“It is the fight for equality upon which racial justice is built. Without economic equality we cannot hope to stamp out racism and xenophobia”, writes SIPTU Equality activist and SIPTU Health Division member Yvonne Mefor as she reflects on racism and its impacts in this weeks Sunday Read.
As we watch events unfold in the United States in the wake of yet another unjust killing of a black person, we must take heart in the hope that is being unfurled by the activism of society in calling out these injustices of racism.
Racism in our workplaces and communities is not always visible it often lingers in the air, so it would be wrong to say that it does not exist in Irish society.
It is important to emphasize the effects that racism and racial conflict have on the emotional and mental state of those affected by this injustice. When institutional and structural racism become a continuum chipping away at people’s social and physical components the end result can be a mental and emotional crisis. Interpersonal racism is often forgotten in the scheme of the general health and wellbeing of the individuals.
The impact racism has on ethnic and racial minority peoples’ health and wellbeing makes it a public health issue and a central component of the political agenda worldwide.
The World Health Organisation framework to strengthen health equities globally and within countries is based on the social determinants of health. This framework highlights how social stratification influences early life and the social and physical environments in which individuals develop and interact. Among these structural factors, biases and values within society, social position, ethnicity and race, and psychosocial factors are central determinants of the distribution of health and wellbeing in our society.
It is important that institutional, emotional and mental racism are stamped out here in Ireland. In the words of Angela Davis, “Racism is systematic, its outbursts are not isolated incidents”.
Although many say that racism is borne out of hate it is in fact inequality that is a root cause of racism. Inequality allows people to perceive others as being less than them, for some people to feel superior and to actively exclude other people in our communities. It is inequality amongst marginalised groups, such as the travelling community and those in direct provision that exacerbates this.
It is the fight for equality upon which racial justice is built. Without economic equality we cannot hope to stamp out racism and xenophobia.
As a trade union activist, I know that unions have a critical role to play in promoting fairness, equality and freedom from violence for all workers, regardless of age, race, religion, ability, sex, gender identity and gender expression, or sexuality.
The collective action of working people through their union fighting for equality can have a profound effect on eradicating all forms of discrimination, racism and xenophobia not only in our workplaces but also in our society. As unions we can educate and empower our members to fight against racism and xenophobia so that all workplaces are welcoming and inclusive.
Through SIPTU’s Migrant Workers Support Network our union has built on its long tradition of anti-racism to ensure that we maintain a culture of inclusiveness, equality and solidarity amongst our members.
Asylum seekers have endured years of exclusion and mistreatment by the Irish state through the inhumane direct provision system. SIPTU’s work with the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) has seen our union reach out to those in direct provision in their fight for their human rights to be respected. SIPTU’s hosting of MASI’s first annual conference in 2019 saw our union provide practical help as well as moral support to one of the most marginalised groups in our society.
Throughout the current public health crisis, our union has continued to work closely with organisations such as the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) highlighting the work of undocumented people including workers in the care sector and representing the interests of workers in the meat industry.
It is important that the voice of those impacted first hand by racism and xenophobia are listened to and amplified. With our union we ask others to be our ally in bringing to light racism in Irish workplaces, communities and society. We know that these conversations are uncomfortable sometimes, that they evoke feelings of both sadness and anger at the injustices being inflicted, but it is only by working together in solidarity, united by our common fight for equality that we can truly change our society for the better.