Sunday, March 16, 2014

Those awful, obnoxious, hateful right-wing Irish-Americans

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.

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  • Nothing like good old fashioned stereotyping to stir the blood. Those damned Irish! They're all the same, mostly.

    By Blogger Richard K. Barry, at 9:25 PM  

  • I'm American Irish through and through, and I don't think it's a stereotype at all. I think it's true. I don't understand how so many of my extended family could be so backward, racist and hateful, but they are. If they'd taken any time to understand the real history of the Irish in America, they might be more tolerant. Then again they're also pretty effed up, and that plays a big part in it. Generally speaking, the more religious my cousins are, the nastier they are. So maybe that's the real problem. Bill Donahue is basically insane, fer instance.

    By Anonymous toma, at 11:30 PM  

  • This is the story of America; Puritans came here to flee religious persecution to go to oppress, banishing and lynch Quakers. When JFK was running for president, anti-Catholics came out as much as anti-Islam people are today in many parts of the USA. Now Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner have invited the current Pope to speak to Congress, America just breeds this behavior. It all based on politics, and Classism.

    Classism is American as apple pie. Even within each "group" there are levels of acceptance. For example, Italians like my fathers parents who came here through Ellis Island in 1912, who never spoke English, but made sure all their children became "good" Americans by melting into society by learning English and going to school so they could raise families and have better lives than they did. But not so much because they thought better themselves, but because they were aware of the obstacles of uneducated immigrant Italians who would be stuck working on fishing boats, many dying at sea. At one point, Italians weren't even considered "white" to most American.

    Americans who are born and raised here do not see this so easily, because most of us already see all different kinds of people on the street or in media, even though there is still plenty if racism an stereotyping, many believe if they aren't lunching someone, it's not racism or bigotry.

    This has always been the "American Way". Even in the gay community, there are those who believe "Trans" people should have no equal rights, forgetting it was these people who created the whole LGBT movement unintentionally with the Stonewall incident. Also in the "black" community, there are "levels", all based on acceptability into the white majority, just like with all others who have immigrants here.

    It is at the very soul of America, even though being the "melting pot" of the world was supposed to be considered a good quality, to many here who forget they were once outsiders, the "melting pot" has always been a bad idea.

    What is missing? Basic education about our own country.

    By Anonymous Corey Mondello, at 10:06 AM  

  • In my research for my St Patrick's Day post, I came upon a really interesting short piece from four years ago, My Problem with St. Patrick's Day. He argues that the reason Americans celebrate the Irish in a way that they don't the Germans, is that the Irish are the only white group that can still claim the mantle of oppression. It's worth a read.

    By Blogger Frank Moraes, at 9:42 PM  

  • It's the racism (whether in the North or South, nobody hates the non white harder than the lowest caste of whites) plus the Catholicism (that intolerable, smug chauvinism of "The One True Holy Catholic And Apostolic Church") plus general purpose white male entitlement.

    By Blogger Lawrence, at 11:37 PM  

  • You nailed it!

    By Blogger nice person, at 3:23 PM  

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