89.2 Lives in green, white and black: Whiteness, national identity and anti-racism in Ireland

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 10:55 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Alice FELDMAN , University College Dublin, Ireland
Romana KHAOURY , University College Dublin, Ireland
In Ireland, the rapid transition from a country of emigration to one of in-migration, and the racialised construction of ‘the migrant other’ that has accompanied it, has profoundly destabilised notions of Irishness. The perceived ‘crisis’ of migration, the racism experienced by migrants, and attempts to articulate ‘integration’ policies have, in turn, exposed not only the racialising dynamics underpinning the hegemonic notion of Irish national identity and the state formation that relies on it, but also its propensity to marginalise and occlude many located within the so-called majority white ethnic society (Feldman 2006, 2008). Yet while research and civil society have focused primarily on migrants’ experiences of racism and othering, this, as argued elsewhere, ultimately leaves whiteness uninterrogated and deracialised, continuing to function as the unmarked norm, over-racialises and essentialises the ‘otherness’ of visible minorities, and thwarts deeper understandings of the intersecting and multiplicitous dynamics of marginalisation and othering which underpin all racial and cultural positionings (Brah 1996; Nayak 2003; Frankenberg 1999).

As Knowles (2003) observes, it is in the nexus of peoples’ personal crises of existence and the regimes that shape their lives where the racial social order is both constructed and subverted. As such, this paper draws on biographical interviews with white Irish people active in anti-racism and migrant solidarity organisations to gain insights into the experiences and epiphanies contributing to their development of interculturalist or ‘race cognizant’ (Frankenberg 1993), as opposed to primordialist, orientations, how these have shaped their anti-racism involvement and practices, and their implications in the wider contexts of race/identity politics and debates. It also considers the ways in which biographical approaches can illuminate the intersectionalities of race, class and gender, and the complex inter-relationships between national identities, othernesses and racisms, as they both inspire and undermine anti-racist mobilisation and the transformation of racialised social orders.