How Oppressed Irish People Benefited From Privilege That Black People Cannot

Happy football fan in cap watching television broadcast of championship with his friends in pub

I was born in Ireland. You may know that Britain conquered my nation over 800 years ago. It comprises of 32 counties, 6 of which are still under the British rule. The oppression came in many forms; our language, land, and lives taken. As the United States reels with the aftermath of George Floyd’s death — among many other Black Americans — I wanted to share a perspective from someone who has also seen mistreatment of its people.

Let’s start from the beginning of “The Troubles.” Inspired by the Black American Civil Rights movement, Northern Ireland (NI) mobilized its own protests following centuries of oppression.

The UK deployed the Army, as Trump has, to quell the civil unrest in 1969. They remained there for 37 years. Protesters were beaten. People were profiled, interned, and tortured. Human rights abuses, state brutality, and institutional sectarianism were the catalysts for the destruction of thousands of lives. The deployment was the longest in British history. It only ended in 2006 after America helped mediate for peace, reconciliation, and demilitarization in the 1990s.

However, despite the injustice, we victims still had an unfair privilege that Black Americans don’t today. Bernadette McAliskey, a key player in the NI movement, noted that although we are the victims of sectarianism, “we are the beneficiaries of racism.” She stated, that “we are fundamentally racist. We think we know a great deal of history and we know none.” She recognized our privilege. 

The Irish could “take the soup,” a phrase denoting how people were forced to assimilate to be fed by the Soup Kitchens. In other words, the color of their skin allowed them to blend in. Albeit, it’s still unfair to have to deny your identity just to be treated equally. But black people don’t even have that option.

Irish people could assimilate. They could call their daughters “Karen” instead of traditional names. They can mimic the oppressor in an attempt to shield themselves. For many Black Americans, they don’t have this option. In the end, they can’t hide their color.

To be absolutely clear: No one should have to hide their background. It’s not a “good” outcome to be able to mask your identity by blending in as if who you are is something to be ashamed of. There should be absolutely no reason why Black Americans should want to blend in among the white crowds. Instead, they should all be celebrated. But my Irish ancestors had the choice. Black Americans do not.

I write this fully acknowledging that I could not understand what Black Americans experience, but I stand with you.

If troubles return to my country, many will emigrate to escape this sectarianism. And I know we have the White privilege of being able to blend in. 

Many invoke Martin Luther King’s pacifist teachings to condemn the rioting in America. However, Martin Luther King III tweeted that his father understood that a riot is the language of the unheard. This is why, back when NI was in turmoil, the leaders invited voices from paramilitary groups to the table. The discussions included political parties of Northern Ireland and the governments of the UK and Ireland. It ultimately resulted in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 1998, which included provisions to release many who’d been imprisoned and actionable solutions to tackle issues like policing, voting and other barriers to equality. 

To combat the divisiveness, we established a power-sharing Government, where the leaders of the two main parties govern with equal power. Power-sharing the U.S. Presidency is probably more difficult than it sounds. But isn’t it time to do the “difficult” work?

Considering the polarity of ideologies, and the disparities between white people and people of color, it’s time for America to revolutionize the system again. Starting from the top. I can tell you it won’t be a smooth ride. But it’s a hell of a lot smoother than the train wreck that’s in store when a government deploys the military to its own streets.

It’s evident that building a bridge between the communities of America is going to need a lot more work than NI needed. This isn’t simply because of the physical expanse of your country but because of the chasm between Black and White. Our solutions won’t necessarily work for you, but whatever you do now must demand a commitment for the mutual respect and civil rights of everyone. The Declaration of Support for the NI Peace Process is an example of the commitments you need to make. 

You made commitments like these once. Now it’s time to renew and enforce the vows of your Forefathers. Because “All Lives Matter” will remain a fallacy until there’s tangible proof that Black Lives Matter too, beginning with Justice for George Floyd.

Featured image via Pexels

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