Congratulations to the Ancient Order of the Hibernians (AOH) on their victory over the sale of defamatory St. Patrick’s Day Irish material.
They won a complete victory when Bed, Bath & Beyond agreed to remove offensive St. Patrick’s Day items from their Christmas Tree stores.
The usual suspects will say such complaints are all over-the-top and should not be pursued, but they are dead wrong.
The AOH is right. It is high time we had a new definition of ourselves on St. Patrick’s Day, one that takes us away from the stereotypes and ugly imagery.
There is nothing wrong and something remarkable about how Americans view the Irish, but it is in dire need of an overhaul.
The drink besodden image has faded, as has the naked bigotry, but the caricature that replaces it is one of gentle mockery with a few bad Pat and Mike drinking jokes thrown in, the kind Ronald Reagan and “Tip” O’Neill told each other regularly.
It does not reflect modern Irish America or its incredible culture, history, political strength and philanthropic bedrock.
For instance, it rarely talks of the heroic service in American wars, the record 253 Medals of Honor.
It never reflects what we have built: the magnificent Catholic education system, the caring spirit of tens of thousands of nuns and priests over the generations, bad apples besides.
There are also the great contributions to literature, whether by Irish Americans Eugene O’Neill, Flannery O’Connor or William Kennedy, or by our Irish poets like Yeats and Heaney, playwrights like Beckett, writers like Joyce.
Nor is there any mention of the great Irish businessmen and philanthropists, Henry Ford, Chuck Feeney to name just two and the profound impact they had.
Henry Ford, son of an Irish immigrant, arguably changed America more than anyone in history.
How different St. Patrick’s Day might look if we marched with banners of such men and women to remind the world of the real Irish contribution, not the one where we smear on the green paint and act faintly foolish for the day.
There is a precedent here when we see how our Jewish brethren have dealt with the stereotypes they endured over the centuries. It should give us pause for thought.
Nowadays, when I think Jewish I think of the magnificent philanthropy evident in so many of our country’s finest institutions, from hospitals to universities to well-funded Jewish non-profit community groups.
I think of the love and concern for the homeland of Israel and the political influence they have gathered over the decades on that very issue.
I think of politicians like Senator Chuck Schumer in New York, who has built ethnic coalitions of every kind to the point where he is our go-to man on Capitol Hill since Ted Kennedy passed.
Sure, the stereotype of the Jewish banker is still around, but it is worth remembering that the most fraudulent Jewish banker of all, Bernie Madoff, ripped off mostly his own people. Greedy people on Wall Street are not confined to one ethnic group whatsoever.
Near me in New York City is the 92nd Street Y, where every aspect of Jewish life, literature, history, and much more is analyzed, dissected and discussed in a never ending series of programs.
We Irish have no such facility to tell our stories, educate our youth about their heritage, inspire future generations.
Instead we have St. Patrick’s Day, so much of which is drowned in a great green sea of mediocrity and temporary madness.
We need to do much better.
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