By Tiwani Akinlabi
My name is Tiwani Akinlabi. I’ll let you work out how to pronounce that yourself. I am a student in IT Carlow studying Sports Management and Coaching (Soccer). I am a football coach. I am 20 years old. I am an Arsenal fan. And also, you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m Irish. The events of the past week, stretching from George Floyd’s merciless killing and subsequent outrage to the Black Lives Matter protests in America and now reaching Ireland, have led to me speaking out on the abuse and mistreatment of one of my identifying factors. I am a young black male.
In football, and especially in coaching methodology, players enact football actions. For example, these football actions would be anything you do on the pitch, from passing, dribbling and shooting to tackling, saving and blocking the ball. These actions comprise of three elements: communication, decision, execution. Communication is the visual, audio and verbal cues in a game. Decision is the conclusion you come to based on the communication.Execution is carrying out the act of the decision you made. You see a striker running behind, decide to play the pass through to them, and pass the ball with some amount of force past the defender to your striker. This process permeates every single act taken on a football pitch, but I believe that it applies on a much wider scale. Our actions in everyday life are made through communication, decision and execution as well.
This was certainly the case on 25th May 2020, when 46 year old George Floyd was arrested for an alleged counterfeit note. Floyd was arrested by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who proceeded to kneel on his neck to restrain Floyd, despite the fact that Floyd was already in handcuffs and was surrounded by 3 other officers. Floyd pleaded for his life, stating that he was in pain and “can’t breathe”, as well as knowing that if his pleas did not work, he would be killed. 9 minutes later, with Chauvin not having removed his knee from Floyd’s neck, Floyd was dead. Chauvin was put into a situation. Chauvin heard the communication when Floyd begged for his life, Chauvin made his decision by refusing to listen to his victim, and executed this decision by executing Floyd.
This racially charged attack may not be anywhere near the norm in Ireland, however to say that due to the lack of violent racial crime in our country indicates a lack of racism here is really very naive. To say that white privilege is a myth is naive. To say that black people in Ireland would never have been exposed to racial microaggressions is naive. As part of the black community here in Ireland, racism may not be a everyday occurrence but it sure crops up too often for anyone’s liking. The past week has shown as much, with many black Irish people revealing their experiences with racism on this island. As much as some people would like to think so, Ireland is not innocent.
The largest participation sport in the country is Football. I was included on Post to Post Sport’s domestic football podcast Get Your Bleak On alongside Wexford Youths Womens’ Blessing Kingsley and Vanessa Ogbonna, as well as UCC midfielder Ify Nzewi and a friend of ours Josh Ofem. We all had stories to tell of racism in our lives, from overt verbal abuse on the football pitch, to more subtle microaggressions such as stereotypical jokes about our race and culture in general life. It does not stop with us. Young Waterford FC and Ireland underage player Tega Agberhiere was splashed with acid last year in a case of mistaken identity. His attackers were not charged and only given a caution for their crime. Arsenal icon Ian Wright was sent racially aggressive messages online by an Irish teenager in early May. Gardaí have investigated the incident, with nothing further having been said so far. Direct Provision is a system which continues to barely provide basic human rights to refugees and asylum seekers. A mixed race family featured on a Lidl advert were forced to move to England over online abuse that stated they did not resemble an ‘Irish family’. Travellers have been on the end of hatred and jokes for years.
Look at the comments sections on Facebook under media posts about Black Lives Matter protests taking place over the last weekend. Some posts have included memes of absent black father stereotypes, calls to “load up the rubber bullets”, and accusations of being attention seeking teenagers with nothing to do. Black people have communicated their exasperation at the consistent racial abuse we have received. We have had enough of being treated as less important than white people. We are tired of people deciding that our skin, our features and our culture is something to be mocked and used against us in order to put us down. The message is clear: Racism will no longer be tolerated. We have protested, we have brought as much awareness as possible, and we will no longer be quiet about this.
What matters now is your decision. You, dear Reader. What will you decide? Will you decide to stand with us? Will you stand with us? Will you listen to our cries? Will you execute this decision by joining our voices in condemning people for their prejudices? Especially if it is your mother, father, best friend, teacher, coach? Will you protest with us on the streets? Will you also shout ‘Enough is Enough’?
Or will you decide to ignore us? Will you continue on in your belief that your country is flawless and incapable of hatred? Will you continue to post hollow black squares on your social media pages, claiming our slogans, but then laughing at that meme comparing black people to monkeys and donning blackface during Halloween? Will you execute your ignorance and naivety by claiming ‘All Lives Matter’ and that we are complaining over nothing? That we are nothing but snowflakes who cannot take a joke?
That is where the real racism lies. Not in the obscene and obvious discrimination we face, be it in the systematic form or the blatant moment in the heat of the pitch. But in the silence that you hold in reaction to these events. In the way you dismiss the pain it causes us, telling us “calm down, I was only joking”. The only thing worse than experiencing racism is seeing someone who had the power to help you stop it stand idly by and watch it happen.
I admit, I was not born in Ireland. I arrived with my family when I was 3. I grew up here. I fell in love with football here. I fell in love with the culture, the people, the roar of Lansdowne on the final note of Amhran na BhFiann, the beautiful landscapes of this land. I pray that one day, my children or even myself will get to represent the Boys or Girls in Green. No black person is asking to take over this island. We are simply asking that you, the native Irish person, sees us the as the exact same as yourself. Because like you, we are proudly Irish.
If you have decided yourself that our cause is one worth joining, please sign the petitions below:
Introduce the teaching of Black History in Irish Schools
End Direct Provision in Ireland
Justice for Tega Agberhiere
National Action Plan Against Racism
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