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“We came out, a car drove up, called her a ‘n***er lover’ and drove away. She was obviously deeply upset because she couldn’t be seen as someone who was in a genuine relationship.” Richard Bashir Otukoya: “There was no, ‘Oh look at this guy, he’s got a job, he’s doing his Ph D.’ There was none of that.It was just, ‘No, you’re black.’ That’s it.” Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times As someone who has suffered “subtle racism and explicit racism” all his life, the incident did not unnerve Otukoya (“That’s fine because then you know their intentions”).
According to statistics released by the European Network Against Racism (Enar) Ireland last August, people of “black-African” background were involved in the highest number of reported cases of racist assaults.He was a youthful black man who had moved to Ireland from Nigeria when he was nine. From the moment their union was forged, the young lovers’ came under a hydraulic press of neighbourhood gossip, disapproving friends and constant sideways glances.“If looks could kill,” Otukoya says, “I’d probably be dead at this stage.” Not everyone uncomfortable with a romance between a black man and white woman was as tactile.But his experiences have soured him on the idea of ever entering an interracial relationship again.“I wouldn’t dare put another girl through that again,” he says.
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The experiences they describe echo an old racist slight that has been thrown at men of colour who immigrate to predominately white nations since time immemorial: “They steal our jobs, they steal our women.” “It speaks of an Irish sense of patriarchy, that Irish men somehow own Irish women,” says Rebecca King-O’Riain, a senior lecturer in Maynooth University’s department of sociology.