In the North Inner-City, a Woman Pushes for Frank Discussions of Racism and Discrimination

“You realise that everybody has inner prejudice including myself,” says Tatiana Dos Santos, walking alongside the walls of Mountjoy Square Park on a recent Wednesday evening.

In the park, busy with dog walkers and footballers, a group shadow-boxes on the basketball court under the fading evening light.

Dos Santos, a Brazilian activist, has finished work for the day as a law-firm receptionist, and is still in office garb, a long navy coat over a floral shirt, her curly hair wound up in a bun on top of her head.

In a couple of weeks, Dos Santos is due to start a new job, working as a racial-justice tutor for the City of Dublin Education and Training Board.

It’s what she has long cared about, both before she left the city of Bauru in southeast Brazil and since moving to Dublin, where she has plans to try to bring communities together, one conversation, or event, at a time.

She’s enthusiastic when she speaks, and walks quickly.

“At the end of the day everybody wants the same thing. Everybody wants a better life, good health care system, a better job,” Dos Santos says, turning right onto Belvedere Place.

“We’re a lot better when we all come together,” she says.

A Back Story

Back in Bauru, Dos Santos used to campaign for social justice for Black Brazilians, she says, and was a member of the Brazilian Communist Party, Partido Comunista do Brasil.

“When you’re part of an unrepresented group, there is not much choice,” she says.

At the last census in 2010, more than half of Brazilians identified as either mixed or Black, although the census categories used are fraught.

But you only ever saw White people on TV, Dos Santos says.

“But things were beginning to change when I left Brazil,” says Dos Santos, as she walks towards the bottom of Belvedere Place.

The sun is hitting the top of the Georgian red-brick buildings and the street is cold in the shadows.

In 2016, Dos Santos arrived in Dublin to improve her English. She realised that there were also issues with racism here, she says.

“It might not be in the form of violence or words directed at you,” Dos Santos says, but there is a subconscious racism that happens among people.

“People would say, ‘Oh wow your English is so good’, or ask you that famous question,” she says looking up: “Where are you really from?”

At the bottom of Belvedere Place, Dos Santos turns left and left again as she now walks up a quiet Sherrard Street Upper.

“But I could also see loads of prejudice coming from my community towards a specific type of Irish people,” she says. “Poor or people that are on the streets.”

Dos Santos wanted to start doing something, she says, about this prejudice.

Talking Circles

Brown and yellow leaves crunch under Dos Santos’ shoes as she walks down Gardiner Street Upper.

The park lights are on now and there’s just a hue of yellow daylight remaining on the horizon.

In 2020, Dos Santos got a master’s in dispute resolution from Independent College Dublin.

Following the death of George Floyd in the United States, she wanted to initiate conversations around race in Dublin, she says. “It is sad that it takes something like this for change to happen.”

Dos Santos wasn’t happy with how ideas of race were being discussed in Ireland, who was being included.

She went to a talk at Trinity College on racism in 2017, she says, and there was one woman of colour on the panel. “She was the only woman. She was the only person of colour.”

In December 2019, Dos Santos set up a talking circle, an event where people from different backgrounds sit together and discuss an issue.

She advertised it on social media. People of colour, White people, non-binary people all turned up, she says. “I saw this done in America and it looked effective.”

A Place to Talk

It is crucial that it is a non-judgemental environment and everybody can be heard, Dos Santos says.

She is now walking towards a queue of people standing outside Gardiner Street Dry Cleaners, where the warm air smelling of laundry drifts up the street.

“We didn’t finish the event with a big solution,” she says. But she didn’t expect to.

Says Dos Santos: “We were never going to change the world with one talk.”

“But we did realise it was important to communicate things that were not being said,” she says.

You need to be able to have difficult conversations, says Dos Santos.

One conversation was about how some White Irish people can ask, “Oh, where are you really from?” as a casual conversation starter.

“It’s not because one person asks,” she says. “It’s because every time you go out there is always somebody to question our identity.”

Somebody came up to Dos Santos at the end of the talking circle and said their perspective on this conversation had been changed, she says.

“We didn’t change the world but it was just interesting to see people reflect on other people’s perspectives,” she says.

It’s hard to measure the success of projects like this to improve community relationships, says Teresa Buczkowska, the integration manager for the Immigrant Council of Ireland, earlier on the phone.

“This is about changing personal attitudes, and changes need time,” she says. Short-term measures are how many people attend and how long a project runs for, she says.

“What we can measure on a long-term milestone is, for example, whether a person from a minority group is elected to hold a certain position,” she says. A council, or school council or leadership position, say.

A Parade

Dos Santos is now working to bring to life a new project. “It is still in the very early stages of planning,” she says.

The aim, she says, is to create a parade in the north inner-city akin to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

“The parade will be a mix of Irish and Brazilian talent,” she says. It will include dance, music and art, she says.

“Initially the intention was to build a bridge between the Brazilian community and the Irish community due to the tension that we had,” Dos Santos says.

“But I personally would be open to having other migrant communities on board,” she says.

The idea came after Dos Santos ran a Brazilian dance class in Dublin and was surprised, she says, that so many of the students who signed up were Irish.

She didn’t realise there would be that much interest, Dos Santos says. The classes could be a good way to bring communities closer together, she says.

Buczkowska, at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, says she thinks the project is a good idea, and that projects like this need more support.

Dublin City Council’s last integration strategy, which ran until 2020, included some “actions” like supporting intercultural dialogue through cultural planning. But it’s unclear how much of that was done.

It is currently drawing up its next integration strategy for the city.

Alongside that, at the end of May, it launched an “intercultural ambassadors programme” in the area which, a council press release said at the time, aims “to create a diverse network of intercultural ambassadors and encourage active involvement by local people in promoting intercultural dialogue and addressing barriers to integration in the North East Inner City.”

Dos Santos says she is currently seeking advice from Dublin City Council on her new project idea.

The Central Area office of the council is considering a proposal but it is too soon to issue any response yet, said a council spokesperson earlier this month.

Says Dos Santos: “It’s a cliché when people say, ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’ but I truly believe in it.”

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Reader responses

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Brid Connolly
at 27 October at 11:12

Thank you Tatiana, this is such a positive response, to a noxious undertow. Adult and community education has been at the forefront of transformation, equality and social justice. Great to see the ETB in the inner city supporting this. Best of luck with the work

Maire O'Sullivan
at 27 October at 20:16

Excellent initiative

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