The Bord Gais Energy Theatre received a strong – and sympathetic – reaction on social media yesterday when it revealed that several actors playing parts in Disney’s “The Lion King” – presently being performed in the theatre – had been the victims of racial abuse walking from the venue to the places where they are staying.
The reaction to the news was, almost universally, one of disgust and shame. The victims of the abuse are guests in our country, here for a set period, to provide entertainment and good cheer. That they should be roared at, and abused, in the street, by gurriers, is rightly a source of mortification and embarrassment. But it also tends to obscure the real problem.
Racism, in this case, will get all the attention. But that tends to lend a person to thinking that if the Lion King cast had been middle class and white, they would have had to have no fear of abuse. That is, of course, increasingly not the experience in parts of inner-city Dublin, where, on a nightly basis, feral gangs of youths run about after dark, unchecked.
Do we think these kids are racists? That they have, at home, a library full of books about comparative genetics and the alleged superiority of the celtic bloodline? Or do we think it is more likely that they were just gurriers, looking for the first nasty word they could find to throw at a stranger, and settled on mocking their skin colour?
In the last year alone, for example, this writer is aware of gangs of teenagers in Dublin’s inner city accosting and shouting abuse at people for their perceived sexuality, perceived weight, perceived class, and perceived attractiveness. Women have been the victims of this, as have gay men, straight men, and just about anybody else. The abuse might be tailored to the victim – in this case it was racial – but the disease is disorder, not racism.
Here’s a vignette from the Irish Times, almost a year ago to the day:
Off another nearby street, at about 8.30pm, a commotion starts. A young man runs from a house carrying a long metal bar and hurls it back towards the side street shouting: “I’ll get every one of yous.” As people in two neighbouring houses look out from their doors, a woman in another leaves her doorstep, picks up a dog and runs back to her home.
People in the house the man has run from scream after him: “Get off. Get off,” to which he replies: “I’ll blow the f**king legs off you. You watch” before running towards Summerhill.
Of course, that isn’t particularly sexy. Racism – and the idea that Ireland has an intrinsic racist undercurrent – is sexy, which is why the Bord Gais Energy Theatre announced a donation yesterday to the Irish Network Against Racism, which is, of course, already generously endowed by your taxes. The money might have been better off going to an inner-city community policing effort.
This is, a symptom, to some degree, of Ireland’s middle-class cultural malaise: The problems in inner city Dublin grab at the conscience of middle class liberals when – and only when – they become a source of embarrassment to the nation in front of nice, progressive, foreigners, and provide a helpful teachable moment during which we can all whip ourselves silly over the racist troglodytes in our midst.
The real problem, as it has been for some time, is that parts of our capital city – and other cities – have been abandoned to a kind of feral lawlessness, where hurling abuse at strangers, physically intimidating and assaulting people, and dealing drugs in broad daylight are things that are broadly tolerated. Or if not tolerated, then accepted as just the way those people live. So long as it is not happening in Ranelagh, there is not much that can be done about it.
This is one of those social problems that just doesn’t get much purchase in the kind of rarefied circles that discuss the affairs of the nation with great seriousness. Like drug-fuelled gang violence in west Dublin, or school drop-out rates in the poorer parts of Cork or Limerick, these are problems that are just accepted as unsolvable, and best confined to those places, while the rest of us worry about the really important things, like the gender balance of state boards, or the carbon emissions of greyhound racing. Part of the deal, of course, is that those people have the decency to confine their activities to places where the rest of us cannot see them, and are not affected by them, and that in return, we will tolerate them electing the occasional Paul Murphy or Ruth Coppinger. So long as they don’t change tack and elect a Justin Barrett or a Gemma O’Doherty someday, we’ll all agree to ignore it.
That’s the basic attitude of the Irish establishment to these matters. This kind of carry on happens every day, to all kinds of people. We’re mortified here because it happened to people like us, who might tell other people like us, in America, all about it. And those people won’t know, will they, that it was only the inner city, don’t mind them? They might think it is an Irish problem, not a gurrier problem.
That’s about the height of it, really. Nothing will be done to change this. The most that might happen is that the Irish Network Against Racism use the money to sponsor a few more anti-racism classes in primary schools in Terenure, or some such place.