The Murder of Toyosi Shittabey and Racism in Irish Society

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The recent tragic killing of Toyosi Shittabey behooves us all to critically reflect upon, and engage in national dialogue about, the true scale and nature of racism in Irish society today. The pervasiveness of racism in Irish society is a reality that a number of young people in the Tyrellstown area—where Toyosi was killed—have eloquently articulated.  As reported in the Irish Times on April 5th, one young person, Patrick Kabangu, is quoted as saying:

“Racism is hiding everywhere. It is in the schools. Everywhere in Ireland is racist, it is just being hidden. This country is crazy.”

The failure to acknowledge the true nature and extent of racism in Irish society—whether hidden or blatant—tragically means that racially motivated attacks are likely to re-occur, unless we face up to, and overcome, the contradiction between official rhetoric about inclusion and anti-racism in Irish society and the ugly reality that young people like Patrick Kabangu and Toyosi Shittabey experience on a daily basis. Equally  urgent is the need to move away from explaining racism in terms of ignorance and a lack of understanding of other cultures, and to acknowledge the role of Celtic and post-Celtic Tiger era political and economic arrangements in fueling anti-racist sentiment in Ireland.

Anti-racism scholars such as Ronit Lentin and Robbie McVeigh point out that different forms of racism have long existed in Ireland in the guise of Anti-semitism, anti-Traveller racism, anti-Black racism and so on; in more recent times, this has been compounded by new forms of racism against so-called ‘newcomers’ to Ireland—including migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, students and tourists.

These newer forms of racism evolved, not during a period of economic downturn—but rather during a period of intense economic boom. Recent research conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute suggests that successive Eurobarometer polls carried out between 1997 and 2003 are indicative of rising levels of concern about the presence of migrant groups in Ireland during that period coinciding with increased immigration to Ireland, while within schools, there is evidence to suggest that immigrant students are more likely to have experienced bullying than their non-immigrant counterparts.   As the boom years of the Celtic Tiger have given way to a new post-Celtic Tiger era, characterised by skyrocketing levels of unemployment, substantial salary cuts, increasing public debt, and forced migration due to a lack of employment opportunities, there is evidence to suggest that racism against indigenous and exogenous ‘Others’ is intensifying once more.  Under such circumstances, the response to migrants or indigenous minorities, who are often portrayed as unproductive and undeserving of the state’s perceived generosity, is likely to depend on the extent to which dominant cultural groups feel that their jobs, living standards, or economic and cultural privilege are threatened, or secure.

Despite these broader social, political and economic trends, there is still a widespread tendency for racism to be portrayed and perceived as an individual, psychological phenomenon that resides in people’s heads or in their hearts.  Official anti-racism policies and initiatives have tended to explain racism in Irish society in terms of fear and ignorance of the cultural norms or customs of particular racial groups, and imply that racism is perpetrated by a few ‘bad apples’ within a society which otherwise welcomes, embraces and celebrates its ‘newfound’ cultural diversity.  Moreover, individual-level explanations tend to be accompanied by accounts of racism as comprising isolated or exceptional incidents perpetrated by these ‘bad apple racists’, which serves to present the Irish nation as one that is largely antithetical to racism, thereby absolving the state of any role in creating or maintaining racial tension.

Government-led ‘anti-racist’ and intercultural interventions seek to foster positive emotional responses to diversity and to facilitate greater contact, ‘integration’ or understanding among different cultural groups.

What these kinds of interventions rarely acknowledge is that major changes in the way society is organised are necessary if racism is to be effectively challenged.  Political and economic arrangements implemented during the Celtic Tiger and more recently post-Celtic tiger era, have produced  new economic vulnerabilities and insecurities which get projected onto groups who have been inaccurately portrayed by tabloid journalists and some political figures as being (undeservedly) disproportionately in receipt of diminishing national resources.  It should not take an alleged racially-motivated murder like that of Toyosi Shittabey for the government to abandon its under-resourced and ineffective approach to interculturalism and racism which merely serves to deflect attention from its own role in fueling racial tension and sentiment.  What is needed is wide-ranging and radical political-economic reform that will promote greater levels of equity, not greater levels of economic disparity and insecurity, if we are to avoid further projection of hostility onto groups like migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Audrey Bryan teaches sociology in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. Her research focuses on racism, anti-racism and intercultural education in an Irish context.

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16 Responses

  1. Hugh Green

    April 8, 2010 2:26 pm

    Thanks for this. One thing I would add is that even the coinage ‘Celtic Tiger’ is grossly ethnocentric: ‘Aryan Tiger’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, but there’s not a great deal of difference in the implications.

  2. Antira terror

    April 10, 2010 10:37 pm

    Ireland has the highest racism in all Europe. No matter if you are black or white, if you are not Irish and you live in Ireland you are simply treated like scum. It is very ironic from a country where the 90% of its population lives abroad.

    Yes there is racism in every country of the world but in Ireland there is no action. In Spain, in Germany, in Greece there are anarcho-communist organizations… words unknown for the Irish bigoted society. There is action everywhere in Europe, especially in Spain. In Ireland the nouveau riche culture and middle class apathy dominates everything. Bigotry is massively widespread. Just check on youtube and stormfront and lose hope for humanity. The most racist websites are from Ireland also. This is not just racism but utter hate. In a few years Ireland will become like Russia with a significant number of racist attacks and murders. Why no… just see how many racist videos there are on youtube! The worst racism I have seen widespread against everyone who is not Irish.

  3. Burt

    April 12, 2010 5:27 pm

    Hugh, i initially assumed your post was serious. Then started to come around to the view that it was a parody but now i am thinking it is indeed serious.

    Without wanting to appear disrepectful of your views, which you are entitled to hold I have to argue against your statement that the term Celtic Tiger is an ethno centric and therefore exclusive moniker.

    The sole reason that we have a multi-cultural ireland is because of the successful economic period commonly referred to the Celtic Tiger. I do not recall any of the new Irish saying via any media outlet that they founds such a term excluding. This appears to be seeking to find offence on behalf of another group no matter how tenacious the case.

    Consider your point this way. The term Celtic is, for must a cultural refernce ( a few nuts might see talk of a glorious racial past or such crap). As a cultural reference you seem to find it objective. This is problematic for two reasons for me:

    (1) Our cultural heritage is mainly Celtic/Gaelic. While this is very much broadened over the years it is indeed our unique contribution to a multi-cultural world. There is no need to row back from that contribution is there?

    (2) If you reject the term Celtic as excluding the new Irish then are you effectively saying to the new Irish that you will never ever be able to share in that term, that culture – you will always be an outsider and can never really become Irish.

  4. Hugh Green

    April 13, 2010 5:50 am

    Burt

    The sole reason that we have a multi-cultural ireland is because of the successful economic period commonly referred to the Celtic Tiger.

    Not true. The ‘successful economic period’ to which you are referring was due in no small part to a supply of immigrant labour. Your contention shows precisely the sort of ethnocentricity to which I am referring: the idea that whatever was achieved during the years of growth sprung forth from some innate and hitherto untapped capacity specific to the ‘Celts’.

    I do not recall any of the new Irish saying via any media outlet that they founds such a term excluding.

    Seeing as the ‘new Irish’ are rarely afforded the opportunity to speak on their own terms in any media outlet, your lack of recollection would hardly be surprising. For instance, of all the ‘Renewing the Republic’ articles published in the Irish Times recently, I can’t recall one being written by one of the ‘new Irish’, nor any addressing any matter relating specifically to immigrants. But even if there were not a single ‘new Irish’ person in Ireland who believes that use of the term ‘Celtic Tiger’ is ethnocentric, that would not disprove my contention that it is.

    Our cultural heritage is mainly Celtic/Gaelic. While this is very much broadened over the years it is indeed our unique contribution to a multi-cultural world.

    I doubt US multinationals investing in Ireland on account of a relatively low-wage English-speaking European Union-based workforce were inspired to so do on account of the stories of Cúchulainn and the Brown Bull of Cooley. This is not to diminish the importance of either, but merely to point out that neither -nor any other element of ‘Celtic cultural heritage’- has anything to do with the real reasons for the fast-growing economy that became known as the ‘Celtic Tiger’

    If you reject the term Celtic as excluding the new Irish then are you effectively saying to the new Irish that you will never ever be able to share in that term, that culture – you will always be an outsider and can never really become Irish.

    I could hardly reject the term Celtic as excluding the ‘new Irish’ when it is in effect used to include the ‘new Irish’. My point is that in the case of ‘Celtic Tiger’, it most certainly is not.

  5. Burt

    April 14, 2010 5:48 pm

    Hugh,

    I am not sure I was arguing that it was our innate Celtness that built up our economy.

    Definitely foreign labour here helped build it as well. Nobody is arguing elsewise.

    But if you argue foreign labour built it up then we have to be open to recognising that the influx of foreign labour also allowed the economy to extend itself excessively which inherently leada to the idea that immigration should be be carefully regulated. However this economic approach conflicts with the political approach so its not an option.

    Note this is not a “nativist” ploy but simply looking at it rationally.

    Do you accept that as much as foreign labour boosted the country it may also have stoked the bubble. This is just economics no?

    Hugh, I am lost by your last point. You say the term Celtic is used to in effect to include the new irish but not when its used in the term Celtic tiger where its actually excluding them. How can it be both.

  6. Hugh Green

    April 14, 2010 6:40 pm

    Burt,

    But if you argue foreign labour built it up then we have to be open to recognising that the influx of foreign labour also allowed the economy to extend itself excessively which inherently leads to the idea that immigration should be be carefully regulated

    I don’t recall the influx of foreign labour ‘allowing’ anything of the sort, not least since immigrant workers do not exercise any significant degree of control over banks, government or media and therefore had no part in the decisions taken in relation to taxation, spending or lending. Therefore my argument does not inherently lead to the idea that immigration should be carefully regulated.

    Note this is not a “nativist” ploy but simply looking at it rationally.

    But such a ‘rational’ view requires a “nativist” standpoint, since if you have a situation in which immigrant workers have no say in how things are run, then they have no say in decisions relating to immigration. As such, any relevant decisions in this regard are taken by the “natives”, and at that a small number of them.

    Do you accept that as much as foreign labour boosted the country it may also have stoked the bubble. This is just economics no?

    Well, as Morgan Kelly noted in a recent paper, bank lending grew to 200 per cent of national income by 2008. I find it hard to see what role immigrant wage-earners played in this. Did they own the land? Did they run the banks? Did they command the government? No. As he says, ‘more than tripling of credit relative to GNP in 11 years created profound distortions in the Irish economy. The most visible impact was on house prices…the
    rise in Irish house prices has little to do with falling interest rates and rising population, and
    is almost completely explained by increased mortgage lending.’ So it is not ‘just economics’, no: more an attempt to shout ‘Stop Thief!’ and point the finger at immigrants.

    You say the term Celtic is used to in effect to include the new irish but not when its used in the term Celtic tiger where its actually excluding them. How can it be both.

    Sorry, for not being clear. When (or if) it is used to include the ‘new Irish’ -a number of instances in my view approximating zero- then it would not be true to say it excludes the ‘new Irish’. But my point is that it is rarely, if ever, used to include the ‘new Irish’, especially not in the widespread use of the term ‘Celtic Tiger’.

  7. Burt

    April 14, 2010 8:06 pm

    Hugh,

    Does it make sense for immigrants to have a say in immigration policy.

    Surely they are self-interested and secondily do they have the right to shape immigration policy. I cant see that they would. Again how is this unreasonable. If you search for offence you will find it but this is not irrational or discriminatory.

    Regarding the economics of the situation. To be honest I am not seeking to argue against immigration. However my frustration at many on the left is that we can in now way evn countenance that there are downsides to immigration. Its a social phenomenon and attendant to it will be negatives as well. Discussing that rationally is not the same as shouting Stop thief and pointing at immigrants is it.

    Increased credit on its own wont do anything if there is no resource to use with it. Immigrants didnt cause the collapse by being the extra labour that allowed over heating but they were used to do it via poor economic policy.

    Which again would lead to the point how many immigrants do we need in 2010-2013. SHould we have zero immigration until we can restore growth.

    Do not think that this is some harangue against immigration full stop. Its not. Whether you choose to believe that or not I cant control. Simply its an expression of frustration that there is so little reason from either side in this debate.

    These questions need to be answered otherwise scum like who murdered that young boy will cause chaos politically.

    To be honest Hugh most on the Irish left are not able to discuss this because they refuse to even imagine that there might be negatives. This is the chink that the far right need.

    Cheers anyhow. I suspect we will not get much further on this as invariably i will be judged a closet nazi for even daring to say immigration has downsides.

  8. Hugh Green

    April 14, 2010 9:18 pm

    Burt

    Does it make sense for immigrants to have a say in immigration policy.

    Why not? They work and pay taxes and send their children to schools, don’t they?

    Again how is this unreasonable. If you search for offence you will find it but this is not irrational or discriminatory.

    I don’t take any offence, and I don’t deny that you are being rational after a fashion, but it is discriminatory: you’re saying that immigrants do not have the same rights as citizens of the state. That may be a widely held view, indeed it is a fact, but that does not justify it.

    However my frustration at many on the left is that we can in now way evn countenance that there are downsides to immigration.

    Downsides for whom? It seems to me that your approach to this is based on whether or not a particular group -the citizenry- stand to benefit from a supply of labour from immigrants, i.e. whether their labour capacity, as a commodity, will serve the ends of the citizens. I don’t understand how that concern should be of any particular interest to a leftist.

    Its a social phenomenon and attendant to it will be negatives as well.

    Which is an arguable point. But immigration is not a social phenomenon isolated from other social phenomena. It depends on the existence of the modern state system.

    Discussing that rationally is not the same as shouting Stop thief and pointing at immigrants is it.

    I’m not sure if we’ve gotten round to discussing it rationally yet.

    Which again would lead to the point how many immigrants do we need in 2010-2013. SHould we have zero immigration until we can restore growth.

    Well, there’ll be net emigration of 60,000 this year and 40,000 next year. Having zero immigration until growth can be restored would at the very least require 100,000 net immigration in 2012 and 2013. Not sure why is this such a burning question for a leftist like yourself….?

    These questions need to be answered otherwise scum like who murdered that young boy will cause chaos politically.

    Maybe you’d be better off asking questions about how the state system produces racist and anti-immigrant impulses, and what your relation to that state system is.

  9. Anthony Uren

    October 3, 2010 10:28 am

    It is a great shame that the young boy was robbed of his life,especially if he was used as a scapegoat.
    Sadly the left must shoulder some of the blame as they blindly follow the Globalist agenda as far as diluting national identity by mass immigration.
    I am incouraged by the debate here as i believe that immigration will slow down naturally due to overcrowding and lack of opportunity.
    Meanwhile my heart goes out to the lads family and friends,his death will produce something of value if people engage in a more realistic public debate and not just shout slogans at each other.

  10. Hanora Brennan

    October 24, 2010 11:47 am

    Ireland breeds racism. We’re only emerging from years of oppression and we haven’t yet learned to care for the community at large. Politicians and all stratas of society are too busy lining their own pockets at the expense of others. We’re newly emancipated peasants with the straw still in our mouths.

  11. nikki

    February 23, 2011 7:12 am

    bulshit, racism needs ta end really
    r.i.p toy

    sick that that had to happen for most ppl to give a shit