We must put an end to ugly stereotypes
With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, there will be much attention given to the contributions of Irish Americans, and rightly so. When I listen to current political news, the names on both sides of the political spectrum sound like a meeting of the Hibernians. Much will be made of how oppressed the Irish were in this country, and how they pulled themselves up.
Anti-Irish sentiment in this country was indeed virulent. One 19th century cartoon showed chimpanzee-like Irish at their “occupations,” which included begging, selling their votes and making bombs. People who had no contact with Irish people no doubt thought that they actually did look like monkeys and didn’t work, just as modern Americans can be made to think that all black people are lazy and violent, that all Mexicans are “bad hombres” and that all Muslims are terrorists.
I am speaking to my fellow Irish Americans when I remind them that, yes, we worked hard and improved ourselves out of all recognition from those ugly stereotypes, but we eventually got to be fully “white” because, well, we are. When prejudice against us tapered off, success accelerated. “Whiteness” gave us huge advantages that simply were not available to black and brown people, and still aren’t.
I would like to think that our history would make us especially compassionate toward the oppressed, but our current politics show that that is far from being the case. I am ashamed that so many of us seek to inflict the same fear and suffering that our ancestors experienced on immigrants and our own poor and disadvantaged – and out of fear and ignorance.