Identity Ireland? Xenophobia Is Not My Irish Identity.

Twenty-five years ago the phone rang. I’m a little hazy on the details- you have to remember, I was only seven at the time. I remember that I’d been excited, because my dad was going to see my uncle John living in America, and that uncle always sent me on the best presents. Toys you’d never get here- polar explorer play sets, a gorgeous illustrated hardback Hobbit that I wouldn’t appreciate till years afterward.

There was always a kind of glamour to our overseas family, wasn’t there? You’d only see them once or twice a year at most. Their visits were filled with drama- the excitement of meeting them at the airport or in a house stuffed with family, a few days or a week to fit in months worth of experiences, and before you knew it you were saying goodbye again.

I say ‘were’, of course, but the present tense would be just as appropriate, wouldn’t it?

Of course- this won’t surprise you, since I led with it- that phone call twenty-five years ago was different. The details I’m gonna keep to myself, but my uncle- less than a decade older than I am today- had died suddenly.

It happens. It was horrible, of course. Of all my childhood memories- almost all hazy- the feeling of walking into my Nana’s house later that day, the silence of the aunts, uncles and cousins filling the living room lives in sharp, full-colour contrast.

I don’t know the details. I was only a child. But I think that it took days to bring his body home.

Let’s fast forward a few years, shall we?

Continue reading “Identity Ireland? Xenophobia Is Not My Irish Identity.”

Identity Ireland? Xenophobia Is Not My Irish Identity.

CeCe McDonald is free.

CeCe McDonald is free. Finally, Cece McDonald is free.

If you haven’t heard of CeCe, here’s the deal: She’s been in prison since 2011 for killing a man in self-defence. And not the kind of self-defence where you think someone’s looking at you funny or walking around the place carrying suspicious Skittles so you shoot them point-blank and get away scot-free. This is the other kind of self-defence, where you’re walking down the street and a group of people attack you because they don’t like people of your race and gender walking down the street. Where when you attempt to walk away they smash bottles against your face, leaving you permanently scarred and with a severed saliva gland. And when you defend yourself with a scissors from your bag, you kill your attacker. Where, when the case goes to court, neither your attacker’s three previous convictions for violent assault nor his swastika tattoo are considered admissible evidence of his violent, racist disposition, but a motion to impeach your evidence because you once wrote a bad check is admitted.

That’s the kind of self defence where, if you’re a black trans woman, you are sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison and, as a bonus, are forced to pay for your attacker’s funeral.

I’ve been thinking about womanhood. How my cis white womanhood protects me, while CeCe’s black trans womanhood made her a target.

My cis white womanhood grants me invisibility and the presumption of a kind of vulnerability deserving of protection. If I had been in that courtroom, there would have been no question that I acted in self-defence. A white, cis woman with a scissors in her bag? Sure, don’t women carry everything around with them? Insert handbags joke here, before carrying on. But black trans womanhood gets no such leeway, instead pointed out at every moment as other, as deviant, as a wild card and a threat.

If I had been in that courtroom, there would have been no question but that I acted in self defence. But with my cis white womanhood, I would never have been in that courtroom. I would never have been in that courtroom to defend my defence of my own life because with my cis white womanhood me and my friends would have walked past that bar and arrived home entirely, or at least relatively, unmolested. We might have rolled our eyes about the loudmouth asshats in the bar we passed, and then someone would have passed me a beer and we would’ve forgotten all about it. White cis women are no strangers to violence, but there are kinds of violence, kinds of punishment for existing, that cisness and whiteness protect us from.

Because womanhood when mitigated by whiteness and cisness translates into our world as small, unthreatening, mostly harmless, and a person who (publicly) attacked me would be seen as a monster. White cis women’s anger is called whininess, nagginess, bitchiness because it is seen as an annoyance, not a threat. But womanhood, when compounded by transness and blackness translates into our world as perverse, deviant, a simultaneous weakness and threat to everything heteronormativity holds dear. A person who attacks a black trans woman- provoked or not- is not seen as a monster. They are seen as defending themselves from monsters.

Every part of CeCe’s experience- from her initial unprovoked attack, to her unjust trial, to the further humiliation of being incarcerated in a men’s prison- played out the way it did because of this culture-wide dehumanisation and monstering of black trans women. She was punished, punished again, and punished a third time for this crime. And make no mistake- it was all of these things, the combination of these things, the way that each one twists our perception of the others to push a person further and further into something other, that led to her punishments.

CeCe McDonald spent two and a half years in jail for having the unmitigated gall to defend herself from an unprovoked attack. CeCe McDonald spent two and a half years in jail for surviving. CeCe McDonald is free.


Enhanced by Zemanta
CeCe McDonald is free.

How to respond to racist attacks? Put your money where your mouth is!

TW: racism, violence, pictures of racist graffiti. TL;DR, if you’re not up for facing that: Racists say shops run by immigrants aren’t welcome. How about supporting your local immigrant-run businesses? Today!

Continue reading “How to respond to racist attacks? Put your money where your mouth is!”

How to respond to racist attacks? Put your money where your mouth is!

Gender Recognition, Feminism, Intolerance, and Food Poverty. Linkspam!

A few things I think everyone should be reading today:

Why society still needs feminism

Just in case you were wondering:

Because to men, a key is a device to open something. For women, it’s a weapon we hold between our fingers when we’re walking alone at night.

..Because a girl was roofied last semester at a local campus bar, and I heard someone say they think she should have been more careful. Being drugged is her fault, not the fault of the person who put drugs in her drink?

..Because out of 7 billion people on the planet, more than 1 billion women will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes. Women and girls have their clitorises cut out, acid thrown on them and broken bottles shoved up them as an act of war. Every second of every day. Every corner of the Earth.

And also, yeah, nobody burns their bras. Not on purpose, anyhow.

Poor little rich girl… Without the rich bit.

If you’re not reading Jack Monroe, you should be. I came for the cheap&tasty recipes, and stayed for the social commentary. And the recipes.

There’s a queer sort of juxtaposition that comes with Being Ms Jack Monroe at the moment.

I spent this afternoon emailing Councillors and other people regarding the recent decision to suspend my Housing Benefit claim based on the (incorrect) assumption that I am sitting on a £25k cheque from my publisher (I’m not) and am sitting on a pile of cheques from newspaper interview and TV appearances (I’m not).

But I was doing that, on the 1414 train from Southend Central to Fenchurch Street, as I’d just been invited to a fundraising dinner by a friend with a spare ticket, via the Soho Food Feast in Soho Square.

But it’s a queer kind of juxtaposition, when you have a beautiful dress to wear to dinner tonight, but on quick inspection of the shoe collection, decide that the soft chiffon dipped hem just won’t go with the shoes you were issued in the Fire Service, your brogues, or your one pair of trainers, so you hang it back in the wardrobe and decide you can’t justify buying a pair of shoes. Not even in the sale at Primark.

Transgender people seek State recognition to escape gender ‘limbo’

Orla Tinsley (who is excellent, by the way, and you should go follow her on Twitter immediately) has managed to do the impossible: write an article about trans* issues in a major national publication that isn’t going to get you a line, never mind a full house, on a trans* discussion bingo card.

Nineteen-year-old student Tyron (he wants to be identified only by his first name) says it is easier to be young and transgender today but the lack of legislation does enable discrimination. “It’s easier than it was and it’s becoming a more known term,” says theNUI Maynooth student, who is currently looking for a job to pay his way through college.

“In interviews I only bring up my gender identity if they want to contact a previous employer,” he says. “Of the last three job interviews, only one was willing to hire a transgender person. The other two said it was not suitable for their working environment.”

It is also extremely important that you click that link in order to admire the extremely stylish tie which Ben borrowed off me for the photo. Yeah, I know, it’s a serious topic. But that’s my tie in the Irish Times!

Is intolerance prevalent in Ireland?

Aileen Donegan- another person with an excellent blog and twitter to follow- in TheJournal. Bet you guess the answer before you click. This, by the way, is a brilliant example of why we need to Shut Up And Listen when we’re privileged. Because otherwise we just don’t see whats going on.

As recently as April I asked a friend ‘Is racism big in Ireland?’ We were attending the same training course on hate speech. I guess my innocent question caught him off guard: ’Yes Aileen, racism is a hugeproblem in Ireland,’ he said with a tone of awe and surprise that offended me. Though Ireland, my home, has never seemed intolerant to me, the last week in news has given me some much-needed insight into Irish attitudes.

…The ECRI quote a disturbing statistic from the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study, which states that 7.6 per cent of Traveller families have no access to running water. Resistance from local residents, and the “lack of political will” of local authorities are cited as reasons why Traveller accommodation is difficult to attain in Irish society. This is hardly surprising. Remember when local residents set fire to a house that Travellers were set to live in?

(By the way? Don’t Read The Comments.)

Disabled man refused entry to nightclub after Scottish Charity Awards

Didja hear the one about the guy who had the police called on him for the crime of trying to get into a nightclub while disabled?

Actor Robert Softley Gale, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, attempted to enter the Polo Lounge in Glasgow with his husband Nathan Gale after attending the Scottish Charity Awards with the Equality Network.

They claim that the bouncers informed them that they could not enter because the nightclub didn’t have disabled facilities.

Despite the couple explaining that they wanted to enter the popular gay nightclub anyway, they say staff continued to refuse to allow them to enter.

“The manager came and said that they didn’t have disabled facilities so they weren’t letting us in,” Nathan told TFN. “We said, you can’t not let us in just because we’re disabled, that’s a violation of the Equality Act, but he still wouldn’t let us in.”

Charming. Oh, and Robert Softley Gale is yet another person to follow on Twitter. You guys, it’s all about the Twitter today. And speaking of disability and ableism, have something from Captain Awkward:

#487: I use a wheelchair, and people are condescending as fuck.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m woman in my late 30s who uses a power wheelchair due to a medical condition that causes severe physical fatigue.

Often, strangers – retail staff, waitstaff, members of the general public – assume that because I use a power wheelchair, I have an intellectual disability. I don’t. I have a university degree and I read widely.

How should I respond to people:

– talking loudly to me;
– talking to me in a sing-song voice;
– being condescending/patronizing;
– calling me love/sweetie;
– telling me that I remind them of their 12 year old daughter with Down syndrome;
– praising me for putting rubbish in a rubbish bin as though I’ve won a gold medal at the Olympics;
– telling me that you eat cupcakes?


Smart Crip Girl

You know that you want to hear what the Captain has to say.

A Racist B&B?

Speaking of intolerance, Tara Flynn’s husband got an unpleasant reminder that Ireland isn’t above blatant racism lately. Here’s what happened then:

On a recent trip home, I got a reminder that Ireland Of The Welcomes can be conditional.  By now very familiar with Kinsale, my husband offered to take the dog out for his last walk of the night. I sat chatting with my mum. 20 minutes later, my husband returned. He looked angry. “Well,” he said, “I haven’t been called those names in a while.” A group of young people standing outside a bar in the centre of town had shouted racist epithets at him. Some of those epithets have made it into my clip but we’ve decided to cover them with sound effects. They’re just too vile. They are shocking in the abstract and absolutely horrifying when applied to someone I love. In my hometown. In 2013.

My husband is a tolerant person. He just stared the namecallers down and they – like most cowards – shut up when faced with this silent challenge. He tried to laugh it off in the re-telling, saying it wasn’t his first time and that he’d heard worse. But that’s not the point.  I was mortified. Stunned. Fuming.

So I wrote a sketch about it.


One more thing

That’s all the links I’ve got for ya, but one more little thinglet before I go. Nominations have just opened for 2013’s Irish Blog Awards! Now, I’m not saying that you should immediately go and nominate me- I’m far too Irish for that sort of carry-on. Although I’ll admit that I do like getting the chance to dress up fancy and eat free canapes and photobomb legit fancy people. But shure have a think about who your favourite Irish bloggers are- I’m lookin’ at you, Geoff’s Shorts– and give a nomination to the people who deserve a bit of recognition. Remember: attention is to bloggers what money is to everyone else.

Gender Recognition, Feminism, Intolerance, and Food Poverty. Linkspam!

Oh, Richard

Last week, Richard Dawkins finally came out against racism and sexism. It turns out that, aside from his well-documented feelings about the 800 million or so terribly oppressed Muslim women out there (every single last one of you, by the way, because Islam is a giant monolith that is exactly the same for everyone and it just so happens to be precisely as bad as the worst Orientalist stereotypes that the West can come up with) there is another group whose plight moves the professor to speak out.

I am referring, of course, to middle-aged white male British academics who wear loafers. Or should I say l*s? For to the good Professor, no slur is more offensive than a pair of well-crafted and comfortable shoes.

So yes, there was a palaver, Twitter collectively sighed, facepalmed and snarked their little hearts out (I love you, by the way, Twitter), and Our Richard dug his heels in.

You’re probably wondering why I’m bothering to tell you all of this. Dawkins says something ignorant, it’s pouring rain, must be a summer’s day ending in Y somewhere in Britain and/or Ireland, eh?

See, what happened next was that he, well.. he hit off one of my sensibilities. Check this out:

According to Dawkins, the people uniquely unsuited to educate him on matters relating to human society are… the people working and/or studying within one of the major academic disciplines devoted to the study of human society. Richard goes on to snark endlessly about sociology and sociologists, going so far as to call it a social “science”. Seriously. Look:




A little aside here, which I feel obliged to add. My own background is in sociology. One of the side-effects to working in the social sciences is having to deal with a regular barrage of people from the ‘hard’ sciences (I’d say that isn’t a word coined by a social scientist) who think exactly as Dawkins does: that sociologists, by virtue of being sociologists, are less qualified to talk about society and social science than biologists, physicists and the like. People who have never taken a sociology class in their lives, who know nothing about social theory, research, methodologies (and the reasons behind them), who figure that they somehow know more about it than, well, the entirety of sociology and sociologists. And anthropology and anthropologists (lovely bunch).

You’ll notice that at no point above does Dawkins have a point to make other than poo-poohing the social sciences. He doesn’t have any evidence (aside from the Oxford dictionary) to support his claim that there is something inherently sexist and racist about pointing out his sex and race. He’s engaging in the most ludicrous of, yes, ad-hominem attacks: saying that sociologists can’t educate him on sociology because they’re sociologists, and that sociology isn’t a real science because it’s not.

But that isn’t quite the point I want to make here. I want to point out the sheer hypocrisy of Dawkins’ attitude.

One of the stories I loved reading in one of his earlier books- it might have been the God Delusion, maybe not- was about one of his professors. Who had, for decades, taught a particular side of a particular debate in, well, biology I guess. One day this professor went to a lecture by someone who was able to demolish the case for what this guy had been teaching for decades. The good professor went up to the lecturer at the end of the hour, thanked him, and shook his hand. And then went home to rewrite his course material, because boy was that suddenly out of date.

This is what Dawkins claims to admire.

But there’s another thing. Dawkins himself spends a lot of his time defending his field. He’s an evolutionary biologist, and the world is filled with people without the faintest idea of what either of those things are about who nevertheless dispute the very existence of evolution. He’s as familiar as I am with the phenomenon of people who know nothing about his field disputing even the validity of science itself. Of scientific methods. Of things which have been extensively studied and observed.

You would think that a person who claims to value skepticism and questioning of one’s own biases, and who faces a daily barrage of ignorant dismissal of his own field, would know better than to engage in knee-jerk insults and poo-poohing of fields he knows nothing about.

I sincerely doubt that he’ll ever read this, but if he does, I have this to say: Be a scientist, Richard. Show a little of the skepticism you have inspired in others. Learn about social theories. Understand how they are applied. Learn about social research methodologies and why we study things the way we do.

Because right now, Richard? You may be a great biologist and I’m sure you earned the hell out of the qualifications you have. But not one of them is in a social science. Which means that every person with a PhD, an MA, a BA, or even a year or so of social science modules under their belt is qualified to school you on this one. And if you are interested in science as a tool for learning about the world, as opposed to your position as a tool for beating the opposition, you will sit down, get out your pen and paper, get ready to take some notes and listen.

Oh, Richard

#NeverAlone: bigotry and solidarity.

This was originally a comment by Arman Maroufkhani over at my post When I Can’t Argue Inequality: Homophobia and Vulnerability on Monday. Reposted with his permission, because it’s the kind of thing that I think we should really, really do. 


Racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes and all kinds of other hateful and bigoted people can often make you feel small and alone on the internet. Those of us who believe in equality and solidarity often scroll through comment sections, conclude that everyone on there seems to live in some paralell racist, sexist, homophobic universe and get too angry/sad/overwhelmed to post a response. So their bullshit goes unchecked. It’s left to stand. They and many of the readers are left with the impression that the bigots represent the majority of people, BUT THEY DON’T.

To combat the hate on many Swedish news sites and forums activist Kawa Zolfagary started a hashtag, #AldrigEnsam. It means “never alone”. You use it when you’re trying to discuss something in a rational way on the internet and people respond with hatred and bigotry, or when you are challenging bigots and feel like they are drowning out your message and give the impression of representing the majority. You share a link on Twitter, Facebook, your blog or anywhere else to where you need help together with the hashtag so other people can come help you.

Let’s start an English language hashtag of our own and use it on Twitter or Facebook when we’re fighting the online hate and need help. Share a link on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else to where you need help together with the hashtag #NeverAlone.

Please share!

#NeverAlone: bigotry and solidarity.

She Blinded Me With Linkspam

Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People’s Grammar on the Internet

Some kinds of checking your privilege are more difficult than others.  Accepting that I get shedloads of unearned advantages because of being white, Western, cis and middle-class, and that I should do something about that? Not a bother. Coming to terms with the fact that my beloved Eats, Shoots and Leaves might be a bit on the problematic side? IT IS KILLING THE KITTENS OF MY BRAIN. But here you have it:

It’s one thing to take an erudite journalist or grandiloquent blogger (don’t know any of those, myself) down a notch, although there are valid arguments against even this; grammatical exactitude can suffocate creativity and clarity, and many prescriptive rules were totally fabricated by Latin-centric snobs. But when a poor newbie on a discussion forum introduces himself with “hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter” and gets linguistically skewered by someone because they personally hate the pants off of Simon Cowell – well, that is a different kind of problem.

It’s like they got right into my brain. Damnit.

Empathy for the Devil

This one is similar in brain-breaking but with far more trigger warnings, for bullying and rape. TW for the following quote as well:

You and I might be appalled by the idea of being a rapist dear reader, but we can’t understand rapists unless we leave open the door to the possibility that they do it because they like it, and feel good about it afterwards. In the original article that triggered a Twitter storm and aroused the writers at Feministe, Alyssa Royce sought to explain why nice guys commit rape, but for whatever reason she sought to exclude the possibility that rapists pass themselves off as nice guys. If we want to empathize with rapists we have to be able to understand, at a visceral level, that they might be enjoying themselves, that it might be the culmination of every wank they’ve had since puberty.

Returning to Mel Greig and Michael Christian, we have to be brutally honest. They might be nice people who got sucked into doing someone else’s dirty work, or they might just enjoy being bullies. We don’t know. Empathy is not sympathy, and if you wish to empathize with the devil, you have to consider the possibility that people do the devil’s work not because they have fallen, but because he has all the good tunes and they like to dance. (emphasis mine)

I Learn So Much from Twitter: Why Marriage Matters

The ever-awesome Dusty Rose over at Tutus and Tiny Hats talks about marriage, practicality and the dodginess of being more-radical-than-thou.

[D]espite Jenn’s insistence that marriage is inherently linked to capitalism,  ”people get married in socialist countries, communist countries, tribal cultures that have no monetary system.”

I think this is a really important distinction. Marriage can definitely be a vehicle for consumerism, but it doesn’t have to be, any more than it has to be a vehicle for sexism. It seems sort of…closed-minded to assume otherwise.

The Space We Need

One of the things it has triggered a lot of thinking about lately is how those of us with fat bodies negotiate our way through the physical spaces of the world.  I got to thinking about just how conscious I am of the space my body takes up, and how I have to negotiate my body in a world that marks me as “abnormal”.  The more I paid attention to it, the more I noticed that almost every aspect of my life is framed around this process of moving my body around in the world.

On a similar (yet more fabulous) note, check out awesome Irish fatshion blogger Haute Proportions! And throw her a ‘like’ over on Facebook while you’re at it.

Surviving the Holidays as Queer People of Colour: Give the Gift of Media

I discovered Saving Face, a film drama-comedy about two lesbian Chinese-American girls navigating family expectations about career and marriage. That film was the closest I had to reflecting the complexities of my identity as a queer person of color who was also an immigrant — another narrative that is also missing from mainstream media.

I remember making my sister watch the film, and noticing afterwards–even though she may not have–how it changed our conversations and relationship for the better. She loved the film so much because she could relate to the immigrant-in-America theme, the plight of the main character, who was torn between following  family tradition and making her own choices. After watching the film, my sister saw my own circumstance in a new light, making her my biggest advocate and ally within my family.

And finally, I rediscovered an oldie-but-essential from Crommunist: You’re Not A Racist, You’re Just Racist

Racism is best understood as the product of ideas, both conscious and unconscious, about other people, and our tendency to try and reduce people to convenient labels (like… oh, I dunno… ‘a racist’). I can certainly understand why people like to use this term, because it allows them to preserve their self-concept of being a good person and scapegoat racist activities as the product of “racists”. Once blame has been assigned in this way, then the speaker can dust her/his hands off and say “it’s not my problem – I’m not a racist.” However, that simply means the problems never get solved, because the only people whose self-concept allows them to brand themselves as being “a racist” are proud of that appellation.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

She Blinded Me With Linkspam

Blackface Follow-up: Why it really is That Bad: a history of blackface.

TW, as per usual for these things, for discussion of present and past racism.

This post is responding to comments on my earlier post Hey, Ireland! Let’s talk about racism. Here. NOW. This post goes into the historical context of blackface.

First, a disclaimer. I am not an expert on this stuff by any means. I am simply a person with a reasonable background in things like social science and intersectionality, who does her best to be an ally and have a fair idea of this stuff. I haven’t- until this past few days- spent a huge amount of time reading up on the history of minstrels and representation of POC. I just had the usual level of background awareness of this stuff that you get from being a person interacting with people. When it comes to the historical specifics, though, I’m just learning. Which is important, because everything I know is stuff that you can find out if, as I advised in my last post, you just google it.

Right. Let’s get started. We’ve got a lot to get through. I’m going to be talking a lot about context, symbolism and history. I’m also going to be linking to a lot of other places. Because this is such a big, complicated issue I’d encourage you strongly to read them. I know that this is the internet and we’re stuck on tl;dr. But this is important. If you really, really can’t stand to spend 10-15 minutes reading a few posts, though, scroll down and you’ll find a tl;dr.

I’ve been hearing a lot over the past few days from people wondering what’s the harm in dressing up as a POC and painting/colouring your face to match that person’s skin tone. Especially at Halloween, when we dress up as all sorts of things. It seems bizarre that something that’s so obviously just a bit of fun could get people so upset and angry. It seems unfair that someone should be vehemently attacked when there was almost certainly no malicious intent behind what they did.

So what, precisely, is going on here? Let’s start with a quick history lesson.

A short history of blackface

I hate to say it, but this is one of those times when American history is biting everyone else in the ass. Because, as I’ve said, I’m not expert in this, I’m going to pass you over to the brilliant anedumacation:

Blackface was invented by minstrel performers in the nineteenth century, and soon became the trademark of the artform. Minstrel shows were a form of entertainment that was devoted to re-packaging blackness in a way that was sufficiently degrading enough to be palatable to white audiences. Its about taking the richness of black art, music, dancing, and humor — turning it into a degrading stereotype, and then disseminating this bastardized vision of a people as far and wide as possible. Minstrelsy wasn’t just about exploiting racism, minstrel performers were on the front lines of white supremacy, they established an image in the mind of white America of who black people were — simple fools, mindless entertainers, creatures ruled by instinct and lower brain function, not by art, not by ideas, not by ideals of honor or duty. Finally, you cannot understand the legal and political system of apartheid established by Jim Crow, without understanding minstrelsy. Because its easy, very easy, to deny full legal personhood to someone that you don’t believe to be fully human. What better way to spread the message of black inferiority than to propagandize with humor? To teach children to laugh at someone is to forever infantalize them, to forever deny the object of derision the opportunity to be seen as a complex, fully realized person — equal to themselves.

Minstrel performance was one of the main ways in which America experienced blackness, and it became the way that the rest of the world experienced Black America, because we exported blackface and minstrelsy everywhere we went.

So on the one hand, we have blackface as a means for white people to portray black people on a large scale. This is problematic enough as it is- if you want to portray a black person, then why not just get a black person to do it? The idea that only white people should be on stage, giving not just some but practically all the black roles to white people is discriminatory just by itself. Blackface went so far that, until well into the 20th Century, it was almost impossible for even POC to perform without it. The idea of a real black person on stage in their own skin was unacceptable.

And it’s not just that. Blackface wasn’t just about getting white people to play black roles. It was also about stereotyping and caricature. has an excellent run-down of the caricatures protrayed. More from them:

White audiences in the 19th Century wouldn’t accept real black entertainers on stage unless they performed in blackface makeup. One of the first Blacks to perform in blackface for White audiences was the man who invented tap dancing, William Henry Lane, aka Master Juba. Lane’s talent and skill were extraordinary and eventually he became famous enough that he was able to perform in his own skin.

The American minstrel show was effectively dead by WW1, yet some old-timers continued to peddle the same blackface stereotypes later in vaudeville, films and television. It’s one of the interesting twists of history that in the first half of the twentieth century, the main purveyors of the old-fashioned blackface minstrel tradition were Black performers, who’d began in show business wearing the blackface mask — either literally or figuratively — and were reluctant to give it up.

But they also had little choice in the roles they were offered. Until well into the 1950s, Black male actors were limited to stereotypical roles: Coons, for example, Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland, and Willie Best; and Toms, the most famous were Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Likewise, the only film roles for Black women were maids and mammys, and the most famous mammy of all was Hattie McDaniel, best known for her Oscar-winning role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind.

And it wasn’t just about mocking and stereotyping POCs. One of the original blackface characters was called Jim Crow. It’s no coincidence that the system of laws segregating black and white people in the US was named after this character. From the Jim Crow Museum:

[Original ‘Jim Crow’ performer Thomas “Daddy”] Rice and his imitators, by their stereotypical depictions of blacks, helped to popularize the belief that blacks were lazy, stupid, inherently less human, and unworthy of integration. During the years that blacks were being victimized by lynch mobs, they were also victimized by the racist caricatures propagated through novels, sheet music, theatrical plays, and minstrel shows. Ironically, years later when blacks replaced white minstrels, the blacks also “blackened” their faces, thereby pretending to be whites pretending to be blacks. They, too, performed the Coon Shows which dehumanized blacks and helped establish the desirability of racial segregation.

Pretty disturbing, huh? Blackface is about so much more than a white person painting their skin darker. It echoes back as a tool used to enforce and maintain white supremacy, in a context where POC lived with brutal, dehumanising oppression. It served to mock the victims of institutional and physical violence and intimidation, making figures of fun out of POC at the same time as their human rights were being crushed. It’s, quite frankly, utterly horrible.


  • Blackface was/is a way in which white actors portrayed POC characters
  • Blackface was the only way that POC characters could be portrayed. Even POC actors had to blacken their faces in order to be acceptable to audiences.
  • Blackface used caricatures of POC. These caricatures became immensely popular and created seriously damaging stereotypes of POC which worked to intensify other kinds of racism.
  • Blackface was associated with the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation.
  • Blackface caricatures worked to intensify, and to justify in the minds of white Americans, racial violence and lynchings.

Blackface Follow-up: Why it really is That Bad: a history of blackface.

Hey, Ireland! Let’s talk about racism. Here. NOW.

TW for hella racism.

I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Ireland. You and me, we need to have a chat. And we need to do it now.

Listen, Ireland, I get that you think that we get a get-out-of-racism-free card. It’s true that anti-Irish racism has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years and is still a thing in some places, and that a century and a bit ago we were starving in Famines while the other white people were off buying and selling human beings and we couldn’t even afford a decent potato. Yep. We had it pretty bad, back then.

That doesn’t mean we that our consciences were as lily-white as our delicate, sunburn-prone skins, though. For centuries, we’ve had a truly exceptional ability to hate people of a slightly different brand of Christianity to ourselves. The way that settled Irish people look on and act towards the Travelling community is horrible. And did you know we’ve historically done quite the line in anti-semitism as well? Shure didn’t we have our own pogrom down in Limerick in 1904.

So let’s not pretend, Ireland, that we either couldn’t be racist here or that racism is such a newfangled phenomenon ’round these parts that we simply don’t know how to recognise it when we see it. We’re not as innocent as we’d like to think.

So, since we have this long, varied history and culture of racism to draw on, precisely where did people get the idea that dressing up in blackface was okay?

I get it. It’s Halloween. Although you have a multitude of thousands of things to dress up as, you figure that there’s nothing quite like a white guy dragging it up and painting his face to be Whitney Houston for the night. You figure that being a fan makes up for a century or two of racist connotations and imagery. And, eh, your friends seem to agree:

Just in case you were unsure, a few guidelines for confused white people:

  • When POC tell you that a thing is racist, you take them at their word.
  • When POC tell you that a thing is racist, you do not tell them that they’re being oversensitive. It’s far, far more likely that you just don’t know what you’re talking about. Since they live with racism every day, they know more about it than you do.
  • If POC tell you a thing you did was racist, and if they are not sweet and polite about it, you don’t get to stomp off in a huff over your hurt fee-fees. You did a racist thing. People are well within their rights to be mad at you.
  • Intent is not magic. Not intending to be racist does not make a thing not racist. If I don’t mean to stand on your toe, but my foot is still on your toe, your toe is still going to hurt like hell. I don’t get to talk about how I didn’t mean to step on you without moving my foot.
  • Being gay/a woman/trans/disabled/working class and/or a member of any other marginalised group does not grant you a Get Out Of Racism Free card. This is the real world, not Monopoly. Oppression of one kind doesn’t magically make you incapable of being an asshat towards others.
  • By the way, doing a racist thing doesn’t magically turn you into a Nazi fascist KKK’er. It means you are a human person who did a thing you shouldn’t have done. If you’re not an ass about it, it doesn’t have to be the world’s biggest deal.
  • If you find out that a thing you did was racist, then the appropriate response is to apologise and stop doing that thing. Once you’ve stopped doing the thing, if you’re confused about why that thing was racist you can use this marvellous tool to find out why. You don’t get to go bothering the person who you’ve just been racist at about that racist thing you did. That’s just rude.

Wasn’t that easy?


After reading the comments, it’s become clear to me that a lot of people really don’t get why this is such a big deal. Over the next few days, I’ll be writing a couple of follow-up posts. The first is Why It Really Is That Bad: A brief history of blackface. The second will respond directly to some of the other concerns people have raised- I should get that up by tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest.

Hey, Ireland! Let’s talk about racism. Here. NOW.

I’m Not A Racist, But..

Just your average absolutely-not-a-racist who refuses to work with black people.

Oh, Darren Scully. Why must you share a surname and first initial with one of my favourite fictional sceptics?

Right. So Darren Scully is was Mayor of Naas*. As Mayor of Naas, he stated that he “would refuse to represent members of the black community” in his area, because “black Africans” were “aggressive and bad-mannered”.

Responding to cries of outright racism, Scully says, “I’ve been met with aggressiveness, I’ve been met with bad manners and I’ve also been played the race card. “It’s been said, ‘You would help white people but you don’t help black people’.”

So, right.

Dude says that people of a particular ethnicity act in a certain way. He then refuses to represent them as he was elected to do. He then accuses them of playing the race card, and of accusing him of not helping black people.

Wait a sec.

Person says that he will not help black people, and then accuses black people of accusing him of not helping black people.


Scully said that he would not help black people, and then got upset when people accused him of not helping black people.

You know, I’m just going to go make some tea now. Anyone who accuses me of putting the kettle on and dunking a teabag in some boiling water will be faced with absolute disbelief and denial. Ditto to anyone who accuses me of having facepalmed so hard I concussed myself.

Scully is Not Amused.


*A town in Co Kildare. Which is in Ireland. Pronounced rhyming with “mace”.

I’m Not A Racist, But..