As a student in political communication, I listened to loads of lectures going on about how Twitter is an invaluable tool for modern politicians. Gerry Adams certainly appreciates this, using his tweets to promote Sinn Féin policy and to reform his own image.
I wrote at length about the wider implications of his Twitter presence back in February when he published “The Little Book of Tweets,” a collection of his greatest hits. At the time, it seemed like he was managing to toe the fine line between being irreverent and politically astute, mixing nonsensical whimsy and staid policy announcements in order to soften up his own rather troubling image.
However, in light of recent tweets, the same question must be asked again. How are Gerry Adams’ tweets still a thing?
While presumably watching Quentin Tarantino’s modern western, Django Unchained, Adams saw fit to post his thoughts on how the events in the film related to Northern Ireland. This tweet was obviously deleted (though it took 21 minutes), but what is arguably even more troubling is the stance Sinn Féin have taken since. Regardless of their insistence on calling the film Django and confusing it with the 1966 original (though I’d be impressed if he was watching that one), the party has refused to backtrack on the comments. They hastily posted a statement from Adams, which he has since shared on his own feed.
If anyone is genuinely offended by my use of the N-word they misunderstand or misrepresent the context in which it was used.
Any1 who saw Django would know my tweets&N-word were ironic.Nationalists in Nth were treated like African Americans.
— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) May 2, 2016
He was alluding to the treatment of residents in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast by the British security forces, making the connection with the treatment of black slaves in America.
It is not a new connection to make, and not even the first time this year that Irish nationalism has been linked to the black civil rights movement. Indeed, the civil rights movement’s ties to the struggle of black Americans in the 1960s is well documented. Elvis Costello even made it explicit for mainstream radio audiences in his anti-racist song Oliver’s Army, which includes the rhyming couplet “All it takes is one itchy trigger / One more widow, one less white nigger.”
However, it is one thing to take inspiration from the struggle of others around the world and stand in solidarity with their plight and quite another to appropriate a very particular context and transpose it onto yours, claiming it as your own. The myth of Irish Slaves remains convenient to this day, and muddles discussion of contemporary police brutality in the United States. In his late-night statement, Adams said, “I am opposed to racism and have been all my life.” If this is the case, you’d think he would have thought twice before posting such an ignorant tweet.
Yet he did think twice. Thanks to the invaluable work of Politiwhoops, we can see that Adams also tweeted that Django was an “uppity Fenian” before deleting both posts. So not only did he tweet something stupid, he actually went back and tried to replace it with something a little less offensive (though “uppity” itself is definitely still racist) before giving up altogether.
Of course, misjudged tweets are nothing new, and Adams has had his fair share of them himself as I went into in my original post. I also explored how his Twitter presence fits in with the ongoing problem of dealing with Northern Ireland’s recent past. So in the grand scheme of things, this too is nothing new and is unlikely to shake things up too much in the long run. He has gotten away with far worse before.
Mere days from the Assembly election, however, such an outburst cannot help Sinn Féin’s chances. Under threat from the People Before Profit Alliance in West Belfast and still reeling from the disappointing showing down south in February’s General Election, Sinn Féin cannot afford to be in the news for something like this. It does make you wonder when the Party will give up on Adams for good, and reminds us how bizarre it is that he has lasted this long at all.
Such “scandals” are easy news, with thinkpieces sure to flow throughout the day. Of course, I am adding to the noise by promoting his tweets with this post, and there is definitely a case for ignoring Gerry Adams and his attempts at livening up the Twittersphere. Indeed, this is the opinion I would have had after writing about his book, but when the man continues to shock with ever-worse statements such as this one, I feel justified in shining a light onto his hypocrisy and sheer lack of suitability to lead a major political party in 2016.
If Adams survives this, it will just go to show a more general lack of regard for minorities in Northern Ireland. With only one POC ever elected to the Assembly, this lack of representation is made altogether more apparent when situations such as this arise. Sure, Northern Ireland remains very ethnically homogenous compared with the rest of the UK and Ireland, but that cannot be an excuse for ignorance in 2016. Undoubtedly, the outrage would be much worse if a British party leader used the same word, and that is worth keeping in mind here.
What remains to be seen is whether this major/minor controversy (delete as appropriate) will have any impact at all. In a week that has seen high-profile figures in the Labour party suspended for anti-Semitism, it will certainly be interesting to see how the Northern Irish media and Sinn Féin themselves take this.
UPDATE: Sinn Féin have released a statement confirming that Gerry Adams was indeed watching Django Unchained (2012) and not Django (1966).
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company