His name was George Floyd

By Aideen O'Flaherty

AS protests have swept across the United States and the world in recent days, highlighting issues with racism following the death of African-American man George Floyd, two local women are bringing the message closer to home – by calling out issues with racism in Ireland and painting a mural in Kingswood.

Mr Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25, after a police officer kept his knee on the man’s neck for over eight minutes, with video footage showing that Mr Floyd pleaded for his life and repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe” –  a phrase which has now become a rallying cry in protests all over the world – before he became unconscious.

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Street artist Emmalene Blake paid tribute to George Floyd in Kingswood this week, by painting a mural depicting him, with the text ‘His name was George Floyd’

This moved Tallaght street artist Emmalene Blake to pay tribute to Mr Floyd in Kingswood this week, by painting a mural depicting him, with the text ‘His name was George Floyd’ underneath, and on social media she implored people to “teach kids about racism, intolerance and privilege”.

Claudia Hoareau-Gichuhi, who grew up in Old Bawn in Tallaght and is mixed-race, said that she hopes that a sea-change will develop out of this, and is calling on people to recognise and call out racism in Ireland, which she said many people seem to brush off or ignore.

“From my perspective, one of the most difficult things is the denial of racism in Ireland and the diminishing of experiences I’ve had when I’ve brought it up,” said Ms Hoareau-Gichuhi, who is on the board of INAR - Irish Network Against Racism.

“When I would bring issues up, for the most part, no one wanted to acknowledge them, and a lot of things were dismissed.

“Daily microaggressions, that’s the stuff that’s really draining.”

The microaggressions that the past pupil of Sancta Maria College in Ballyroan has encountered include people using racist slurs, and she has also encountered overt racism throughout her life.

“I was dating a guy from Tallaght when I was about 16,” said Ms Hoareau-Gichuhi, who is now 34, “and he spoke to his family about me and then I went to meet them.

“As soon as his family saw me there was a perception that I wanted to get pregnant to get papers to stay in Ireland.”

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Claudia Hoareau-Gichuhi, on the board of Irish Network Against Racism

Watching the news from US in recent days, Ms Hoareau-Gichuhi said that she felt “a combination of things.

I’m angry, but I feel like this bubble had to burst, and unfortunately it took George Floyd’s murder to wake people up, to make people challenge themselves and look at their own biases.

“I think white people need to be more vocal and stop being silent about racist things, even if it’s their uncle or their granny that’s saying something.

“This is not being done, so spaces tend to feel unsafe or uncomfortable for people of colour, if they feel that other people won’t say anything if something happens.

The impact of a racist incident is hugely dependent on whether other people will intervene or not.”

According to recently released figures by INAR, incidents of racist hate speech, hate crime and discriminatory incidents in Ireland, that were reported through INAR’s racist incident reporting system from January to March this year, were double the average reporting rates compared to last year.

Looking at her white Irish friends posting on social media and reaching out to her, Ms Hoareau-Gichuhi is hopeful that people will acknowledge the existence of racism in Ireland, and will work together to combat racism.

“People are starting to educate themselves on racism and Direct Provision, and a lot of people contact me as a point of reference because of the work I do,” she said.

“A lot of them are saying that they wish that they’d done something sooner, that seems to be the overarching sentiment.

“I feel really hopeful that people are becoming more aware and are feeling more confident to challenge and call out racism.”

Further information on INAR is available online at www.inar.ie, while incidents of racism can be reported at www.ireport.ie

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