The Confessions Of A Reformed Racist
As a kid and even as a young adult I’d never identify as Irish. I hated the Irish in the same way most people hate drivers who cut them off. It was only upon recent reflection that I realized that I am essentially a reformed racist. I was an absolute bigot a few years ago. It was surprisingly easy.
I was born in England and have very few bad memories of it. That’s part of the problem I suppose. When I think of England most of my bad experiences involve being ripped away from it. Looking back I had fantastic friends and access to a marvelous alternative education at a steiner school. I really was an idiot who thought they were being bullied. When you live a very good life I suppose little problems seem bigger, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the hell I was about to enter.
I did know about racism. I had mix raced brothers and had always been raised to look past someone’s skin tone. Yet, I had been exposed to very few genuine racists. When I moved to the middle of nowhere known as Kerry I wasn’t prepared to become instantly hated. I’d always thought of racism in terms of skin colour up until that moment, being far to young at the time to know any English history. English history or rather, a class in self hatred became very well known to me and my heritage made it impossible for me to make friends. I became the ‘English Bitch’ by the age of 11. I swung between being a total pariah to the verbal punching bag of the school. I must have been told to kill myself a hundred times a week all the way through primary school.
It wasn’t the sort of experience that cast the Irish people in a good light. I became very cynical and depressed. I used to think about suicide at an age I now find entirely shocking. There was just no joy left in my life and I didn’t really know why I was alive other than my death would inconvenience people. Above everything else I was resentful of how I had been treated and became very hostile in general. Naturally I fall more on the outgoing side of social interactions, but my time in Ireland destroyed my ability to socialize. To this day I get exhausted talking to people. In those few years of school I lost all faith in god and no longer believed in the innate goodness of people.
For a long time I held onto the belief that it was just because they were kids and kids were horrible. One day something happened that made me stop thinking “Kids are horrible” and made me start thinking “the Irish are horrible”. I was in my thoughtful spot at a gallery I loved. It was usually quiet, but today there was an older girl there and we immediately hit is off. She seemed to forgive my social awkwardness with ease and I gave her my phone number and organised to meet up with her. I felt so happy, I can’t even describe it. I remember burning through allmy homework and feeling very motivated for the days running up to what ended up being a crippling disaster.
I spent all my money buying snacks or our meetup figuring we’d be talking for ages. In my excitement I arrived half an hour early at our meeting place. I waited for 4 hours until the rain started and I got a phone call to go home. My texts and phonecalls went unanswered and I was scared my new friend had died. I went to the supermarket to ask a lady who knew my friend if she could contact her and make sure she was safe. It turns out she was fine, just hanging out with friends. I was hurt, but I could have forgiven her for forgetting about me if that’s what had happened.
Unfortunately when I went into school on Monday and got laughed and jeered atI was nearly sick. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried harder than I had wen my brother had died. The whole thing had been a set up to get my phone number. The girl was a friend of one of my bullies and she’d told everyone about how I’d waited in the rain for her. There had been signs. I mentioned to a girl that I was friendly with that I had made a friend and that we were meeting up. She had responded strangely by asking “would you be sad if she didn’t come?” the realization that she’d be in on it to was a dagger to the gut. I remember feeling sick and numb and sitting in class while the children giggle around me. I decided right then I hated the Irish. I no longer viewed them as people, I viewed them as savage subhumans devoid of any decency.
I became entirely indifferent to my torture. I no longer viewed the abuse as important because I thought that anything that came out of an Irish person was not worth acknowledging. They’d tell me to kill myself and I would simply think how disgusting they were and how far beneath me they were. I did start to think of myself as superior in most respects. I became a very good student since I didn’t have any social life to distract me. I paid a lot of attention to history and began studying it outside of class for dubious reasons. I wanted to find the cowards and thieves that were Irish. I wanted to find the worst of the worst so that every time history was used against me I could turn around and say “well at least I’m not Irish”. In my mind being Irish was synonymous with being lesser, it was an affliction or a disability that people had to get over.
This didn’t make me a popular person at school. I wouldn’t have been popular anyway but I was so openly hostile with other students they learned to stay away from me. I took that as a blessing. I had 3 bullies who remained active despite my prickly nature. I hated them and held them up in my head as examples of everything I hated about the Irish people. They really were living stereotypes of negative Irish traits. One was a piggy faced girl who was sexually active in primary school, but never got in trouble because she was related to the principle. One was a boy who’s forehead to this day makes me think of Sloth from the Goonies. He seemed to be related to ever adult I knew which annoyed me because it meant lots of his family automatically hated me. The last girl was one of the very attractive ones who was actually quite smart and simply had it in for me and the other foreign girl in our class.
Steadily I was able to accumulate some friends, other English kids, or Polish, which is another hated minority in Ireland. Secondary school was a little better for me because my main bully could no longer use the fact she was related to the principal to get out of trouble. It was still hell though, especially since a few of the teachers would get in on the action, and do things such as have me translate “I hate the English” into French.
t was a painful time when the adults joined in, but further cemented the idea that the irish were evil into my head. There were a few teachers who were genuinely kind to me. They recognised that I was being bullied and offered me support. I thought of them as exceptions to a rule. That all Irish were evil except X and Y. Looking back I can see the real problem. I had created a self-fulfilling prophecy, I believed the Irish were racist so I was antagonistic towards them. I wasn’t seeing them as individuals I was just seeing them as one big disease. Anything good they did I viewed as admirable because I felt they were working aainst their naturally evil nature.
I couldn’t see my hypocricy. It’s really difficult to change your way of thinking and I doubt that I would have been able to change at all if I had stayed in Ireland.
I didn’t see them as individuals. People who didn’t conform to my racist beliefs were exceptions that I simply wrote off because they didn’t suit my narrative.
At the time, I only got along with adults, which I had put down to me being mature. It wasn’t anything to do with that, it was that I respected authority. Children were the ones who had bullied me mainly, they were the ones I was writing off as immature. I didn’t have the backbone to call an adult inbred anyway, so I listened, and because I was listening I wasn’t judging. All of my Irish friends have a good 20 years on me and it took me an age to see the real reason why. It wasn’t until after I moved to China that I found it easier to identify as Irish. In my head, I had romanticized England and English people and I was pretty devastated when I met some racist ones who didn’t live up to my expectations. It shattered my perception in a way, It couldn’t be us (The English) vs them (The Irish) if I wasn’t part of the Us, I didn’t like these people or agree with them.
Slowly I began to loosen my grip on my English identity and think about Ireland. Every experience I had had there had been marred by my expectation to be discriminated against. Whenever anyone was an arsehole it was because they were racist in my head. It had developed into a kind of paranoia, I’d sign my name as McGowan when entering competitions, fearing that Smith would stick out as too English to win. Any injustice or perceived injustice was taken as evidence that the Irish were racist. It wasn’t so simple though, there are without a doubt racist Irish, but not all Irish are racist.
I wouldn’t have been able to reflect on all of this unless I had recognised it in someone else. I guess it is fortunate I ran across a group of feminists on Twitter. They were having a pity party about how society hated women and giving personal examples of how they had been victimized. After scrutinizing each story I could see a number of reasons why their gender wasn’t an issue and tried to explain to them. After being promptly blocked by all of them I was fuming.They’d simply called me sexist and shut down the conversation. My anger was abruptly halted when I realized this behaviour was familiar to me. It was my racism manifested into a different prejudice. It took me a while to swallow my pride and go through the #KillAllMen replacing ‘man’ with ‘Irish’ etc and once I had caught on to the thread of my own bigotry, and gave it a good pull, the curtain fell away from the mirror. Was I really like these awful women?
In a way, it was my hatred of bigotry that caused me to realise I was a bigot. It was in witnessing the generalisation of other people that I recognised that I was guilty of it too. I still catch myself occasionally, if I walk into a bar and hear someone talking loudly I suck my teeth and mentally go “Urg typical American” and then I catch myself because judging a whole race of people by a handful of Texan’s I met five or six years ago is dumb. Will I ever be able to dismiss my prejudices entirely? I have no idea, it seems the more I talk to people the more I build up my own expectations based on arbitrary factors. However, I’m no longer going to say ‘the Irish are racist`, even if some are, because it is dumb.
Sure, I was in a bad situation, but I used racism as a scapegoat for the way I reacted to people. I justified my racism with theirs and got nowhere and I doubt anyone ever will with that tactic. I’m glad I realized my prejudice because now that I don’t feel hated by the Irish I can enjoy Ireland and I can enjoy the people.
I’m done overlooking the individuals because the devil is in the details.