Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Irish Daddy Syndrome

Here is a list of President Obama's most vociferous critics of late:-

Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Chris Matthews, Joan Walsh, Charles Pierce,Maureen Dowd and Gene Lyons.

They have a lot in common. First of all, they've all made, recently or at sometime or another a remark about the President which could easily be construed as racist.

Let's see ...

Moore quoted his BFF, Bill Maher, in wailing despondently on The View that he voted for the black guy and got the white guy.

Maher never loses an opportunity to remind people that the President isn't white, and laments the fact that the President just doesn't fit Bill's idea of a ghetto gangsta, or he's either poking fun at the President as a bumbling, ineffectual, black man.

Chris Matthews occasionally forgets the President is black, when he isn't describing him as elitist (another Northern word for "uppity.")

Charlie Pierce, child of Boston and the sort of student Louise Day Hicks sought to protect, gave a critque of the 2010 State of the Union message, with an optional soundtrack, which was the theme from "Shaft."

Dowd is synonymous with Presidential ad hominem.

And poor Joan Walsh and her homeboy Gene Lyons ...

When they're not resenting black people or defending Harriet Christian or insinuating that African American academics get tenure by racial intimidation or trying desperately to show people that they do, they really, really do have black friends, they're just as desperately trying to convince us that, as Americans of Irish descent, they had it just as bad, if not worse, than black people, themselves.

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint y'all, but you didn't.

Writing earlier this year, about the question of the President's biracial heritage, Lyons said:-

My view is that absent extreme circumstances, race never tells you anybody's story. But then I'm a guy who once got summoned into the registrar's office for identifying my race as "1,500 meter freestyle" on an official form.

They explained that Civil Rights laws made an accurate response necessary. Anyway, in other contexts I might have answered, "I only look white. I'm Irish."
Reading 18th- and 19th-century accounts of life on the Emerald Isle had taught me that every single bigoted generalization made about black slaves in America, was also made by the English about Irish Catholic peasants.

The native Irish, their overseers thought, were physically powerful, gifted at singing and dancing, but also dumb, lazy, insolent, sexually promiscuous and bad smelling. These shortcomings, as Swift made clear in his immortal satire "A Modest Proposal," in which he proposed fattening Irish children like piglets for slaughter, made their virtual enslavement inevitable.

But that was long ago and far away.

Anyway, back to President Obama, who has made no secret of his mixed inheritance. He's even written books about it. Indeed, it seems to me that along with his great intelligence, Obama's background helped make him a kind of intellectual and emotional counter-puncher -- watchful, laconic, leery of zealotry, a born mediator.

Like a man behind a mask, Obama watches people watch him

Checking the "black" box on the census form, however, was the politically canny choice. Americans aren't far enough from the days when absurd categories like "mulatto," "quadroon," and "octoroon" had the power to determine people's lives. Sadly, had he checked the "white" box too, many African-American voters would have resented it. Probably more than white racists, if the truth were told.

More's the pity.

Raised to think of myself as Irish before American -- a legacy of 19th-century immigrants greeted much the way illegal Mexicans are today, and who reacted by hunkering down in ethnic enclaves within walking distance of salt water -- I was taught that there was a proper "Irish" opinion on every imaginable topic.

To dissent was to risk being labeled inauthentic, a traitor to one's heritage. Over time, however, I realized that if there's one single overriding "Irish" trait, it's yelling at the dinner table.

And in the midst of reviewing David Goldfield's recent Civil War history, Joan Walsh suddenly had to divert to her own personal heritage history, just to make absolutely certain that whichever readers patently understood that the Irish had it just as bad as the former slaves:-

Early in the book, Goldfield quotes a Northern newspaper editor proclaiming “We can have no peace in this country until the CATHOLICS ARE EXTERMINATED.” Near the end, he finds a Birmingham News headline that reads: “We intend to beat the negro in the battle of life, and defeat means one thing: EXTERMINATION.” That doesn’t feel heavy handed; it’s fact, and it’s tragic.

Meanwhile, attacks on Irish Catholics continued. Although the famed Civil War Irish brigades fought bravely, the Organization of Union Veterans wouldn’t include them – or black Union veterans, either. And if certain abolitionists hadn’t already shamed themselves with their anti-Irish Catholic bias, they would later, when they dropped their concern for African Americans – and in fact, joined slavery advocates in concluding that blacks were unfit for self-government.

There've been other column inches which Joan's devoted to telling us all how the Nativist movement of the mid-19th Century (which spawned the Know-Nothing Party) targeted Irish (and German) Catholic immigrants at the time. And Joan repeatedly goes on to show, painstakingly, that the Irish suffered as much as the African Americans did, both before and after slavery.

She even goes one step further:-

When I was about 6, at the moral and political apex of the civil rights movement, my liberal, Irish Catholic father told me a story that changed my life: Dark-haired Irish folk like him and me, he said, were black Irish, the offspring of seafaring Moors from Africa who mixed with fair-skinned Celts in Ireland long ago. His kinky anthropology lesson was meant to show that racism isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid: That person you think you hate may well be kin.

Nice thought, for a six year-old, but, you know, we all have a common ancestor, and that ancestor was found in Africa.

I suppose I should applaud Joan's effort to convince, especially since most of the convincing has come within the past five months. Some of which she says is true. The Irish were treated appallingly by their English landlords. They were beaten, starved, driven from their lands and even killed. When they went, first, to England, looking for work, they were met with signs, bearing the initials NINA - "No Irish Need Apply."

Many were sent into penal servitude in the new colonies, if they were caught and convicted of a crime, and a crime could be as little as stealing a loaf of bread. When they arrived, they bore the status of indentured servant, their servitude was "bought" by their master and they laboured alongside the slaves the master owned ... but only for five years.

After five years, they had their freedom, enough money to buy a small tract of land or to invest in a business or even to return to the old country, if they really wanted to do so. In short, they were free, and freedom was something few slaves would ever know. Even if they were freed by their masters, they certainly didn't have the rights and privileges white society enjoyed, not for many, many years.

If Joan and Gene and the rest of the above would bother to read Doris Kearns Goodwin's seminal Lincoln biography Team of Rivals, they'd realise that by the late 1850s, the Irish and German immigrants constituted a burgeoning class of cheap labour for industrialists. Then, as now, immigrants could be paid less and be thankful. They were also new voters too, and as such, they were concerned about their personal economies.

If Lincoln freed the slaves, there would be a mass migration Northwards of an even cheaped labour force, and the European immigrants' wages would be driven on a downwards spiral. There was really no love lost between the Northern European immigrant working class, of which the Irish were a part, and the newly-freed African Americans.

And, of course, they would also be aware that the Irish heavily constitued law enforcement agencies - the Irish-American copper was a thing of legend, even now. The Irish successfully integrated themselves into both the social and political forefront of the day, dominating New York politics and running the first Catholic Democratic Presidential candidate in Al Smith, who was defeated by Herbert Hoover in 1928. Joseph Kennedy was the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and later Ambassador to Great Britain.

And all during this time, African Americans were being forced to live by the dictates of Plessey vs Ferguson and enduring all sorts of torture and lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan. By the time Joe Kennedy's son reached the White House, interracial marriage was still illegal in the state across the Potomac from the White House.

And still, still, as Gene Lyons points out, inadvertantly, scores of people lived by the "one drop" rule in assessing and judging a person by his or her race.

So, please, spare me the argument that race is no longer a matter of course, or that you want to liken your heritage to a shared experience with a people who were unjustly enslaved and treated abysmally for hundreds of years, just to expatiate your white guilt or to show off your so-called Progressive credentials.

How long is a piece of string? One of my direct ancestors was Pocahontas. May I have Virginia back, please?

And, please, disabuse yourself of the assumption that just because the Democratic Party, forty years ago, decided to disperse into the political wilderness a demographic it deemed and condemned to be depicted as "racist," that racism doesn't exist on the Left, per se. It's easily hidden by comedy and subtly clever manoeuvres, like inserting the theme from "Shaft" into a reference about the President. Then arguing that that isn't racism at all, but wit.

Joan Walsh and Bill Maher both admit that they never knew a black person until they were adults and finished with college. Charlie Pierce's education was argued out on the streets of Boston, with Louise Day Hicks, proclaiming, "You know what I stand for," and Irish Catholics spitting at Ted Kennedy.

Spare me your moral superiority, and spare me the myth of all Catholics being liberals. First, there was Father Coughlan, the Glenn Beck of the Thirties.

And nowadays, Bob McDonnell, Paul Ryan and Sarah Heath Palin would disagree with you.

This trio is part of your tribe too.

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