There are some issues which bloggers and journalists can miss as we search for our next stories and attempt to explain wider society to our readers. A few months ago I scheduled an interview with the recently minted Alliance party European candidate Anna Lo. It was the week when controversy erupted over her statement that paramilitary murals should be removed and the racist abuse she suffered as a result of her comments.
Anna seemed unphased and more determined than ever to continue on with her work. Like most, I just assumed that criticism and abuse came with the territory of an MLA and that she must be used to it 7 years into the job. With most of the politicians I have encountered, sometimes the mission and sense of purpose can shield you from the criticism that gets hurled in your direction. However, what I simply took as criticism, I now realise contained in Anna’s case a more sinister element; racism.
I watched with despair as Anna was forced to defend her words on wanting Irish unity as if it was a crime that she had committed against her party and her constituents. The underlying messages that were coming across from some quarters of social media that she didn’t even have a right to comment on the constitutional question as she wasn’t born here merely illustrated the casual racism that she regularly has to put up with.
Now, racism is not something that is new in our society, nor is it linked to just Anna Lo, but the images of her breaking down on TV really brought home the impact of some of the worst aspects of Northern Ireland. When you put yourself out there and raise your head, you can expect some form of criticism, but when this extends into personal abuse and just outright hatred against you a line has been crossed that as a society we should not tolerate.
What has effectively happened is not only has a politician been made to feel so frustrated that she is stepping down, but what’s worse is she now feels unwelcome in the community of which she has been a part of for forty years. All of us should be grateful that Anna in 2007 put up her hand and decided to make a contribution to our society; she has consistently been endorsed by her electors in South Belfast and just last week actually polled ahead of her party in the European elections.
Am I arguing that politicians from a certain background should be immune from criticism? No. But, as a society we really need to pose questions about how we interact with and treat our ethnic minorities when such a strong personality is reduced to tears on national television and actually contemplates leaving her home.
We are all a minority of some sort in this society; recent census figures illustrate this fact. If we allow members of our community to feel threatened and unwelcome, then it threatens all of us. Since 1998, we have been trying to figure out how we can shared this piece of earth together, in many areas we have succeeded, but there have been monumental failures along the way and the neglect of our ethnic minorities is one of them.
To utter the phrase ‘I stand with Anna’ is not an endorsement of her political views or even the Alliance party, rather it is a statement that says we don’t want a society where someone can feel threatened and bullied. As Anna prepares to exit the stage, the onus falls on commentators, journalists and politicians to continue on this debate and shine a spotlight on those elements of our society who hold these intolerant, racist views.
I stand with Anna over this because I know people who have suffered racist abuse, I stand with Anna because I want political debates which exclude a person’s colour and creed from the equation and I stand with Anna because this is her home and we would be the poorer for her and many others absence. I didn’t understand the pressure on her when I interviewed her then, but speaking with her over the past four weeks has really brought home to me that we have to really have a long conversation about how we treat sections of our society and I hope in writing this piece, I am making a small contribution to this endeavour.
I have stood with Anna ever since I came to know her through her unstinting support for the voluntary sector. She is without doubt one of the most hard working MLA’s and has served beyond the call of duty on behalf of less fortunate people of Northern Ireland. I have never known her to turn down an invitation to attend a charity fundraising event or to sponsor a charitable function at Stormont. I do not get involved in party politics as a matter of principle but had no hesitation in voting for Anna because I was voting for a person who has the courage to say what she believes is right. Thank you Anna, you are a star.
“academic” = zzzzzzzzzzz
Anna Lo — one of Northern Ireland’s most vapid politicians of all time. Years in politics and never challenged by the media. When challenged for the first time comes across as inept, insults most of the population, gets a dire election result, and runs off in a huff playing the race-card.
Racism can only be tackled by not giving the racists a chance to be racist, like the Alliances yellow election boards on lampposts. Was only asking for trouble, soon Northern Ireland will be on the same level as England.
Jamie Bryson is a racist, I hope his mummy louise is very proud of him.
When you consider qualities that go to make up politicians in NI then Anna Lo comes out well on top in one aspect. That is a simple political honesty that resounds in many places within human instinct. I dont think she excels as a leader or a planner but no one else can match that appeal that she has to the public. Sadly that will be lost to us.
I was ignorant of the abuse Anna was receiving in NI So I say to Anna thank you for all that you have done for us despite the personal cost to yourself.
I am so sad to see you leave.