Thursday, April 2, 2009

Are the Irish Bigoted?

Today I was reading a thread on an expatriate website, Expat Exchange. One poor guy living in the States is interested in moving from the States to Ireland: he hopes to do so sometime next year, and wants to set up a restaurant here. As a bye-the-bye, he happened to mention that he was married to a woman of African-American descent. And then he asked something like: will my inter-racial marriage be accepted in Ireland?

The replies to his querry were thick and furious. One fellow who identified himself as an Hispanic stated that the question of race is still a big problem in this country. Others defended Ireland and its lack of bigotry.

So what's the truth? Do the Irish have a streak of begrudgin' bigotry in their blood?

The Problem with a Homogenous Society
First, you gotta understand that until fairly recently, Ireland was populated by pretty much a single group of people: White Catholics. There were - and still are - a few Protestants around, but White Catholics make up the vast majority of this country and have so for years and years. Homogeneity has its good sides of course: everyone knows what you're talking about. But it has its bad sides too: any type of change is difficult.

When my children were young, only 20 years ago or so, we had almost no 'foreigners' or people of a different skin persuasion. As a Yank here, I was one of a very small minority. And on the few occasions when my children did see someone with a darker skin tone, they were amazed. 'Did they put shoe polish on their face?' one of my daughters once asked. 'Nope,' I said. 'That's how he was born.' Her face turned to wonder at the strangeness of it all.

But that didn't mean that she was bigotted. Far from it. What it did mean was that she wasn't used to things different. Just like many people here. And in my experience, when people are confronted by the different, they aren't quite sure how to react.

But is Ireland Bigoted?
In my experience, and I'm side-stepping things slightly, they are and they aren't. That is to say, and just like any country, the vast majority of Irish welcome people of all different skin types, nationalities, and religions. In fact, many are positively intrigued by the new and different.

They sure welcomed me, is all I can say. And even though I don't have a skin colour much different from their own, I sure talked and acted differently than the Irish, at least when I arrived here. Which means that I stuck out like a sore thumb. But most people accepted me for who and what I am (and was). And that's all that counted.

But there's always the vocal minority. And some of those people can be absolute slobs. That vocal minority is present here and in the States and everywhere in the world, as far as I can tell. And most of the time, they're idiots.

Here in Ireland, that vocal, idiotic minority does its best to resist change. And if you happen to have a darker coloured skin than most, you can be the brunt of some slagging and rudeness, let me tell you.

For instance, and when the Celtic Tiger was in its heyday here, this small country attracted immigrants from all over the world: Polish, Russians, Lithuanians, Nigerians: all wanted a little bit of the Irish economic miracle. So they came here in droves. The majority of the Irish welcomed them with open arms, knowing that these people would provide the wherewithall to drive the Irish economy further toward wealth and riches.

But the vocal minority - those idiots didn't like them one little bit. They were convinced that these immigrants were depriving the Irish of jobs (even though new jobs were being created all the time); they begrudged them any sort of success (even though these new arrivals worked their asses off); and now that the Celtic Tiger is dead, they bemoan the fact that the 'immigrant cowards' are running away from Ireland in order to seek better lives.

Are the Irish bigoted? In my opinion, and in general, the answer is a resounding No. Does a vocal minority of idiots exist here (as in the rest of the world) who are bigoted and who take delight in expressing that bigotry? Damned right, I'm afraid.

The Irish are people, just like anywhere else. And like any society, they have their fair share of idiots. And that's just the way it is.

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