Learning not to be racist

‘We learn to be racist, therefore we can learn not to be racist. Racism is not genetic. It has everything to do with power.’ – Jane Elliot What does discrimination mean? Since I emigrated from Poland and began to meet people of lots of different nationalities, I have been thinking about this question. On the internet I saw a quotation that discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another in a comparable situation because of their racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. However, in reality, discrimination is becoming increasingly subtle. What we have then is a different kind of discrimination. For example, if a job is advertised and if speaking a particular language is not an integral part of the job, eg kitchen porter, yet the advert states that only native English speakers can apply, this rules out fluent English speakers from different countries. So, what about Ireland? In legal terms, people are protected through legislation. Irish law is really clear on this subject, giving equal protection to different nationalities. In Dublin, there are a lot of trade unions which protect workers and they can feel really safe. I know of a lot of examples of discrimination in terms of work, but thanks to the trade union activists, the issue can be fought and fair treatment sought. However, legislation doesn’t necessarily effect human mentalities. Our nature is really sensitive and the wall between patriotism and discrimination is very thin. Some time ago I found myself in a really strange situation. As I was leaving work, I was stopped and my bag searched (I have to say that no one asked me to show what was in my bag. Hands were suddenly in my bag. All my tampons were out on the counter.) At the time, that situation was quite normal for me. I thought I was just chosen at random and the fact that in front of me were two Irish women leaving with big bags was of no consequence. But a few weeks later, another incident happened. Unfortunately, I heard someone saying ‘Don’t do that, a Polish girl can do it’ and then I started to analyse in a different way the first incident. I didn’t speak to anyone about it. Anyway, I started really, really thinking and for sure, incident number two is discrimination (I don’t believe that this person had really good intentions) but I am not so sure about the first incident. It’s really easy to be paranoid and to be in victim mode all the time. For sure, the topic of discrimination crops up in our lives every day. In this column, I just want to highlight it through personal experiences. I am not really experienced enough in journalistic terms to write in-depth about this difficult topic. As you can see, I have a problem deciding what exactly constitutes discrimination. However, I am sure of one thing, these incidents made me feel bad, not because I am Polish, but because I am human. Rasizm nie jest genetyczny