Pictures: Mateusz Bednarek
Ireland is an island that is no stranger to racism, according to Eric Ehigie who was one of the organisers of a Black Lives Matter protest, which took place on the Market Square, Longford, on Saturday afternoon.
The protest saw approximately 120 people come together to make a stand against racism with a socially distanced protest.
A number of local representatives, including Deputy Joe Flaherty, Cathaoirleach of Longford Municipal District Cllr Seamus Butler, Longford’s first black councillor Uruemu Adejinmi and Cllr John Browne were among those in the crowd.
It wasn’t all that long ago when signs declaring ‘No Irish, no dogs, no blacks’ were commonly seen outside certain establishments and Ireland is no stranger to colonial racism inflicted upon us by Britain, Eric Ehigie told the gathered crowd.
“In our nation, we have a beautiful, indigenous community in the Travelling community - a community with a rich culture, heritage and history, but one that is frequently discriminated against, simply because of who they are,” he said.
“We know what racism looks like, therefore we should be able to empathise with those who face racism, shift ourselves into a position of understanding and see what we can do to eliminate racism.”
Saturday’s protest was just one of many to take place across the country, organised in response to the killing of African American man, George Floyd, in the USA. George Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
A large number of online comments insisting that “all lives matter” were the inspiration for some of the placards on the day, including several that read “all lives can’t matter until black lives matter”.
“They say the Black Lives Matter movement is a racist one - one that alienates and does not bring together,” Eric told the crowd.
“This is wrong. The Black Lives Matter movement is not an exclusive movement. No! It is a movement, which reminds the world that, after 400 years of slavery, oppression, colonisation, racial degradation and white supremacy, that black lives do matter.
“If I was a doctor and had two patients present at my clinic, one with a disease and one who is healthy, I would give more care to he who is sick, so that eventually, when both patients are healthy, I can allocate an equal amount of time to both.
“The black community is sick and the disease of racism has been with us for centuries; the Black Lives Matter movement is here to cure the community of that disease.
“Until it is cured, the movement will continue to exist and, until racism is eradicated, we will continue to change; ‘black lives matter’.”
Addressing the crowd on Saturday afternoon, Cllr Uruemu Adejinmi said that we are in “the decade of centenary, when Ireland celebrates and remembers its struggle for equality and self determination”.
“Last year, Longford united against the racists who came to our town to mock and ridicule our children, our neighbours and our friends of different religions,” she said.
“Longford rejected the racists then and will continue to do so.”
Cllr Adejinmi also took the opportunity to highlight “the wrongs of the Direct Provision system, the exploitation of migrant workers in our factories, inequalities in the workplace, hate speech, online bullying, (and) profiling by the media”.
“Over a century ago, Longford played its part in the Great War and in the struggle for national independence and, last year, Longford showed the country that racists will neither represent us or scare us,” Cllr Adejinmi said.
“As a community, we cannot remain silent when we see the intolerance, prejudice and exploitation happening around us. Racism is fuelled by greed and fear.
“This republic of ours was declared from the steps of the GPO in Dublin and shouted to the world that it cherished all its citizens equally, that it guaranteed equal rights, equal opportunities, civil and religious liberty to all.”
A number of other speakers stood up to share their experiences or their thoughts on racism in Ireland and Cathaoirleach of Longford Municipal District also stood up to show his solidarity with the entire Longford community.
“They reckon that about 60,000 years or so ago, the first of the human race left Africa and we are all - everybody in the world, the human race - descendants from Africa. We are Africans,” he told the watching crowd.
“The human race of all the animals on the earth is the most homogenous. We have the same genes. We are one people.
“When we are judged, we won’t be judged by the size of the house we live in. We won’t be judged by the car that we drive and we won’t be judged by the size of our wallets. We’ll be judged by what’s inside - what’s in our hearts.”