Neil Cosgrove, the National Anti-Defamation Chairman of the AOH, is calling on national retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond to immediately stop selling items in their Christmas Tree shops that he says are deeply defaming to Irish Americans.
“We’re seeing the same denigration of Irish Americans though stereotyping that we saw last year,” Cosgrove told the Irish Voice. “One of our members saw beer glasses on sale in Bed, Bath and Beyond with the legend “I’ll be Irish in a Few Beers.” “It’s really getting worse every year,” Cosgrave continues.
"We’re going in the wrong direction with the material every year. Last year there were hats being sold that read, “Everyone loves a drunk Irish slut.” It’s not even just drinking any more, now it’s about licentiousness.” Examples of other items currently being sold as St. Patrick’s Day merchandise include a set of green braces (suspenders) with two shot glasses attached emblazoned with “Irish for the Day.”
Another offensive item is a “St Patrick’s Day Calendar Spinner Party Game,” which features a party spinner that lands on different slots advising the player to have one or more drinks. This last item is particularly egregious as it not only defames Irish Americans, but also appears to be targeted toward young people and encouraging binge drinking, Cosgrove says. “You’d have thought we’d moved beyond these stereotypes by this point in time,” he says, suggesting that the reason they’ve been so prevalent is because for decades the Irish have been good sports. But the time has come to think twice. These items are contributing to an image problem he says.
“Culturally I think we’ve developed a self-deprecating humor, which I think is taken as carte blanche, that anything goes,” Cosgrave says. “I also think there’s a general lack of understanding about the struggles that the Irish American community has faced over the years. There’s not a general awareness of what the Irish Amercian contribution has been or what they have put up with.”
To date Cosgrove and the AOH have had major successes in their attempts to prevent the ongoing stereotyping. In one high profile instance he wrote to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the Clip Art that came with leprechauns and drunks in the Microsoft operating system.
“I actually got a very positive response from him and they removed those items. We have also talked to the Five Below vendors (who market to teenagers) and they pulled their Irish stock.” But there are significant holdouts. Spencer’s, a nationwide lifestyle retail company, have refused to stop selling items deemed offensive to Irish Americans. “Spencer’s have a corporate lawyer named Kevin Mahoney who says we really don’t care what the AOH think because they’re not our core demographic. Our demographic is 18 to 20 year olds he said. I think it’s funny to hear corporate counsel admit that they’re selling items that promote binge drinking when half that demographic is underage.
”In an era when American society is rejecting ethnic based stereotypes, as evidenced by the discussions over the appropriateness of Native American sports mascots, the AOH say they continue to be amazed that such blatant defamation targeting Irish Americans. We find it inconceivable that such products would be even considered by a major retailer if 'Irish' was removed and replaced by another ethnic group,” Cosgrave said.
Now the AOH is calling for Bed, Bath & Beyond to cease the sale of merchandise and to issue a formal apology to all Irish Americans via their website.
“I myself personally spoke to the store manager at the Christmas Tree Shop located in Spring Valley in New York. He said that he was 'just following the corporate directive,' and that he had no say in the merchandise they sell. He on his own volition did remove the offensive beer glasses and said that he had called the Corporate Offices and was still waiting a response,” Cosgrave said.