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Some thoughts on state racism

The horrible events of two Roma children being taken away from their families, undoubtedly, based on racial profiling, created a huge debate in Ireland.

Thankfully, there were many organizations, commentators and citizens who were extremely disgusted with how the state (the Gardaí, HSE, courts and political leaders etc.) and some of the mainstream media handled these events. Although there were all sorts of racist and out of context focus on Roma people, it would be not an overstatement to say that majority of the people in Ireland expressed solidarity with the two families. (Am I being optimistic?)

The two cases, both involving Roma families may indeed have a permanent effect on how we understand the issue of racism and state, and how we respond to it.

Greece and Ireland are the two  IMF countries which failed their children and risked their future but when it comes to Roma families they seem to be very concerned about the hair and eye colours of the children.

The irresponsible and hyper-active media reporting (understatement), especially focusing on the 'blonde angel' situation in Greece, while reporting the cases in Ireland; and all sorts of generalised and artificially 'factualised' statements about Roma people hit a thick-brick wall when the whole nation found out that the Roma families were indeed the real parents of the two children taken away by the state. People with racist and ‘Roma-phobic’ sentiments had suddenly lost all of their arguments and ended up having to discuss the - mildly put – collective mishandling of these cases by various state bodies.

No one in their right mindset can argue against the fact that these two cases were very explicit and textbook examples of racial profiling of a racist state machine.

Although the debate was shifted into the handling of the cases, there are some issues that need to be pointed out and debated in further detail.

The events in Ireland have shown us the real nature of the much spoken 'institutional' or 'state racism' and its practical/real consequences in people’s lives. They also now help us in our attempt to figure out whether the Irish state is racist or not, and if so, why it is racist and where does this racism come from.

Institutional racism is probably the most complicated and difficult form of racism to confront
Unlike racist gangs on the street, you can’t see it that easily. It is like a ghost that goes around in society without any immediately recognisable attributes.

It does not carry flags decorated with symbols of hatred.

You can't ban it; you can’t introduce laws against it.

You can’t arrest it by its own police force and you can’t lock it behind its own bars.

You can’t confront it on the streets and smash it.

You can’t sit down with it and try to change its mind by putting forward reasonable arguments against racism.

What is more, you can’t ignore it by turning your back and walking away from it.

“Yes people can be individually racist, but by and large the issue is the state, because the state is the only body that has the power to actually exclude and include in racial terms [...]” (1)

Do all of these points mean that there is no hope of getting rid of institutional or state racism?

No, absolutely not!

One would be of course tempted to scream “ONE SOLUTION….!” but that in itself is not going be enough. And it needs more than just wishful thinking.

Although within the current state structure we live in, it is not easy or even possible to do any of the things listed above, we can still fight the state racism. This fight certainly will not be a standalone and isolated fight without the masses living under the reality of the state racism.

I would argue that the first and foremost important aspect of fight against state racism is to explicitly and clearly expose it. The fight against a racist/fascist street gang that is attacking people may require different urgent actions but when it comes to state racism, the task at hand becomes a lot more complex.

The reason for exposing institutional racism being extremely important is not because of the pleasure of some “intellectual achievement”, but because of the necessity to turn it into a real, flesh and blood entity and bring it out of its hiding places such as the state departments, court rooms, police stations, schools and indeed the news channels.

The exposure of it as a 'physical evil' will also enable us to start questioning its origins and its real objectives. It will help us to understand how it operates.

Only then, we can make direct links between the state and the suffering of the people in the hands of its racist institutions.

Only then, we can clearly see that the institutional racism is not just a matter of state departments making some occasional mistakes, but that they are acting according a very clearly defined political agenda.

We can then see the link between state racism and all other forms of racism and how the racism on the street feeds off the racism of the state.

A racist person seeing the whole Irish state ganging on a Roma family will only gain confidence from this and become further convinced that what he is doing is right...

All of this will bring us to the wider analysis of the state. We will then end up defining the role of the courts, the law, the police and indeed the wider political system in the country.

However, the point is not just to understand all of this but also to change it. Unless our attempt to analyse and understand the state racism goes hand in hand with dismantling the racist system, all of this hard work could make a great PhD thesis or a great article but it won’t have any impact beyond the point of an intellectual argument.


No state, unless it is a fascist or an apartheid regime, will admit being racist. Even then, it would be a miracle to hear this voluntary admittance of being racist.

While the states will reject in every possible way that they are racist, they will also introduce laws that discriminate against certain people in the society.

The legal system of the state will be fundamentally non-transparent, anti-democratic and in the hands of an elite section of the society.

State will also play the nationalist game and introduce physical and political borders. These borders will be very useful in terms of controlling the people's migration as well as creating an artificial common national goal and national identity. These borders will create a sense of belonging and they will help in defining the 'us vs. others'

Immigration control will be a useful tool in manipulating the society. Exclusion of rights, based on arbitrary human characteristics such as place of birth, colour of skin, religion etc. will become important aspects of nationalism. These will ultimately feed into racist state actions in real life.

State will create a huge economic inequality and injustice that will have far reaching social consequences.

State will directly or indirectly support wars abroad that will ultimately create a huge refugee crisis somewhere around the world. Following that, the political rulers will have no problem to compartmentalise the issues and direct all their attention on incoming war refugees.

Ultimately state will protect the ruling class and to do that it will arm itself with propaganda machine, police force, spin doctors etc. These forces will always be useful to protect the outer fence of the state machine and the beneficiaries of this ring-fenced privilege. But they will also assume roles such as child protection, law enforcement and social order that the state needs have in place to operate in peace.

When we consider the horrific events regarding the state's dealing with the Roma families, almost all of the above attributes of the state have been put in use.

The question whether Ireland is a racist state or not needs to be answered. Let's think of some quick points and concepts and see if we can come up with an answer to this question:

  • Years of discrimination and finger pointing at Roma people...
  • Asylum seekers and the direct provision system which traps them in inhumane conditions without the right to work and higher eduction...
  • Well documented, harsh, and anti-democratic refugee application and appeals process...
  • Secret deportations of asylum seekers under harsh conditions...
  • Various statements from national and local politicians about Africans, eastern European workers and others...
  • The famous referendum of 2004 to remove the constitutional right of citizenship to the children of non-nationals living in Ireland...
  • Numerous examples of politicians, state bodies and media propaganda against migrants and non-nationals with the claim that they are committing social welfare fraud and draining the funds.
  • A specific example of racial profiling at the airports: Passengers on some flights coming from certain countries are passport checked at the gate of the plane before exiting it instead of the normal passport control desks. This is to be able to push the 'unwanted' passengers back into the plane to send them back to where they came from. In this way they cannot come into the country and ask for asylum...
  • Ongoing 'war on terror' in Afghanistan, the related Islamophobia and Ireland's support to it via the use of Shannon by US military aircraft.
  • And finally, the economic crisis and the political-economic decisions of the governments to cut a lot social-public services which are much needed by the poor, minorities, and the deprived sections of the society.

There are now all the conditions in which hatred can thrive: Job losses, family break-ups, emigration, housing crisis, cuts etc. are only some of these.

If you agree with these points you probably agree that the Irish state is racist.

Many decent people and organisations denounce and distance themselves from the hatred and violence. But what’s really needed is a grass-roots response which links opposition to racism to a fight against the conditions in which they thrive.


(1) Ronit Lentin,

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