I was walking home yesterday from photographing downtown. Suddenly, I realized the street was rather empty and there were very few pedestrians. I then passed a little girl standing with her father on the corner. The writing on the back of her startled me as it read “Let Them Hate- As Long As They Fear”:
Her father’s shirt read: “The South Will Rise Again.” I walked a bit further and there were a bunch of people gathered outside the headquarters of South Belfast Northern Ireland Supporters. I noticed that the police had the road barricaded off and then I heard some loud drum beats. A series of flute bands then came marching through- nearly 50 bands, so this lasted quite a long time. Many British flags waved and other signs stating: “Ulster Protestants,” etc.
Young kids dressed in costumes circled around collecting money for S.B.Y.C., which I assumed stood for “South Belfast Youth Club,” but later, I discovered it was “South Belfast Youth Conquerors,” the name of the hosting flute band. The band is situated in Donegall Pass, which is a small and often forgot about loyalist enclave. One of the young boys collecting donations was dressed as the stereotype of a terrorist from the Middle East with a toy machine gun and a string of fake bullets. He had dark facial hair drawn onto his face. A few bystanders gave him donations and then took his photo as he posed with his fake gun ready for action.
Having read articles about the annual Protestant marches on the Twelfth of July and the usual rioting that ensued, I got nervous that this parade would throw the city into chaos. When I went home, however, I could not find any information about the parade on the internet, let alone the news. Finally, I stumbled across the parade commission website, and saw that the parade was one of several scheduled in Northern Ireland for that day. Although there has been relative peace in Belfast for a few years, these blatant sectarian references seem to be accepted as a norm.
What was more striking, but perhaps not surprising, was the extent to which young people were involved in the event and exposed to these messages at such an early age. Perhaps there was a story that I didn’t know behind the little boy’s “terrorist” costume, and maybe I read the costume differently as an American, but how he was so desensitized to this image was somewhat baffling to me. I doubt he understands everything that the costume references, but what struck me was that he did probably understand its reference to violence. Young American boys dress up as soldiers for Halloween, but this seemed different to me at a parade that already seemed political- especially in a city that had been plagued with internal terrorism for decades. Given the fragile peace, will the next generation be different than the past if they still are being raised with these messages and images?