Fashion retailer Urban Outfitters’ decision to mark St. Patrick’s Day by selling goods that promote negative Irish stereotypes has attracted the attention of Congressional leaders this week.
On Monday Congressman Joe Crowley of New York, along with nine members of the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, sent a strongly worded letter to the CEO of
Urban Outfitters, calling on the retailer to end the sale of clothing items and accessories depicting negative stereotypes of the Irish and Irish Americans.
The story about the Urban Outfitters line of alcohol-themed Irish products was exclusively reported in last week’s Irish Voice and has since sparked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic, with a Northern Irish politician also expressing outrage.
“By selling and promoting these items, Urban Outfitters is only fueling stereotypes that many Irish Americans, as well as the people of Ireland, work so hard to dispel,” Crowley said in a statement to the Irish Voice.
Congressional members who signed the letter took exception to items advertised by the company as St. Patrick’s Day wear, such as a hat which refers to “Irish Yoga” with an image of an inebriated man falling down and vomiting shamrocks, or a beer bottle with the words “Leprechaun Pi--,” and a green T-shirt with the slogan “Irish I Were Drunk.”
Continued Crowley, “We understand that such items may have been created with the intent of good humor. And, as members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, we know that Irish and Irish Americans often revel in self-deprecating and blunt humor. However, we believe these items represent a step too far, crossing a line into stereotyping and denigration.”
The letter also asked whether the items in question help promote a culture binge drinking, which they called a serious and deadly problem among young people in the U.S. and around the world.
“We strongly urge you to review your St. Patrick’s Day clothing line and consider its effects on the 35 million-strong Irish American community, as well as its implications for binge drinking. We also hope your review results in the withdrawal from distribution and sale of the items in question,” continued the lawmakers.
The letter quoted World Health Organization statistics that show 2.5 million people around the world die each year from alcohol-related causes.
“About 2,000 alcohol-related deaths occur each year among American college students. Alcohol or drug abuse is a factor in more than a half-million injuries each year -- and also in sexual and other assaults, unsafe sex, poor academic performance and many other problems.”
To that end, the lawmakers claimed, American families understand that binge drinking is no laughing matter.
The letter concluded, “We strongly urge you to review your St. Patrick’s Day clothing line and consider its effects on the 35 million-strong Irish-American community, as well as its implications for binge drinking. We also hope your review results in the withdrawal from distribution and sale of the items in question.”
In addition to Crowley, the letter was also signed by House members Peter King, Richie Neal, Eliot Engel, James McGovern, Bill Pascrell, Jr., Carolyn Maloney, Frank Pallone., Tim Holden and Christopher Smith.
Last week America’s largest Irish organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) called on the Irish community to rally together to have Urban Outfitters remove its offensive St. Patrick’s Day line from their stores, and apologize to the Irish people.
Meanwhile in a letter to Urban Outfitters, the Irish Anti-Defamation Federation stated, “The Irish community is fed up nationwide, and the vast Irish organizations we partner with are working to stop these attacks. We will start email, phone, and letter writing campaigns until this merchandise is removed.”
Last week an SDLP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Karen McKevitt, called on Urban Outfitters to remove the items from all of its retail stores.
“I think it was reckless for Urban Outfitters to use this offensive image…A lot of businesses rely on
St Patrick's Day to generate some revenue but when we see big companies trying to make money like this we should not be standing for it,” she said.