St. Patrick's Day is an international holiday that belongs to the Irish, yet an increasing number of Americans who trace their ancestry to the Emerald Isle are finding it a bittersweet celebration.
Irish Americans have come a long way since the days of "No Irish Need Apply" -- what was once a reviled immigrant population with a reputation as drunks and hooligans is now a perfectly respectable ingredient in the American melting pot. Champion athletes, Hollywood movie stars, and two of the most popular Presidents in the last century (Kennedy and Reagan) have been of Irish ancestry. Yet on March 17th, the old ghosts come a-haunting, and many Irish Americans are tired of it.
'Sober Buzzed Drunk Wasted Irish Chug O Meter Water Bottle' from Spencer's Gifts. source: spencersonline.com
Indeed, many Irish on St. Patrick's Day are starting to sound a lot like Indians on Halloween.
Whereas many Native Americans dislike seeing their culture misrepresented or sexualized in a cheap costume, a contingent of Irish Americans aren't too happy that what might be a day of pride (in the middle of Irish American Heritage Month, no less) has become a boozy, anything-goes blowout. Mugs, shot glasses, t-shirts and hats sold by national retailers are hardly subtle about what St. Patrick's Day has come to mean to the average American.
Festive St. Patrick's Day t-shirt from Spencer's Gifts. Source: spencersonline.com
On March 1, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, America’s oldest Irish Catholic Fraternal Organization, called on Walmart to "immediately cease the sale of defaming merchandise targeting Irish Americans," referring specifically to t-shirts bearing the slogans "I May Not Be Irish, but I Can Drink Like One" and "Blame the Irish for My Behavior."
The statement, signed by AOH Anti-Defamation Chair Neil Cosgrove, continued, "We call on our 40,000 members, their families, the Irish American Community and our fellow Americans of all ethnicities to send a clear message to Walmart that there is no room in the America of the 21st century for bigoted ethnic based stereotypes no matter who the target is."
The bold and italics have not been added by ICTMN -- AOH put them there to stress that this isn't just an Irish thing.
'Leprechaun Girl' costume from Spencer's Gifts. Source: IrishCentral.com
Writing for the New York Times on Sunday, Dan Barry cited another quote from Cosgrove: "If you were to take any of these items, cross out Irish, and put in any other ethnic group in there, society in general would just not accept it." For years, Native Americans have made the same argument concerning sports mascots.
(And please, let's not bring up Notre Dame's mascot here -- Notre Dame is a Catholic university that has had a great deal of Irish American students and administrators. Show us a history of American Indians in management or on rosters of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, and then we can talk.)
A 'Pocahottie' costume from Halloween 2013.
A February article from IrishCentral describes a complaint lodged against Spencer's Gifts. "No other ethnic group would stand for this type of vulgar and ignorant stereotyping," AOH National President Brendan Moore said. "Spencer's have gone too far." Spencer's products include t-shirts that say "Kiss My Ass It's Irish" and "Drunkest Bitch at the Bar," an "Irish Girl Wasted" trucker hat, and a slutty female leprechaun costume.
Niall O'Dowd of IrishCentral brought to light a number of unsavory St. Patrick's Day items from another retailer, including a t-shirt that says "Kiss me I’m drunk, or Irish, or whatever" and a hat that says "Irish Yoga: Downward Facing Upchuck." American Indians will be shocked, shocked to learn that the seller is Urban Outfitters, famous for the "Navajo hipster panty" and other culture-trashing items.
An infamous t-shirt design that Native Americans have objected to numerous times, without result. Source: Amazon.com.
"Get over it" is a retort familiar to many Natives who ask that Americans rethink their Halloween (and sports mascot) choices. This St. Patrick's Day, a contingent of Irish Americans who are proud of their roots and feel their day has been hijacked are calling for an end to the T-shirts and debauchery.
Should they "get over it" too?
Maybe every group should "get over it." That's one idea. We can all care a little bit less about our culture, our heritage, our ancestors, our identities, for the sake of someone else's gag t-shirts and sexy costumes.
Another idea is that we all treat other groups with dignity, and show some respect for their culture.