In Rwanda in 2013, I walked among display cases full of skeletons, trying hard not to cry because it was not my tragedy. An atrocity like the Rwandan genocide diminishes each of us individually and as a part of humanity. But it was not my grief to own or display and I did not want to be yet another European with a white saviour complex bestowing my sympathy on tragic Africa.
Any student of history knows that we all walk on graveyards all the time. We are surrounded by the ghosts of those who have died unjustly or in terror because most of human history is the story of injustice and loss and horror and war. We are the softest people that ever lived, we modern Europeans.
But I did not imagine that we in Ireland walk every day over the skeletons of little children who died for the crime of poverty.
The deaths of the Tuam babies – and all those like them around the country, who will inevitably be found to have died because of the collusion of all branches of the Irish State in their deliberate incarceration and neglect – are a stain on all our souls.
Their presence, so meticulously and tirelessly confirmed and recorded by Catherine Corless and by dogged former Magdalene residents and their families, is the shame of Ireland.
We have known for years about the women who were imprisoned and enslaved in institutions for being pregnant. The imprisonment of pregnant women on this island continues, as our power is withheld, still, by the State; and by our fellow citizens who believe morality trumps humanity.
We talk about the Famine and blame the British, forgetting the willing involvement of the Irish merchant and wealthy classes in disposing of the inconvenient poor. More land to go round.
We talk about the mother and baby homes and industrial schools and blame the Church, forgetting the ordinary men and women of Ireland who gave the Church its power. The Church, then as now, is made up of not just a hierarchy but of ordinary men and women who subscribe to and shape its belief systems. The Church is and was every single person who put a penny in the plate and sang in the choir; every person who fundraised for a new roof and paid a priest’s wages; every woman who did her ‘hour’ once a week and every man who gave out Communion. It was all our families, all our ancestors.
The Church was only one pillar of Irish society along with medical, legal and law enforcement professionals who all colluded to impregnate, then lock up women, forcibly taking and then neglecting their children.
Dr James Deeny, one of the few figures in authority who ever dared to take a stand against this, temporarily closed Bessboro mother and baby home in Cork after finding evidence that there was a deliberate policy of neglect which lead to hundreds of babies dying. His memoir, To Cure and To Care, reveals the extent of opposition he encountered in trying to prevent entirely preventable deaths.
The Rwandan genocide was never really what we in Europe consider a ‘tribal’ war. The only tribes in Rwanda were created by the colonists and the only real difference was that one group had power and wealth and the other didn’t, and they were punished for it.
The haves, and the have nots.
This article from Jacobin Mag explains it better than I can.