Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Just Because It's Painted Over...

doesn't mean they don't feel it.

"All Blacks Out"-- this is graffiti on both ends of my neighborhood in reaction to the two Zambian families who moved in this year. Eli and I met the 14-year-old daughter in one family, Ngoma, who told us that she has never liked Belfast because it is too difficult for minorities and, upon hearing that we're American, proceeded to call her friend after we had gone inside and squeal, "AMERICANS! In MY neighborhood!" Her dream is to move to America someday, and quite frankly I don't blame her.
Malia's newest blog post ( got me thinking again of one of the other problems that permeates Belfast, but one that is generally sidelined or overshadowed by the sectarian wars: the quiet but deadly cultural malaise of serious racism. Belfast was recently dubbed with the unappealing moniker of "racism capital of Europe," and all I can think when I hear that is "Thank God it doesn't get worse than this; thank God this isn't status quo." The thing that makes her story difficult to stomach is that it came from middle-class, suburban kids who were being educated in some of the best schools in Northern Ireland, indicating that the working class isn't the only one with seriously backward ideology.
Though I constantly hear stories of minorities yelled at on the street and other sickening treatment aimed at immigrants, it wasn't until I starting spending time with North Belfast teenagers that I began to realize how palpable and blatant racism can actually be. Growing up in a time and place where any kind of racism is looked at as a personality flaw, I was amazed when I went out for coffee with one of my tougher girls, Jolene. She was cooperating with my usual game of Twenty Questions when, seemingly out of nowhere, the subject of Chinese people came up (Josh, cover your ears, because I wish I could have). It was like opening Pandora's Box of racist ideology. I had to interrupt her torrent of negativity to ask about African immigrants, the Middle Eastern population, and a variety of other minorities. She had nothing but glowing reports on all of them, but somehow had chosen Belfast's Chinese as the butt of her ignorant, hateful opinions.
Other people are different, claiming to "love" the Chinese population for whatever reason and wishing that all black people would "go back to Africa." A few weeks ago, I met a group of kids playing football behind the church and walked with a bunch of them down the Crumlin as I made my way to the Vine (the community outreach center). The mild conversation was broken when one of the boys suddenly yelled “N*****!” across the street. In shock, I glanced over to see a black guy getting into a car with a white friend after throwing the fingers at the boy I was with. “What did you just say?” I asked, trying to keep from roaring at him. The boy was flippant. “It’s ok. He knows 50 Cent.” "Never ever say that word again, especially in front of me,” I roared while thoughts of throttling him (or his parents, or peers, or whoever taught him that things like that were okay) ran briefly through my mind. My dilemma then became this: I can’t be mad at the kid. He is surrounded by ideologies that tell him it’s ok to do things like that. But Belfast, especially north Belfast, is drowning in a tide of racism that can’t be stopped unless small incidences like that can be stopped first (or is it the other way around?). The Zambian families with mega-watt smiles living amongst "Blacks Out" signage, the glaring lack of minorities in the city center… things like this make me uncomfortable. The fact that Belfast cannot stop its ethnic conflict, let alone incorporate a racial conflict on top of it, is evidence of a city deeply wounded. If BandAids aren’t working, I wish we could apply stitches, but it’s difficult when the injured aren’t entirely aware of their wounds and don’t want to see a doctor anyway. And as much as I wish I could say that I think things are getting better, I don't. Not only is the sectarian conflict being aggravated, racist attacks are increasing as well, and I just shake my head and wonder, What is going on here?

1 comment:

Puppy Chow said...

Belfast is such a strange and interesting place, both wonderful and terrible. racism and ignorance is terrible, especially coming from the mouths of children...thanks for struggling with it with the kids of b-town.

now where did i put my abacus...