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Confronting Racism Through Arts: Meet ABCD A Black Child’s Dilemma

European Solidarity Corps Youth 11 min read, August 13, 2020

Solidarity projects are funded through the European Solidarity Corps programme. They are initiated, developed and implemented by young people over a period of two to twelve months. They provide opportunities for groups of people aged 18 to 30 to express solidarity and commitment to bringing positive change to their local community.

Racism, social exclusion, bullying and mental health are the issues a group of young Cork-based creatives aim to address through their initiative ‘ABCD A Black Child’s Dilemma’, a solidarity project funded through the European Solidarity Corps programme.

This youth-led group plans to use their creative talents in music, film and the arts as a platform to share stories and strengthen bonds; creating dialogue and understanding around the issues facing young people from minority backgrounds in Ireland today.

Racism, social exclusion, bullying and mental health are the issues a group of young Cork-based creatives aim to address through their recent initiative ‘ABCD A Black Child’s Dilemma’
ABCD

ABCD A Black Child’s Dilemma: Confronting Racism

The diverse members of this group were not only united in their creative pursuits, but through their first-hand experience of discrimination and social exclusion while growing up in Ireland - an experience which is all too common for minorities. This experience - rather than getting them down - has fueled their collective desire to create a more connected and compassionate Ireland for future youth of all backgrounds to grow up in.

With their diverse heritage, strong ties of friendship and combined talents in the fields of youth work and the creative arts, this team of six is uniquely poised to tackle the problem of racial discrimination for Ireland’s youth.

Let’s Meet the Group

Zen is a musician, film/photographer, painter and youth worker with YMCA.
Dziugas is an up-and-coming record producer.
Fabian is an accomplished photographer and filmmaker, who also works with YMCA.
Fionnuala is pursuing a degree in International Development and Food Policy. She also volunteers with youth services and shares her talent for art and photography.
Raphael is a musician and spoken-word artist with experience as a youth worker in both the YMCA and Tribe. He is also currently studying Occupational Therapy.
Rebecca is a painter and actor with youth work experience. Rebecca will be acting as coach to support the group as they carry out their project.

Léargas caught up with the group to discuss their project. Here we examine the motivation behind its development and how it tackles the issue of racism in Ireland. Find out more about their journey so far, and what lies ahead for ABCD A Black Child’s Dilemma.

How Did the Group Come Together for This Solidarity Project?

Raphael: “Everybody in the group is very creative and we all have similar interests. I was talking to Nora, a Youth Trainer with Léargas last year. She did a European Solidarity Corps Information Session in UCC and I decided, you know what, these are my friends and these are the most creative people I know and we’re all on the same page in regards to our views and experiences. We know each other very well, so I decided to ask them to be part of a solidarity project. And here we are today!”

“We’re all on the same page in regards to our views and experiences.”

What Inspired You to Develop Your Solidarity Project ABCD A Black Childs Dilemma?

Raphael: “We’d always talk about the challenges we faced coming from different backgrounds; black or another minority group. And even Zen last year did a whole album based on his experiences of racism. Once Nora did the ESC Information Session, I decided to talk to the lads. We all agreed that we should talk about the various disadvantages that come from being of a minority group. We decided on the name ABCD because it was catchy. I think mainly it came from personal experiences and just constant conversation among us.”

Zen: “I started working on a music album, which I then put on Spotify and the whole album was called ‘Systematic Nonsense’, which was based on racism that I’ve experienced and other people have experienced. The whole idea - it was that I was just trying to highlight all the challenges we were facing through music. When Rapha went to the Information Session, he came back and he was like ‘You know we could actually do this solidarity project’. I think we all feel so strongly about this topic that we would have started this project anyway, but then, with the European Solidarity Corps there was more potential for it to happen quicker and unite us as one group and to be well supported as well!”

As a Group How Do You See Racism in Ireland?

Fabian: “Yes, there is racism. Quite often we wouldn’t recognise it the same way, em because, not sure, I think it’s kind of just more seeped into the society. It has always been like “Ah sure, it’s a bit of a craic” but that can only go so far.”

Zen: “Racism in Ireland is silent and it's very deadly. Even with my own project, I called it ‘Systematic Nonsense' because racism is hidden in the institutions. You cannot actually go and pinpoint it unless you are the one facing the racism. An Irish person would not be able to actually go and say “Stop doing that, that’s being racist” because they cannot see it. It’s difficult to explain it to them.”

“If People Don't See It, They Don't Believe It's Happening”

Zen: “Being black in Ireland, you’re often painted with the Afro-American brush. We are quickly judged based on black people in America. Even with the recent protests, people questioned why we were protesting here. ‘It's not happening here’. But it is! We have our own issues that are different from American ones. We are protesting in solidarity with Irish issues!

Direct Provision for example, is a racist system, employment discrimination based on your name...my white friends that go for the same jobs, they don’t see it! They’re shocked when I tell them I got stopped by the police looking for drugs...and I’m a youth worker! If people don't see it, they don't believe it's happening. It's the same story over and over. Hopefully this project can give us a different platform for the message to be heard.”

Protests in the US

Raphael: “Ireland, in itself, has a very passive culture where you just shrug things off and laugh things off very easily. Because of growing up here 20 years, I’ve often just shrugged things off and thought, like, people were being a bit extra.

Everybody is just laughing it off, including myself, even though its hurting me. I’m just laughing it off because everybody else is laughing it off and I don’t want to make a big scene. That, I think, continues until you go home and you’re hurt and you reflect on it and your mental health becomes affected by it.”

Fionnuala: “We laugh in the moment because we/I have been scared to make people uncomfortable.”

What Are the Aims of the Project?

Fionnuala: “We all had these experiences. You voice it and are often told it’s not happening, so we were just trying to find another way to create a dialogue and raise awareness and also to target the youth - ‘You are not alone and we have similar experiences’. By putting forward our experiences - and maybe what we have learnt growing up with multiple identities - we can kind of help the youth figure out themselves, so they won’t have to fall in to the same state we did. Mental health is a big part of the project as well.”

Does Racism Affect How You View Your Own Identity?

Raphael: “I’ve been living in Ireland for 20 years now. When I first came here, we were in a Direct Provision centre for two years in West Cork. Then we moved to Cork city. So I was maybe eight-years-old at the time and all I knew was Ireland. My identity? I felt like I was Irish despite not having an Irish passport or citizenship. I only got my citizenship at the start of this year. Prior to all that, I felt like I was Irish.

I never questioned myself until it got to a stage where people would question my name, or my skin tone or the type of music or food I like, or the other side of my culture which is Togolese. So I’m from Togo as well as Ireland. I like to say that I’m from both as I identify with both. I didn’t question myself or my Irishness until people questioned me about who I was.”

“I didn’t question myself or my Irishness until people questioned me about who I was.”

“We’re Cool With You, But You’re Black”

Zen: “I came when I was 15 in 2006. I went straight to secondary school and that’s like... I’m a teenager, I have my own identity problems. If I’m a rocker or a punk or whatever, that’s already going on with myself. Then when I’m trying to fit in and I’m pointed out. Like “We’re cool with you, but you’re black” or “We’re cool with you, but you’re African”. Even if I end up in a group of people who like the same music as me, I’m still the African guy who likes this music - my African part has to come into it. Like I do painting, but I’m an African painter apparently.

The problem - sometimes for me personally - comes to a point where I have think ‘Do I want to integrate into this society if it’s not accepting me?’ ‘Do I want to be part of this society?’

At the end, we have - I don’t know - is it a paradox or is it a dilemma? One of those things where we’re stuck in the middle. We don’t know what to identify with- that’s my perspective on this.”

How Does Arts Have a Role in Tackling Racism?

Dziugas: “Music is one hell of a way to spread awareness or to spread a message. Music can be used as a significant tool to bring up the issues of social injustice, especially in hip hop. Hip hop has always been about the voice, about the people more than anything else and what the people have to say.”

Zen: “In Ireland specifically, there is a lot of white Irish people who listen to hip hop a lot. They love hip hop! They seem to learn the lyrics very fast sometimes. It’s very surprising! They know the lyrics, so if there is a message in the song, that’s an easy way to actually slip in the message. I think it tackles this sense that they don’t believe it’s happening, because if they are now listening to a hip hop song that’s made in Ireland or a spoken-word that actually references, for example, direct provision or racism in Cork city, then that slowly prompts something like a question or curiosity, like ‘What is this guy talking about’, you know?

Raphael: “I feel like by using performance arts, it’s almost like an icebreaker. So if we release music or art or use photography, it makes people a bit more comfortable to talk about what the art was about, or what that song was about, or what that photograph was about. I think the main thing we want to do is create dialogue and I think performance arts is like an icebreaker.”

Who is the Target Audience?

Fabian: “Everyone! Music is very broad. It’s one of the easiest ways to seep through information. You can hear a song in a club or you would hear a song by a busker or you would hear something like that and it’s just kind of unconscious. You get a melody, you get a lyric, you get something in your head and you might not even realise those lyrics, and those feelings create something for you that you can reflect to and that works for anyone and everyone.”

“We’re trying to create a story here where it’s also visually appealing, so anyone can look at this video and not even have consumed the song, but enjoyed the story and that makes it very versatile.”

What are the Benefits of Carrying out a Solidarity Project?

Zen: “With Léargas, our platform is bigger now. The message is going to reach a bigger audience.”

Raphael: “I think the solidarity project gives us credibility. We’re now an organisation. Before, we were just friends! We could have gone around to Transition Year classes and said ‘We’re just a group of lads and we want to do a workshop!’ But the fact we have the backing, that we’re under a solidarity project, it makes us more credible and gives the school or youth centre more confidence in us.

Also the structure helps. We have a time frame and we have to document everything, so we’re going to be organised more than we ever would have been without the project. In the past, we have taken money out of our own pockets to do these kinds of things, but this makes us focus on the project a whole lot more. We don’t have to worry so much about finance, as we had to before.”

Fabian: “It eliminates limitations!”

Raphael: “Yeah there are no more barriers, the barriers aren’t as strong as before!”

You can contact Suzanne or Noeleen if you’d like to know more.

Image credit: ABCD and Pexels

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