After Optimism: Ireland, Racism and Globalisation
Lentin, Ronit and Robbie McVeigh
Metro Eireann Publications,
Lentin and McVeigh set out to theorise the evolution of Ireland from a 'racial' to a 'racist' state, a process exemplified by the 2004 Citizenship Referendum that redefined 'Irishness'. Overturning the previous Constitutional entitlement to citizenship based on birth, the referendum recast Irishness in terms of lineage, blood and culture or, 'ethnicity or 'connection' to the country' (p.10). A crucial change, it signalled a transition from 'institutional' to 'constitutional racism' (p.10).
For the authors this development needs to be understood in relation to the emergence of the Celtic tiger, globalisation, especially its intensification of migration, and the 'cooption' of anti-racism in Ireland. While each of these themes is developed, the authors discuss extensively the silencing of anti-racism. In sharp contrast to their previous edited book, Racism and Anti-Racism in Ireland (2002) that was typified by optimism around anti-racism. The authors argue that we have been seduced by a new discourse, promoted by a state-led/funded anti-racism industry that excludes racism through the adoption of soothing tones and phrases, such as 'ethnic/cultural difference', 'integration', 'multiculturalism' and 'a commonsense approach to immigration'. Shackled thus, 'Anti-racism has been backed into the paradigm of interculturalism' and in a world where we are all anti-racist, 'who could argue against the principle of 'integration' (p.166). In short, the authors contend that anti-racism has been stripped of its critical edge.
With obvious passion, Lentin and McVeigh develop their thesis over ten chapters. The first draws upon a number of theories, including Goldberg's 'racial state' and Foucault's 'biopolitics', to construct a framework for analysis. Chapter two focuses on the Republic of Ireland as a 'weak' state, increasingly shaped by policy dictated by the U.S.A., U.K. and E.U. Against this backdrop, chapters three and four examine the impact of large-scale immigration in the Celtic tiger era. Here, some of the myths and histrionics that surrounded issues such as the 'flood' and 'scapegoating' of immigrants are explored, as it the state's contradictory response. On the one hand, immigration was essential for continued economic progress and, therefore, 'good'. On the other hand, citizenship rights, asylum legislation and immigration controls became increasingly restrictive. All immigrants were equal; it was just that some were more equal than others. Chapters five and six illuminate these issues in more detail, investigating the policing of controls and the gendered dimension of Irish racism. The clock is turned back in chapters seven and eight to expose the history and continuity of Irish racism, concentrating on anti-Semitism and anti-Travellerism, respectively. Chapter nine switches attention to the 'statelet' of Northern Ireland, the 'Race Hate Capital of Europe'. Though this is the only chapter that focuses exclusively on Northern Ireland, comparisons feature throughout the book.
Chapter ten binds all the threads together and is scathing in its condemnation of the hypocrisy that surrounds celebrity organised anti-racism/poverty events and the seeming failure of the public to connect anti-racism/poverty 'wristbands' and merchandise with sweatshops and exploitation. Though the point is a valid one, the authors are perhaps, overzealous in their disapproval. Equal condemnation is levelled at those 'white Irish people' that do 'things 'for' black people and other minority ethnic groups' or who oppose racism but 'work for or with the racial state' (p.173/174). While again, the point is a valid one, it may be that by adopting this approach the authors will alienate the very people that are best placed to bridge the gap between their theory and practice.
However, this is not as problematic as chapter one, where a fuller and clearer explanation of the complex theories involved and, the manner in which the authors re-theorise them would have been of benefit. This is compounded by a failure to adequately tease out how the authors define 'race', 'ethnicity' and 'culture', a surprising omission given that the authors themselves acknowledge that these terms are 'often unclear and under-theorised' (p.7). As a consequence, a somewhat interchangeable use of the terms permeates the book and clarity is lost in the confusion. That said, the book is well researched and thought provoking, challenging us to re-examine issues of racism, state control, power and empowerment. More importantly, it has the potential to inform practice in many areas from community development to social care.
National University of Ireland, Galway