- 06 Dec 21
Annie Asgard shares her thoughts and experiences as part of 100 Voices: #AllAgainstRacism.
All over the world, but particularly in Ireland, after the murder of George Floyd, we really started looking at racism and discrimination. These were issues that I had to grow up with as an Iranian child. I was born in Iran and moved to the States. I was at a really sensitive age when the Iran Hostage Crisis happened in 1979.
At that age, you’re bullied and teased about everything already, and my mom would tell me, to tell people, that we were from Iraq, because at the time, Iraq was not “one of the bad countries.” So there was so much shame and embarrassment, and there wasn’t any awareness in people’s minds, or among teachers in particular, about the importance of children’s identity.
So after George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I approached my teachers’ union, the INTO, to look at a model laid out by a group of LGBT+ teachers, who had organised themselves into a private group. They had advocated for themselves, and created an online course about LGBT rights and the correct nomenclature, language etc. It was very successful. So myself and others took that model and made a private Facebook group.
I put an advertisement for it on a teachers’ forum on Facebook. I was looking for anyone who was a Traveller, black or mixed race teacher – what I called “less well represented teachers” – to send an email to an anonymous account if they wanted to join. And the backlash was huge. “How dare you? That’s racist, why can’t I join? I’m left-handed, I’m less well represented.” There was none of that very basic understanding of what racism is – that it’s about power and privilege.
As a white Irish teacher, you can go into any room and not look or feel different. Your name appears on the list every place you go; people can spell it; everyone can read it; they can pronounce it; no one makes fun of you for your name. And there was just no recognition of that.
But we approached the INTO, and we presented our anti-racism course for teachers. And through a few reiterations, it’s now the Embracing Diversity programme, developed by myself and some mixed race teachers and some Traveller teachers, so it was very authentically written. It was first piloted in the spring of 2021, then it was run over this summer.
We know through research that some of the most critical people that students come in contact with in early childhood, and in lower primary school, are their teachers. Some schools in Dublin 15, for example, are over 90% minority – and yet every person they come in contact with in a position of power is a white, Irish, middle-class person. So those students don’t see anyone that they can relate to.
Ireland has one of the highest percentage of minority ethnic students and young people in the EU. They need to see themselves represented in their classrooms. And not only by UNICEF, or Trocaire boxes at Christmas time. They need to see themselves represented in their teachers.
Read Part 2 of 100 Voices: #AllAgainstRacism in the current issue of Hot Press:
Special thanks to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for their support in this project.