"There was a gap in where black and mixed-race people could go in order to learn about the experiences of others, to find out they're not alone", Leon Diop says. "And that’s certainly how I would have felt, like 'I’m the only person going through this right now!'"

Growing up as a mixed-race man in Tallaght, with an Irish mum and a Senegalese dad, Diop says he experienced everything from "overt" racism to "covert" racism and struggled to fit in with either community for a time. This struggle for identity is one he recognises in many members of the black and Irish community. 

"I went through a massive identity crisis, I'd say from my pre-teens into my teenage years and even into my very early 20s. I really would have struggled with my identity as a mixed-raced man. Do I identify more with white people? Do I identify more with black people? Do I identify with both, do I identify with neither?"

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And the isolation didn't just come from the white community, but from the black community too. "I would have received racism from white people but also from black people. Because I was half white, [I would be] made out to be the white boy of the group."

Then came the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. The global outpouring of grief, pain, anger and calls for action inspired Diop and two friends – Boni Odoemene and Femi Bankole – to start Black and Irish, their own community where black and mixed-race people in Ireland can share their experiences of micro-aggressions, verbal abuse, and feelings of isolation. 

In a matter of weeks, the Instagram account reached thousands of people and so far has racked up a whopping 45k followers and led to the creation of The Black and Irish Podcast on RTÉ, with the welcome addition of Amanda Ade.

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"Seeing that other mixed-raced people have gone through themselves made me feel like I wasn't alone", Diop says. "Being able to see that there is a problem here because so many people have come forward with their stories of facing some sort of racist discrimination or abuse because of the colour of their skin."

Having the conversations about race be approachable was a key focus, so starting the project Instagram was important. "We wanted to take the 'teach over preach' method", he says.

"Too often we're trying to correct people on racist behaviours or biases, it can come across as very aggressive, very shouty, very holier-than-thou and 'I’m telling you that you shouldn’t be doing this’. We wanted to bring everyone along with us and recognise any biases that they may have or behaviours they had in the past that aren’t cool."

Sharing lessons and understanding is central to the project, Diop says, and there's an awareness that many of us may have acted in ways in the past that we would now look back on with embarrassment or regret when it comes to race. He says the project is dedicated to teaching new ways of being and moving forward.

"It's important that people are given the opportunity to grow and to learn."

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But it's a huge undertaking, and will be slow and steady work," he adds. "What we're trying to do isn’t necessarily small, to bring together the black and Irish community so we can start challenging these issues that we face as a large community in Ireland. 

"We’re also trying to integrate the black and Irish community better into Ireland and help black and Irish people own their identity and feel part of the wider society."

"It's not the same kind of battle as that faced by black people in America or the UK," he says. "We don’t have the same type of racism as America. It’s not as overt, it’s not as in-your-face."

"It’s still present when people are trying to get jobs, in how other people treat you on the street or in school. It’s still present when you’re trying to get a house and rent. It’s much tougher when you have a different skin colour. 

"That body of work is going to be tough but it’s something that needs to be done."

The Black and Irish Podcast
Join Boni as he chats to Ben Butler, a mixed-race father of two from Dublin. Ben speaks of feeling resentment towards people who looked like him and how he can now play his part in making Ireland far more welcoming and hospitable for all. Listen to episode 3 at the top of the page.