Letter to the Editor: Failing Europe by fearmongering

Letter to the Editor

The Irish Times 
Failing Europe by fearmongering


A Chara,

As a Europhile and a career-oriented woman, I am delighted that Professor William Reville (‘Why is Europe losing the will to breed?, 19 January) has raised the issues that face me in making my reproductive choices. He is right that we have not yet worked out how to support women in the workplace while facilitating family life, and that we have failed to commit the necessary political and economic resources to resolving this problem.
I am dismayed, however, that he chooses to wrap this important issue in fearmongering of cultural loss and immigration, echoing the scientific racism of Europe’s darker past. I know that I am not alone when I question who he means by ‘indigenous Europeans’ given the genetic diversity of Europe over the last centuries. His nostalgic view of Europe denies the cultural assemblage and appropriation that have constituted European development, and his dismissal of the contributions of immigrants to Europe over many centuries denies the cultural, political, economic and social developments in other continents from which Europe has gained much. This multiculturalism has been part of the success of the European project, and continues to regenerate and reproduce European cultures. 
In calling for an end to multiculturalism, political correctness, and attacks on ‘our values’, Reville speaks to a notion of Europe that is monoracial and monocultural, to an imagined Europe that has not had to face the horrors of political regimes that have effaced the rights of their citizens, sought genetic purity, committed cultural genocide on European minorities over centuries, and a Europe that would never have had seen the need to instil human rights protections to make us more aware of the value of diversity, and more united in our determination to value the contributions of all of our citizens regardless of identity.
That Europe does not exist, so he need not fear that it is dying.
Europeans, of all ethnic, racialised and national backgrounds, are reproducing less because of the influence of higher education levels (including student debt), later marriage, two-income economies, precarious employment and poor childcare support across the continent. Migrants to Europe, both by cultural assimilation and structural constraint, experience the same pressures. We will be much better served by attending to these issues, considering the fullest contribution of women to the economy and society in our work as well as our reproductive capacity, than by fearmongering about immigration and cultural loss. 
Is mise le meas, 
Dr Lucy Michael

Ulster University 



Why I would not participate in the Claire Byrne Live show on freedom of speech

Statement of non-participation in the Claire Byrne Live show, 9 January 2017 by Dr Lucy Michael, Ulster University and Shane O’Curry, Director, ENAR Ireland.

 The Claire Byrne Live show on RTE on Monday 9 January intends to discuss freedom of speech. To that end, the production team invited Shane O’Curry of ENAR Ireland and I as experts on racism to participate in the programme.

This statement explains why we have not done so, and acts as a statement of record for our joint decision.

The intention of the production team in establishing this debate appears to be to cause controversy without concern for ensuring that the debate properly represents the position of the invited guests, without concern for representing the diversity of opinion in Irish society around these issues, and without properly considering that the debate centres extremist speech, giving undue exposure to commentators who put hate speech into the media.

Hate speech, of the kind published by both Nicholas Pell and Brenda Power, who will be panellists, has been well documented as producing direct and indirect harms to ethnic minorities, women and other less powerful groups. RTE, in inviting both Pell and Power to represent the defence of freedom of speech, is failing to hold extremists to account for the impact of their incitement to hatred. It also, by means of the structuring of the debate, improperly positions Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International and Rosemary McCabe of the Irish Times in opposition to an ill-informed argument for entirely unlimited freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech, like all rights, must be balanced with the harms which may arise from it, and which affect the human rights of others. Both Pell and Power argue for an unlimited right which permits the expression of white supremacist, racist and genocidal views. We believe that it is essential that these are properly named.

A balanced debate on the subject, which would adequately inform the public in Ireland, would take account of this negotiation of harms and rights, and be informed by the legal and social experiences of other democracies. It is our contention that by establishing the debate between the publishers of hate speech on the one hand, and Amnesty on the other, RTE sets out to misrepresent the available range of positions and weight of evidence in this global debate.

Throughout the day, we have made efforts to work with the production team to inform and support the preparation for this debate. We have worked closely with them to discuss the legal and political ramifications for Irish media outlets, and to provide evidence of harms arising from hate speech (which we have jointly published regularly since 2013). It was our belief that expertise on racism and prejudice was key to an informed debate of this nature, given the appearance of Nicholas Pell, and we offered that expertise. However, we were disappointed to learn late this evening that Brenda Power had also been invited to the panel. Ms. Power’s publications have previously been the subject of complaint to the Press Ombudsman for genocidal language about Travellers.

We feel that the contempt shown by both Mr Pell and Ms Power for ethnic minorities in this country should have been taken more seriously by the production team. We further believe that the production team are acting recklessly in inviting both commentators, in the privileged place of panellists, to repeat their claims. We have little faith in the production team to robustly challenge hate speech arising in the course of the programme, and we base this belief on recent failures to challenge hate speech against refugees and Muslims in December by a panellist and audience members.

It is the responsibility of the broadcaster, delegated to the production team, to ensure that incitement to hatred is not broadcast. We feel strongly that the production team have not adequately taken cognisance of their legal and editorial responsibilities in this regards and established tonight’s programme accordingly.

Like Colm O’Gorman, and Amnesty, we are strong advocates of freedom of expression. We believe that the subject of freedom of speech warrants regular and robust debate, and we remain open to engaging in those debates. We will not, however, do so where the subsequent harms to the ethnic minorities we work closely with are so evident as in this planned broadcast.

Dr Lucy Michael, Ulster University

Shane O’Curry, Director, ENAR Ireland


PDF for download: statement-of-non-participation-in-rte-claire-byrne-live-programme-9-jan-2017-on-freedom-of-speech


It’s not ‘Opinion’, it’s a manifesto and misinformation: reflecting on the Irish Times publication of an ‘alt-right’ glossary

The debate on the Irish Times publication of a ‘glossary’ on the far-right-posing-as-alt-right prompts questions about the engagement of mainstream media of reputation with the ideas, language and leaders of the movement. Here I try to engage with some of these, understanding the key issues for media outlets, their readership and anti-racists in addressing this new challenge.

Stylish racists and the problem of irony

The mainstream media’s fascination with the exposure (not rise) of the far-right’s new branding is understandable, but not acceptable. It is not new either. For decades there has been a willingness to accommodate and admire racists in nice suits or trending new styles.

If you can wear a jacket well, and speak eloquently, you’re on the first rung of the acceptable racists ladder. Because some styles might go in and out of fashion, but looking and sounding successful middle-class (I’m looking at you Nigel, Katie, et al) allows you access to ‘respectable’ media outlets who like a nicely turned phrase and a familiar class accent. Even if you have been denounced by the United Nations for ‘pre-genocidal’ language (Katie, again), or exposed as a serial liar and hypocrite (Nigel).

Movements that combine new styles with old ideologies are not less persistent or dangerous.  Lester Bangs, writing in 1979 on young American racists appropriating punk style and the hate crimes committed by them, noted

“after a while this casual, even ironic, embrace of the totems of bigotry crosses over into total poison”. (cited in “Tweedy racists and “ironic” anti-Semites: the alt-right fits a historical pattern“, Vox)

Richard Spencer, self-proclaimed leader of the so-called ‘alt-right’, and overt white nationalist, described the Nazi-style salutes by a crowd at a recent event as being in the ‘spirit of irony and exuberance’. Forgive me for saying, but when I’m feeling exuberant, the last thing I think to do (or anyone around me to do) is to make a nazi-style salute. Perhaps if I was a fan of white nationalism the sentiment might come more easily. But then it wouldn’t be ironic, would it?

If everything is ‘ironic’, it cannot be argued with. All statements can be made, repeated, used to harass and used to condone vile acts, all without any responsibility being taken for the harms they do or the beliefs they represent. Irony is the strongest tool in the post-truth pushers toolbox.

Why the tendency to be enamoured of repackaged racists? Accessing the media

The best explanation for the heightened media exposure of the far-right under the guise of ‘alt-right’ is the access to new and multiple media platforms which the social media age has facilitated. This is the age of the #hashtag and 140 character assertions designed to shock, intrigue, and ultimately produce clicks. And if there’s one reason for the current fascination of mainstream media with the far-right, in the age of online advertising, it’s clickbait.

If you can shock, if you can awe, if you can make people irate enough with a headline, you can produce clicks. And clicks mean money for media outlets, and kudos and continuing contracts for the would-be celebrity racists behind them. Opinion columns are the favoured outlets of such would-be celebrity racists, because they are not subjected to the same standards of fact-checking or evidence as ‘news’ articles. This is why Katie Hopkins and Ian O’Doherty enjoy their ‘honest’ discussions about ethnic minorities, immigration, Islam, and the working class in their respective papers without being held to account by their Editors.

The same explanation is implied by the Irish Times in explanation of its publication of the ‘everything you need to know’ article about the so-called ‘alt-right’: its Opinions Editor writes: “the purpose of the Opinion and Analysis section is to inform readers about the issues of the day, offer insights and give them something to think about.” He goes on, “Ultimately we trust in the ability of our readers to make their own minds up.”  The implication is that the same standards of research which are expected in other parts of the paper are not expected in the Opinions column. The same point was relied on in Paddy Smyth’s explanation on Newstalk Drive: “we should not be concerned about protecting our readers”. Yet when I pointed out that the Opinions piece is designed to inform readers about the issues of the day first, and then stimulate debate, he was not interested at all in debating the first part, which is about the standards of ‘truth’ or evidence which are expected in an Opinions piece.

When is a racist not a racist? When he says so.

The question which I think, and you are of course free to disagree, is most important is the extent to which we accept and use in daily discussion the terms which are offered to us by the far-right. Mainstreaming those terms, and most importantly how they are defined by the far-right, shuts down debate, because they seek to delegitimise and dehumanise those who they disagree with. This is not about whether terms are ‘offensive’ or not. Offense is relative.

The problem I identify is with terms which refer to racist stereotypes being mainstreamed and treated as anything other than the terms of racists. Definitions which deny widely-evidenced racism in the criminal justice system or policing, which are bigoted, misogynistic and transphobic, which equate income inequality and job insecurity with historical experiences of slavery and genocide  – these are not objective ‘definitions’ by any means, but passionately-held beliefs.  That doesn’t mean that I want them shut down. It does mean that I expect more of a highly-regarded national newspaper like the Irish Times than to lend their status and reputation to such ‘definitions’.

It also importantly means exercising editorial judgement over how to title an Opinion piece. This phrase “everything you need to know” is probably over-used in most mainstream media, but in the Irish Times, it usually refers to well-informed reviews written by IT journalists, and sometimes humorous comment on recent trends, such as the new obsession with cosiness or ‘hygge‘. Never before has it been used to represent a one-sided view of an extremist movement by an admirer of that movement.

There are alternative primers. You can try the Anti-Defamation League’s primer which reminds us that ‘Alt-right’ is a rebranding project above all. ” The term “Alt Right” originated with extremists but increasingly has found its way into the mainstream media.   Alt Right is short for “alternative right.”  This vague term actually encompasses a range of people on the extreme right who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of forms of conservatism that embrace implicit or explicit racism or white supremacy.”

Or you might prefer the CBS article ‘Steve Bannon and the alt-right: a primer‘, which describes how “conservative suspicions of diversity, inclusion, feminism, and political correctness had metastasized into something much darker.” […] “This was the alt-right, a collection of racists, pick-up artists, men’s rights activists, and other noxious trolls of the internet.”

None of this is flattering to the rebrand. Good research on the part of the Irish Times Opinions Editor might have turned up such primers and taken cognisance of their content. A really good primer on the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ (the kind of thing you might hope for from the IT given the strength of its journalistic talent) would perhaps have produced less clicks though.

It is key for any movement to define itself, and not be defined by others. The rebrand is an attempt to do exactly this, making racism and bigotry fashionable and politically relevant. A tried and tested method of the far-right-posing-as-alt-right is to offer a ‘primer’ to their own language, presenting definitions which delegitimise other groups and perspectives, and dehumanising. Milos Yannopoulos and Allum Bukhari posted one on Breitbart last year – less an explainer for the masses, and more a manifesto. This earlier primer offers a description of “youthful energy and jarring, taboo-defying rhetoric” (sound familiar?). It suggests that there is little to be afraid of from those who follow the rebranded far-right. After all, it’s all just a bit of irony.

“Just as the kids of the 60s shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll, so too do the alt-right’s young meme brigades shock older generations with outrageous caricatures, from the Jewish “Shlomo Shekelburg” to “Remove Kebab,” an internet in-joke about the Bosnian genocide.”

It’s not the only ‘primer’ to the ‘alt-right’ written by the far-right. You can look to “An Alt-Right Primer, Sans Media Lies and Cherry-Picking” on Unbowed, Unbent, Uncucked, or “A Normie’s Guide to the Alt-Right” on neo-nazi website  Daily Stormer.

So when the Irish Times publishes a ‘glossary’ or primer of the rebranded far-right, the question really is not of free speech, or difference of opinion, but the extent to which a newspaper of repute is willing to lend that reputation to Opinion writers who willingly mislead and misinform readers, in a section designed (in the IT’s words) “to inform readers about the issues of the day”. There is no question that the publication has stimulated debate, another purpose of the Opinions section, but there is an ambiguity in the Irish Times defense which on the one hand says that “someone reading the piece would be better informed abou the Alt-right movement and what it stands for” and that readers are already sufficiently informed about the movement to “make their own minds up”.  If I have to go to the Washington Post to get accurate information about the far-right’s narrative in order to inform my reading of the Irish Times’ publication of a piece of far-right misinformation, what does that say about the reputation of the latter for informing its readership?
Update: I was invited on Newstalk FM to discuss the issue with Patrick Smith of the Irish Times. You can read a brief summary and access the full recording here. 


The Irish Times adopts the language of the far-right

Yesterday’s bizarre and deeply problematic ‘opinion’ piece in the Irish Times by an American writer living in Ireland which offered “everything you need to know” about the so-called alt-right that is everything you need to know except (obviously) any discussion about the extent to which they trade in racism, misogny, transphobia, and ‘post-truth’, must prompt a debate about how we expect our press to deal with far-right ideologues who will use any trick available to get their discourse into the mainstream media.

Our press needs to responsibly address the new confidence of the far-right and so-called ‘alt-right’ (let’s call them what they are, white supremacists), without facilitating the acceptance of their discourse and normalisation of their ideals.

We need to know how the press can handle this better, and why we should keep reminding them of their responsibilities, and opportunities, to do journalism well.

In November, Samira Ahmed published a great piece in The Guardian ‘How to interview extremists – and avoid normalising racism‘ in which she says the press should “Report them fairly, and challenge them robustly”, remembering all the time the “need to focus on reporting what controversial political figures actually do – not just see what they might say if you give them the airtime.” This piece relates particularly to interviewing individual figures, but the same principle should be applied to opinion pieces which are so unbalanced, and misleading, as to actually make the audience unable to distinguish where the truth starts and stops.

Usually when we talk about ‘normalising’ racism , we are talking about the way in which extreme racist language and ideas become part of our everyday language and range of ideas. By engaging with the language of extremists, we are forced to debate on their terms, not ours, and to be forced to defend long-established traditions of human and civil rights in a language which denies the very humanity of those who most need protection (Samira Ahmed’s piece refers to recent far-right “questions” over the ‘humanity’ of Jews in America). Debating on someone else’s terms is often part and parcel of democracy – the problem arises when those terms explicitly cannot and do not allow for the validity of other perspectives or those who offer them. By facilitating the easing of far-right language into the mainstream media, the Irish Times takes us down a very dangerous path indeed.



iReport.ie shows continuing rise of racist incident reporting

The latest analysis from iReport.ie has been covered in a range of Irish media

Irish Independent,  Irish children left with burns after being sprayed with bleach in racist incident 

The Irish News  ‘Racism and hate crimes reach highest level on record

Irish Mirror Racist incidents in Ireland have increased ‘significantly’, report shows

thejournal.ie , ‘He called my son a monkey and black b****rd’: Rise in reports of racistincidents

Race Equality Works for Northern Ireland

This morning we launch a new report on race equality in Northern Ireland’s workplaces, based on in-depth research conducted with rewni20 top employers in the region.

The research has been conducted in collaboration with Business in the Community and CRAIC NI, with support from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

The research finds that:

  • Employers in sectors which employ high numbers of migrant workers (mostly white European) have engaged extensively with equality measures, but have focused on language and cultural integration. Low numbers of Northern Irish ethnic minorities in other sectors has invited some complacency about the need to address race equality issues beyond migrant workers.
  • Employers in other sectors have been highly influenced by the focus of government and equality bodies on migrant workers, and largely view the race equality agenda through this perspective. But migrant workers working in low skill sectors initially due to lack of English fluency are not viewed as potential future recruits to other sectors, despite the high skills levels which they often bring to Northern Ireland.
  • Employers assume that racial prejudice is decreasing in Northern Ireland, particularly amongst young people, contrary to evidence from recent surveys. Half of employers interviewed do not want to take responsibility for educating employees about racial bias, and view racial bias training as a burden. Alternatives including unconscious bias training or emphasis on non-prejudiced teamwork have been adopted with varying success. Employers who did not provide racial bias training to employees felt poorly equipped to challenge racist views and behaviours in the workplace which harmed employee relations, particularly where these were couched in humour.
  • Employers who implemented a zero tolerance approach to discrimination and harassment reported its success in strengthening employee efficacy and producing a strong team environment and respectful work culture, even where there is not significant training on racial or other biases
  • Employers are experienced and knowledgeable about a wide range of equality measures which can be implemented, but do not feel that they have been convinced of the case for prioritising race equality to date. This is the most significant obstacle identified in the research. There is support for affirmative action for community background and gender, but private sector employers largely are not convinced that affirmative action is appropriate to address race equality in Northern Ireland.
  • Employers which shared an understanding between management and employees of the benefit of an equality perspective in all aspects of their business experienced fewer problems between employees and were able to incorporate new equality measures more easily. Most employers were able to identify at least one action which they could implement immediately to improve race equality in their workplace. Capacity to undertake this action is influenced by the extent to which equality issues were seen as part of the wider culture of the business. Access to information about local demographics and actions taken by other Northern Ireland employers increased positive responses to the case for expanding race equality measures.


The research suggests a range of measures which employers can adopt:

  • Clearly communicate the value of diversity for your organisation
    • Make statements about diversity visible and meaningful to staff at all levels – this helps to address attrition, since staff are more likely to commit to a workplace when they perceive the organisation as a whole as being a place they can thrive, and are more likely to opt for informal resolution of conflicts. It also helps to support diverse recruitment. Think about external messages – advertising of positions, products and statements in the media are all read by wider audiences – as well as your existing staff.
  • Commit to raising awareness of racial bias
    • Communications about the importance of equality in the organisation underpins staff positivity about training. Management who take training with their team produce more commitment as education is seen as a joint venture. Training is also investment in the wider society of Northern Ireland, since people tend to mix in more diverse groups at work than outside. Staff employ that knowledge and experience more widely in their family and community life, creating positive interactions beyond your business, and widening their experience and perceptions.
  • Be aware of the wider context
    • Racism is high in Northern Ireland, and is not the preserve of any particular group. Regular experience of suspicion or harassment affects ethnic minorities and migrants, but also the neighbourhoods we live in and schools our children attend. Ensuring that the workplace is a psychologically safe space for all staff increases productivity and commitment.
  • Know the numbers
    • Make sense of the wider picture of race equality in Northern Ireland. Employers familiar with local demographics are better equipped to address emerging issues and also to address the local population as service users, customers or potential staff.
  • Opt for open, transparent communication
    • Consultation and feedback are key to understanding how well established the message about diversity is within the workplace culture. Staff surveys, feedback sessions, staff networks and anonymous reporting channels are all ways of ensuring that you have the widest range of information available, and all can be integrated with other forms of consultation and feedback.
  • Get comfortable talking about racial bias
    • Workplaces where there is confident and knowledgeable communication about racial bias are better equipped to deal with harassment, unconscious discrimination and structural  inequalities. Introducing the vocabulary of fair treatment and respect for people of all backgrounds helps to focus on positive efforts to address existing inequalities and prevent further inequalities arising in your business.
  • Showcase success
    • Work with ethnic minority and migrant staff to find ways to create visibility for diverse role models. Be creative in ways of  managing visibility, using internal communications and external showcasing opportunities effectively to maximise benefit without creating unnecessary additional burdens for ethnic minority and migrant staff which might harm their progression.
  • Keep equality on the table
    • Consider how the value of diversity is reflected in your business activities. Performance evaluation and team goals can be adapted to reflect the core message you create about diversity in your organisation. Setting goals on equality which are objectively measurable are key to ensuring that the organisation stays up to date. Creating a policy review schedule or audit process can prevent slippage on goals, and prompts staff to check for updated materials and consider the changing context for the business and its employees.

You can read the full report here race-equality-works-for-northern-ireland-2016

Book launch: Africans are not Black

I’m excited to see Kwesi Tsri’s book out in print with a book launch next week at UCD. Kwesi argues for abandoning the use of the term ‘black’ to describe and categorise Africans, directly addressing the argument that ‘black’ can be turned into a positive concept, demonstrating the failure of this approach to deal with the real problems raised by imposing the term ‘black’ on its human referents.

This has been a particular point of discussion in Ireland since we have not had here the same weight of movement to positively claim the word ‘Black’, and recent African immigration has pointed to the impact of that on self-identification and anti-racism here. I hope to post a longer discursive post on this in due course, but in the meantime, hope to see you at Kwesi’s launch!

Details below.

Join Routledge, and the UCD Equality Studies Centre, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice in welcoming… Kwesi Tsri on Thursday 29th September, for a public lecture from 6-7pm, in the Newman Theatre 1, Newman Building, UCD with a book launch by Professor John Baker in UCD Staff Common Room, Newman Building at 7.30pm