘sorry, there’s nothing I can do, which translates to, ‘I don’t care’.
When Joe-Soap blames Muhammad-Sabun, arriving off the boat with his big family, he’ll say ‘he’s undercutting my wage because he’s willing to work harder and for less’. When Muhammad is no less human than Joe is. When Karen Rafferty’s son turns out to be a gregarious girl, Joe Soap thinks he has a mental illness, is an attention seeker and a threat to society. When, in actuality, she’s a spark needed by young Irish crippled by fear to openly express themselves and love whoever they want to.
Suburb Versus City
When a person is forced to adapt to another’s presence, opinion and views, resentment may be peripheral in their viewpoint. Meaning, resentment festers, even if it may not be at the forefront of thought or conversation. And over time, resentment can be intensified very easily by nefarious actors or simply over a few harmless scoops down the pub. Even if Joe-Soap’s daughter comes into the pub with a masters degree in human-rights law, she won’t be heard because breaking away from the community’s view is a big risk. If members of that community become well traveled or educate themselves on the benefits of multiculturalism (more business opportunities with other nations, a deeper understanding of who we are and where we came from, a less one-sided (artificial) version of history, new food recipes, new music, new senses of humour, new stories, new levels in general) they will have a mountain to climb convincing anyone who hasn’t travelled.
Out in the burbs, they may like to appear dissappointed about lack of assimilation, but the truth is, you can only get so close if you are perceived as different (no matter where you go in the world). And time, it appears, only creates more of a divide. Yes, there are big cities where all walks of life can live together peacefully, but cities are impersonal, designed to generate business. So, it’s more likely Joe Soap’s daughter, when she arrives at her Dad’s local full of smiles and pride, may find none of that matters unless she sides with the collective view of the world, at the risk being cast out.
Most reasons for discrimination are benign on the surface: the way someone dresses; how they speak; their size; their smell; even silly things like their hair or walk (swag?). When humans encounter stupidity, ignorance, and discrimination on a daily basis (often subtle and pervasive and at other times brazenly in their faces), it causes pain. Especially to the youth! Youth is synonymous with passion and drive, but when passion is driven towards pain, that passion and pain explodes in anger and, ultimately, violence. Once you become weakened by warped views about you, anger becomes your driving energy. So if established communities want to blame someone for violence in society, they need to first take a look at themselves and how a narrow-view breeds other forms of narrow views.
My Personal Experience with Discrimination
I’m white, straight, male, and relatively healthy. On the surface, that makes me the establishment. But we all have our personal stories and they need to be told. My mother was born in Belfast and moved to Dublin at the start of the 70s. Most of southern Ireland condemned the IRA for carrying out bombings in Britain and Ireland in retaliation to flagrant police and army violence north of the border. My mother and her family condemned all violence, hence they moved south. But that didn’t prevent their discrimination by southerners who treated people from the north with mistrust and derision. We were often called IRA where we lived and we always felt different. We got close but, even though we were Irish and spoke with Dublin accents, we weren’t quit ‘right’.
As the son of a Belfast woman, I was singled out in one Dublin school and punched in the stomach and head several times by teachers. Yes, my teachers, (Ard Scoil Eanna, I’m calling you out, ‘Massey’). We (my brother, sister, and I) felt we had to make a choice once we grew up: our personal views based on our experiences or the establishment’s views that we were different and deserved derision because of how much more open we were; perceived as false and suspicious. To us, it was a choice between understanding and love or bigotry and hate. A choice that deeply divided and, ultimately, destroyed our family—as it does, I imagine, anyone who finds themselves in a minority for whatever backwards reason.
When the establishment is based on one view, one national colour, two sexual orientations, a class system, and a Darwinian economic regime stretching back over two-thousand of years, change is slow to come. Established communities believe they have the control, so when alternative communities stand up together, backing each other, proudly expressing themselves (as they should and have the right to), the establishment sees it as a challenge. Raised eyebrows become raised fists; conventional reality is put in danger if they allow change.
I went deep into discrimination while researching for my book ‘Treoir: Curse on the Island’, and I don’t believe hate or nastiness drives discrimination—although haters stoke the fires. It’s fear at the core of most discrimination, and the resentment of being forced to change (without looking at what change can bring). But I also know established communities are not stupid and collectively they sense that until they stop discriminating there will be anger, violence, drugs, and corruption in society—instability they could eradicate by being more open and communicative. But again, those fundamental changes come slow—millenniums slow if history is anything to go by.
Solutions, Not More Problems
Being closed-minded will not solve a problem, it never has and it never will; love is far more effective than anger and resentment. Love is a genuine and supernatural force that can truly change people, whereas anger is a reaction that takes you away from what you’re trying to achieve. Not to sound like I’m plugging my book, but in ‘Treoir: Curse on the Island’ one of the main characters (Jonah) is a bit of a science genius (he also happens to be a person with albinism and from Africa), and he theories, using math, that love created the universe. In writing that story, my belief in the power of love was restored.
I believe there is a strong desire to unify all communities amongst the youth. If you as an individual within your community show that you have love for all humans in the face of ignorance, love all humans in the face of prejudice, and love all humans in the face of hate, your resoluteness and grace WILL challenge the long-held beliefs of convention—and maybe even your detractors. My Mam always said, ‘kill them with kindness’. Those who hold narrow opinions will feel worse about themselves if you consistently show them love.
Until discriminators challenge their view of themselves and their place in the world they will continue to feel that this ever-changing world is a scary, uninviting place. Slowly and quietly, they may (and I can confirm they do, slowly) seek to find solutions that force their communities to embrace change. Some of us may no longer be open to them. That, we have to change, too.
We may get free of endemic discrimination and ostracization because nobody, if they’re honest, wants to feel bitter and angry. We all want the power of love.
Darran Brennan is a musician and the author of Treoir:Curse on the Island—about an Irish island community thrown into turmoil by the arrival of an African boy and a lecturer’s attempts to rescue him when he’s abducted and sold. Treoir will be available on October 9th, 2020. Read an excerpt here.