My FaceBook news feed has two large trends going on right now. First, there is the usual excitement about St. Patrick’s Day (including jokes about Irish-ness, drunken-ness, and everything green). The second, is the stream of people who recognize that the way the holiday is celebrated in the U.S is a construction that deviates from Irish (in Ireland) celebrations of the holiday, the life of St. Patrick, and the experiences of Irish Americans. While the latter camp is certainly correct, I do not think it adaquetly understands the positioning of Irish Americans today. One particular post sparks my disgruntled-ness with the holiday and the positionings of both sides on St. Patrick’s Day. While I love the Zinn Education Project and some of the messages of this post, I am incredibly dubious about the emphasis on correcting the textbooks and curriculum in public schools regarding this matter. I see this as a matter of correcting some cracks in the foundations of understanding how to be White in the U.S.
The amazing Hari Kondablou made his obligatory St. Patrick’s Day post that hints at this matter:
Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day? Does that mean I’m white today? I’M GOING TO TELL A COP TO GO TO HELL & THAT I’M A TAXPAYER!
Much to the enjoyment of those who love drinking on March 17th (and to the annoyance of St. Patrick Day purists), it is a holiday that allows for people to engage with some sort of perceived Irish identity. Kondabolu’s second mention that ‘being Irish makes one White’ points to the history of Irish Americans pursuit of becoming White. Through this ‘achievement’ of Whiteness, Irish Americans joined the American racial and colonizing project by working to distinguish themselves from People of Color (primarily Blacks on the East Coast) and to join the settler colonial project in the Western U.S. (bitterly ironic if one considers Irish history). My point here is that celebrating Irish-ness in the United States is one of simultaneously celebrating Whiteness. This does not necessarily happen in Ireland (though one should consider the discomfort the modern Irish State has with dealing with non-Irish, specifically non-European, immigrants). At the same time, a critique of those pursuing the image of an Irish St. Patrick Day in the U.S. is needed to confront their own choice to disjoint their vision of the holiday in terms of race. It is not that one version of the holiday is less problematic in terms of race, but both that are equally problematic in their conceptualizations in regards to race relations.
In opposing the historical and cultural insensitivity of contemporary St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S., we must seriously consider the issue of Whiteness that is surrounded by the holiday. It is more than likely that a project that works to contend with the racism done against and by Irish Americans seemingly estranges those from their homeland, rather I believe it addresses the particulars about the nature of diaspora. For those of us who are of Irish descent, we must the face the historical and discursive consequences of out ancestors and try to move forward with a challenge the dismantle the monster they joined.