For the month of February, Irish Tatler is producing a mini-series, #KindnessCulture in which we speak to people in different public spheres, who have suffered pointed negativity online. We feel that – in the wake of Caroline Flack's death – it is important to highlight how crucial it is to cultivate kindness when commenting and sharing.
Zainab Boladale is a woman of many talents.
A university graduate, spoken word poet, established journalist, multi-linguist, YouTube influencer, inspirational speaker and, most recently, an RTÉ Nationwide reporter.
Hailing from Ennis in County Clare, the Nigerian-born Banner-raised woman was thrust rather unceremoniously into the public eye, when a clip of her presenting children's current affairs News2Day found itself at the mercy of a markedly xenophobic group.
The 23-year-old said she first became aware of the YouTube channel featuring videos of her when a “blank account” sent her a Facebook message with screenshots of the abusive comments.
This was back in March 2017, at a time when the original account boasted some 6,000 subscribers.
The clip featured a number of News2Day segments filmed over a two-month period featuring Boladale – then aged 21 – as well as a number of her own headshots, compiled, she assumes, by a member of this "racist forum".
"The video was actually quite long," Boladale tells Irish Tatler.
"About fifteen minutes. I made my bosses aware of it [at the time] and it was quickly removed, but it was back up three weeks later with more comments calling me the N-word and that my job should have gone to a lovely Irish girl and that I look like a monkey and stuff like that.
"Then, a second channel was created, targeting other people of colour.
"And, funnily enough, it was during this time that I presented in a campaign video for another business – while still working at RTÉ – and when they spotted that, they reposted it under the title 'Black Presenter Finally Leaves RTÉ'.
"So, not only were they racist, but they were posting fake news!"
In a statement released at the time, Managing Director of RTÉ News and Current Affairs Jon Williams said: "All of us in RTÉ are disgusted that anyone should have to put up with such vile behaviour.
"Zainab's grace and dignity stands in sharp contrast to the cowardice of the bullies who've abused her.
"Sadly harassment of journalists is nothing new. But we expect the social media companies to act quickly and decisively to protect victims. All of her RTÉ family stand with Zainab and abhor any kind of racism."
The formidable young journalist – who boasts a stoical maturity well beyond her years – calmly disclosed that subsequent abuse of the same nature continued over the course of a few months, leading her to speak publicly of the repeated episodes and the media's relationship to racism as a whole.
“I had never given racist comments much thought prior to that, to be honest,” she laughs, wryly, giving off the impression that she’s tough as nails while also boasting the emotional intelligence of a group of ten.
“Growing up in Clare, I experienced quite a bit of racism growing up – something I strongly believe kids picked up from what they heard at home. Silly immature things happened to me like classmates commenting on how they'd never met a black person before and saying things to me like ‘how now brown cow’.
“I don’t think most Irish people would be as crass to say something to your face, but behind closed doors is a different story.”
Her time in a small, rural secondary school (“150 pupils, max”) was also perpetuated by prejudiced chatter. It was as a result of this that Zainab moved from her Gaelscoil beginnings and chose to sit the Leaving Certificate in English.
With that brought opportunities that saw her drawn to the capital.
“My parents wanted me to study law!” she laughed, “but I decided to go for journalism because I love telling people’s stories and I’d always written.”
Following three years at DCU and a stint in the Irish Independent, Boladale became the first woman of Nigerian heritage to work in the RTÉ newsroom.
“I believe that wherever I ended up working in media, I would still be the only young black woman working in an industry that is predominantly white,” she told the Irish Times back in 2017.
"What’s important to me is that when young children from any background see me on TV or meet me when I’m out reporting, they are inspired to aspire to their fullest potential regardless of what they look like or what their background is."
Boladale, who now works on Nationwide, said that while the abuse shook her originally, it would only really have affected her if it criticised her work.
“I’ve always been quite confident in myself, I think that’s why I don’t mind being on camera. If the comments had been about the work I had put into the broadcast, then I would have been mad.”
I admire her tenacity in the face of malice, to which she replies, “if you’re not on your own team, then who will be?”
Since then, Zainab's experiences with racism have been vastly more subtle; sophisticated, shrewder.
"Recently I took a trip with my partner and we were told that the restaurant we wanted to eat in had no tables left when a number of open spots were clearly on display.
"After we spoke to a friend, we discovered that the area is known infamously for their conservatism and backwards way of thinking."
When asked does she think if Ireland is racist, as a whole, she is quick to sympathise with the way in which some are nurtured to think.
"I don't think Ireland is racist. I think some people living here are, but it would be wrong to say that racism is everywhere here. People my age aren't so much, most people my age would never dream of saying something racist – but some people definitely do have racist tendencies.
"The only time it bothers me is when I'm glorified and sexualised by people for my race – and that's usually by older Irish men – but, generally I find myself really lucky to be surrounded by such liberal, supportive people who have allowed me to feel confident despite what others think."
Next for Boladale is an extended stay in Montrose, as her stint with Nationwide has allowed her to return to her first love; telling other people's stories.
“I feel like it’s a natural move for me. The programme allows me to explore issues that I find interesting and I get to meet lots of people which I love. I will definitely stay in this role for as long as they have me!”
As far as online trolling is concerned, Zainab isn’t hugely bothered. When I ask what she would say to any of her trolls if she met them in person, she is, unsurprisingly, decorous and benevolent
“I’m a big believer in karma and that the energy you put out you will eventually come back to you,” she says.
“I think it’s important for people posting mean things online to realise that what they type out has genuine meaning for others and may stick with them for a long time.
“We all have opinions on other people, it’s human nature, but at the end of the day, you’re the only person who will have to live with the guilt if something awful happens. You will have to live with that on your conscience.
“It’s really just that old cliché of ‘treat others how you wish to be treated’, isn’t it?”
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, there is help available: