For many, the past number of weeks have offered a crash course in centuries of racial oppression.
The death of George Floyd, and the protests that have sprung up all over the globe, provoked a mass outcry on social media in support of those fighting racism and police brutality. They also charged white people with the responsibility of educating themselves on their privilege and doing all they can to support the dismantling of racist structures.
For those privileged enough to not have been aware of it, racism has always been an issue bubbling beneath the surface: its existence was nigh-on impossible to dispute, but pinning down the actualities of it seemed much harder. Not so much now. The issues that have always been there have now, long past their due, been pushed to the fore and forced white people to reckon with how we have, implicitly or otherwise, benefited from these structures.
As well as grappling with the implications of systematic, institutional and overt racism in America, Irish people – many for the first time – have been forced to confront the idea that racism is not just a problem that can be written off as American. As well as the stories shared by the frighteningly high number of people who have experienced racism in Ireland, direct provision has once again been brought forward as the most blatant example of systematic racism in Ireland.
It is not good enough for College to make mistakes when it comes to working with companies widely acknowledged as being complicit in direct provision
Statistics and petitions have been shared all over social media, with instructions on how to contact your local TDs and demand that they play their part in dismantling it and replacing direct provision with a system that is humane and fit for purpose.
It is somewhat surprising, then, that when this newspaper reported today that Trinity’s Careers Service had advertised jobs with Aramark on its website, there was minimal furore or backlash from students.
It seems publishing the advert – for job opportunities with Aramark, a company well-known in Trinity, and not for good reasons – was an oversight and a mistake on the part of the Careers Service, rather than something more sinister. But if the protests and the discourse of in the past few weeks have taught us one thing above all else, it is that it is not enough to simply not be racist – we must all actively strive to be anti-racist.
This distinction is vital. Simply not being racist promotes passivity, and standing by and looking on is not good enough. Allowing these structures to remain and to thrive without questioning and condemning is not that much better than participating in them.
Similarly, it is not good enough for College to make mistakes when it comes to working with companies widely acknowledged as being complicit in the injustices of direct provision. This sort of “oversight” is not a typo or a missed comma – it amounts to being complicit in promoting a system that denies people of basic human dignity and respect.
When news came earlier this year that Aramark had finally left Trinity’s campus, it was easy to forget that it came after years of student effort
It is not enough for College to just remove these sorts of things when it notices them – it must commit to actively ensuring that the opportunities it is advertising to their students are in line with the values they claim to want to instil in them.
It is admirable and essential that students are demanding the creation of new structures, such as a module in Black Studies. But this should not come at the expense of not challenging the structures that are already there. The Aramark Off Our Campus campaign was a success, and arguably represented student activism at its best: making tangible change on campus that contributed to a wider effort.
However, when news came earlier this year that Aramark had finally left Trinity’s campus, it was easy to forget that it came after years of student effort.
Change doesn’t come overnight. What culminated in a quiet, uncelebrated exit by Aramark earlier this year was actually the product of years of perseverance by students who knew that they did not want to be part of a College that covertly supports one of the most inhumane structures in Ireland today. The advert on College’s Careers Service undermined and undercut the success of the campaign, by bringing Aramark back onto campus – albeit virtually.
Oversights happen and mistakes happen. But if students want to hold College accountable for creating new anti-racist structures, they should also ensure that those existing structures are held to the same standards.