I suspect this may come as somewhat of a surprise to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, but apparently the members of his force are guilty of engaging in systemic, daily acts of “micro-aggressions” against people of colour.

It will certainly come as a surprise to The Garda National Diversity & Integration Unit, which forms part of the Garda Community Relations Bureau, which has been in existence for the last 20 years.

Well, at least that is the claim being out forward by Boni Odoemene, a former president of DIT Students’ Union.
Odoemene makes the claim, along with numerous others, in an Irish Times article published yesterday, ‘White Irish people have never had to think about this.’

Here is what he said:

“While racist police brutality is not a problem in Ireland, Garda “micro-aggressions” towards people of colour happen all the time, says Odoemene, who now works at the University of Birmingham. “I never had any issues with guards growing up but as I became a man, I noticed how they approached me differently compared to white friends.”

Odoemene also describes several nasty incidences while growing up in Ireland, including his experience aged 11 of “being called a n***r for the first time and then having to ask his dad what the word meant.”

The ‘fact’ that most Irish people are allegedly unaware of this type of behaviour is, for Odoemene, “the personification of white privilege.”

To help avoid this kind of pathetic name calling, Odoemene and a group of other young black Irish people say that school children should “learn about racism and black history from an early age while more teachers of colour are needed in our schools to encourage an understanding of Ireland’s cultural diversity.”

There is an obvious merit to these suggestions especially now that Irish culture is becoming far more ethnically diverse.

The difficulty I have with what Odoemene is saying relates more to his claims around so called ‘micro-aggressions.’

This is one of those notoriously malleable and subjective concepts that has  been repeatedly shown to be at best, farcical and at worst, sinister and outright dangerous.

To show you what I mean, here are two examples of apparent ‘micro-aggressions’ promoted by the publication, American Psychologist  as a helpful guide:

“I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

and

“Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”

Now, apparently if you or I were to utter such words, what we would ‘really’ mean is, respectively:

“People of colour are given extra unfair benefits because of their race.”

and

“People of colour are lazy and / or incompetent and need to work harder.”

This is almost too absurd for words.

Thankfully the good folks at American Psychologist appear to have an extremely high tolerance for absurdity so they have outlined many more examples for us.

Some can be put down to just being plain rude without the additional need to tack on an additional layer of racial tension.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it when it comes to the credibility of micro-aggressions’ as a viable or legitimate interpretive concept.

Here is Prof Mark Haslam explaining the trouble with the term in an article helpfully titled, The Trouble with Microaggressions:

“Aside from these definitional problems, the existing program of research on microaggressions lacks a reliable method of assessing when they have taken place. It also provides no evidence they typically reflect the perpetrator’s underlying prejudice or hostility. In addition, proponents of the idea of microaggressions place too much confidence in the subjective perception of the supposed target.”

Conclusions like this point to the incredible danger there is in the claims being made by Odoemene in the Irish Times, not least because they accuses the Gardai of engaging in overtly hostile acts which may have no have basis in reality whatsoever.

Is every encounter with a Garda a bracing affirmation of human decency? Of course not. Is the Gardaí as a force guilty of systemic levels of micro-aggression? I would bet not.

All such claims serve to do is create a deeply misleading impression that we a hairs breath away from a police force engaging in genuine acts of racist brutality.

They deserve better than that.