By Michael J.W. Stickings
With St. Patrick's Day coming tomorrow, this piece by Salon's Andrew O'Hehir -- "How did Irish-Americans get so disgusting?" -- is definitely worth a read. Key point:
[T]he end of the IRA's guerrilla war had a less salubrious effect on the
Irish-American population, and I say that in full awareness that on the
surface that's an offensive statement. What I mean is that the last
connection between Irish-American identity and genuine history was
severed, and all we're left with now is a fading and largely bogus
afterlife. On one hand, Irishness is a nonspecific global brand of
pseudo-old pubs, watered-down Guinness, "Celtic" tattoos and vague New
Age spirituality, designed to make white people feel faintly cool
without doing any of the hard work of actually learning anything. On the
other, it's Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Rep. Peter
King, Long Island's longtime Republican congressman (and IRA supporter),
consistently representing the most stereotypical grade of racist,
xenophobic, small-minded, right-wing Irish-American intolerance. When
you think of the face of white rage in America, it belongs to a
red-faced Irish dude on Fox News.
Well, yes. Irishness is certainly more than that, but those two sides of it are rather prominent, to say the least, in Irish-American circles. (I say this not as an Irish-American but as an English-Canadian, though with a fair amount of Irishness in me as well.)
Ireland itself is a beautiful place in many ways, and there is of course much to recommend it, along with its inhabitants. (There is even something to recommend Irish republicanism, if not so much its manifestation in terroristic violence, much of it paid for by Irish-Americans.) But as is so often the case, there is a world of difference between the homeland and the diaspora, and it's certainly fair to point to the elements of Irishness that have become the unfortunate realities of its manifestation in America.
And when it comes to the political stereotype, as represented in right-wingers like O'Reilly, Hannity, and so many others, it's just insane. New Irish immigrants were the targets of vicious discrimination and bigotry, after all. They fled famine back in the homeland but also oppression -- a famine created by oppression, oppression that denied them dignity as well as self-governance. In America, as in so many other parts of the "New" World, they found, at long last, freedom, once the discrimination and bigotry ran their course. And yet now a huge swath of Irish-Americanism is very much what O'Hehir describes: racist, xenophobic, small-minded, intolerant. For the likes of O'Reilly and Hannity, it's like they learned nothing, or perhaps learned that what was done to them could be done to others by them. And so they ban gays from their parades when not so long ago they were denied jobs and treated with contempt by the English majority in America.
The tattoos and spirituality, the outward appearance of some mystic Irishness with nothing to back it up, are mostly just banal and silly. It's the vicious right-wing ideology and partisanism that is so much worse, that impacts so horribly on other people's lives, that is such a stain of hypocrisy on those who practise it, that is the stereotype, rooted in reality, that good and decent Irish-Americans should wish to toss in the dustbin of history.
Labels: Bill O'Reilly, conservatives, Ireland, Pat Buchanan, Peter King, Republicans, Sean Hannity