(A talk given at a recent session of the monthly 1916 Performing Arts Club, published by permission of the author)
I want to say a few words on the subject of ‘Equality’ in particular as it pertains to racism. It is a word that is bandied about quite a bit lately and it is in danger of being misappropriated by some factions with their own agenda.
Now when we speak of equality, one of the most important points to remember is that true equality recognises difference but it apportions an equal value to all difference. Understanding equality therefore is an acceptance that we are not homogenous or in other words we are not all the same.
Also, Equality is not finite so granting rights to one group does not erode the rights of another or reduce their entitlements.
To achieve an egalitarian society is most likely a myth, as society itself, applies a hierarchy to almost every facet of our lives. However, it is the struggle for equality that is important. That struggle has enabled conditions to be put in place that level the playing field and assist the least advantaged to achieve better outcomes.
The introduction of relatively free access to education and the introduction of employment regulations and human rights laws are but some changes that have lessened disadvantage. By striving for equality, and there is a long way to go, we are creating an active democracy by attempting to give equal voice to those from all walks of life regardless of colour, class or creed.
The antithesis of Republicanism
Now the last number of years has seen a rise in a type of neo- nationalism across the West and Ireland is not immune. This type of nationalism is the antithesis of Republicanism as it seeks to exclude. Republicanism on the other hand seeks to embrace and is inclusive regardless of colour or class.
They ignore the part the West played and continues to play in the perpetuation of poverty and war in Africa, Asia etc and how the consequences of their actions have a direct link to the numbers of refugees seeking asylum.
Instead they purport to speak for the disenfranchised ‘true national’ implying that their taxes are paying for the less deserving and they are ending up with an unequal share as a consequence.
There is a new narrative that promotes the idea that ‘equality and charity begins at home’ and ‘let’s look after our own first’. It hijacks the word ‘equality’ to engender a belief that the rights of the stereotypical national are being diminished.
Think of our recent presidential election. Peter Casey was trailing in the polls until his vitriolic tirade against Travellers. His support swelled, because he appealed to those who believe they are paying more than their fair share of tax but are still receiving less than, in their minds, an undeserving group such as Travellers. The implication being that there is an inequitable division and they have to wait longer for what is rightly their due.
Brexit is similar in that it developed a narrative around who is the true British person. Why should they allow ‘others’ into their country and use British taxes to house and feed the stranger resulting in longer waiting lists for housing, health etc for the indigenous population. And I emphasise again, the part the West has played in ravaging the countries from which many people now flee is ignored.
I just ask that when someone comes looking for your vote and is spouting the word ‘equality’, just pause a moment and consider how they are using that word. Instead of seeing the richness that our interaction with people of all shades of colour has given to our society, that was once so insular, are some candidates utilising the word equality as a form of discrimination and exclusion?
Fascism and ‘free speech’
The right to free speech is not without restraint and carries a duty of care. Implicit in any egalitarian society, which gives voice to diverse groups, is respect and tolerance. Fascism and racism therefore have no place in any society struggling for equality as their invective generates hate and creates division and discrimination. Unfortunately the rise in authoritarian leaders such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban has given licence (under the guise of freedom) to those who only spout hate.
A comment I have often heard, by mainly white people, is that they never see colour, only the person. This is supposedly well meaning and a display of openness. However, the question has to be asked that if they don’t see black what do they see? In a perverse way they are actually racist as our colour is a signifier of who we are. To refuse to see a person’s colour be it black or any shade is a denial of a fundamental part of identity. Black people are some of the most disadvantaged carrying centuries of oppression and discrimination. If we refuse to see ‘black’ then how can we put conditions in place to alleviate the disadvantage that has accompanied colour?