Ewan MacKenna blog: No Lee-way for racism
13:30, 21 Jun 2012
You never know when you are going to hear it. A few weeks ago on a tram in Dublin in the middle of the day, an elderly man and his wife were sitting and staring at a woman in a burqa at the other end of the carriage. They were less than pleased. “That’s a disgrace,” were his exact words.
A few months ago as an Asian Garda in uniform walked across St Stephen’s Green, there was a line of heads turning as he passed. The sentiment was that of the man on the tram.
A few years ago, a taxi driver in the capital initially refused to let me out at a stop on Harcourt Street because “that’s a black rank” as he put it himself without any shame. You never know when you are going to hear it but you will hear it as it’s there, always bubbling away just under the surface of Irish society.
It’s little wonder then that two Duffry Rovers players have received eight-week bans after the referee’s report cited they had made racist remarks in the direction of county half-back Lee Chin.
Since then there’s been the usual reaction of initial shock and headlines that make out we are outraged. However, we can feign those emotions all we want but Ireland is a society in transition and we tolerate all this for the most part. How many times have you heard a story about a Nigerian family living in a four-bed mansion with two cars, all thanks to the state? And how many times did you nod in agreement without ever questioning that such a view might be completely untrue and blatantly racist? It’s that environment that the Duffry Rovers players inhabit. Was I shocked by their comments? Not in the least. In fact what I was shocked by was this hasn’t happened before.
None of that is to condone what was said. It’s wrong, it’s ugly, it’s sad but it’s reality too and we cannot forget that when dissecting what happened and what will happen more and more as the children of immigrants take to playing our national games.
Just as Donal Óg Cusack was abused often from terraces because he is gay, Lee Chin and others too will receive abuse as well for the very same reason. They are different and Irish society is in a fast-moving place now and is struggling to deal with what is happening.
That’s a place where so many other countries have been across recent decades. From Germany to Britain, from France to the United States, all those nations had to deal with becoming multi-cultural and all had their problems in adjusting.
It would be arrogant and silly to think we will be any different or that we will handle ourselves with any more dignity. Indeed, if you are to take our nearest neighbours as the more relevant example, you have to believe this will get much worse before it gets better as they are much further down the path of integration than us and still have major problems.
And it’s obvious we are in the very early stages of an important and difficult process. We fool ourselves with the reputation we have of being the friendliest nation in the world, we allow our elderly away with racism because that’s where they came from, we allow jokes based on colour in bars across the country and even those that disagree tend to fake a smile rather than take a stand.
All of which made the fact that referee Brendan Martin actually reported the abuse all the more refreshing and he deserves huge praise for his gutsy actions because as is the same away from GAA too, the easiest thing to do is ignore the problem.
Do I think the eight-week bans were adequate? To be honest, the bans aren’t an issue because, while punishment is a minor deterrent, only education will truly solve the problem. GAA is about where you are from and that forms a dangerous concoction as more and more players who look and speak differently join in with the rest of us.
But in a way the importance of the GAA can be seen on this issue as well as time goes on. It is an organisation that has led so many positive campaigns away from sport when it has come to Irish society and it is an organisation with the ability to lead here as well.
That’s what’s needed because too many people will shake their heads, tut or make a quick remark when it comes to Lee Chin being racially abused on a GAA pitch before moving on and forgetting about it.
Instead they should be disappointed rather than shocked and open their eyes to the problem rather than deluding themselves into thinking this is an isolated incident.
And in confronting the problem in a mature and sensible way, maybe then they can make the problem go away for everyone and not just disappear out of their own heads.
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