This story is sums up something I have been wanting to write about for a while now, namely the harmful effects of cultural imperialism, and more specifically, the American domination of cultural narratives.
But first off, I’d just like to say
GOOD ON THOSE MAYORS!
FUCK THESE PEOPLE. FUCK THEIR PARADES. FUCK THEIR HOMOPHOBIA. AND FUCK THEM FOR DARING TO CALL THEMSELVES “IRISH”.
You are not Irish. You are not citizens of the Republic of Ireland. YOU ARE IRISH AMERICANS. Please realise this difference, and please, Americans, stop referring to these people as “Irish”. THEY ARE NOT.
Can we now discard that idiotic notion, very prevalent here on Tumblr, that white cultures cannot be appropriated from in a harmful way?
Thanks. Anyway, on to the the gist of this post:
In a nutshell, America gets to define what “Irish” means, not Ireland or the Irish. And quite often, America and Americans get it wrong.
America is still the world’s leading cultural force, and the world’s only remaining super power. American media, from television to film to music to literature to this here internet, has more exposure throughout the world than any other nation’s. American voices are by far the loudest in international discourse. America gets to dictate cultural narratives to the rest of the world, by virtue of being the loudest/most powerful. American culture is not just ubiquitous globally, it is a baseline through which non-American cultures can connect.
With this cultural hegemony comes a lot of privileges, privileges Americans themselves might not be aware of, but people from any nation that isn’t America are. We would be very grateful if you could stop for a minute, reflect, and analyse the privilege granted to you on a global scale by your culture’s dominance.
American experiences and histories are assumed to be universal. But they’re not. The acceptance of this universality is, in fact, a symptom of imperialism. Hence, Americans thinking they can apply what they know of the “Irish” (in reality, the “Irish-American”) to people from Ireland. This also goes one step further, with American definitions of a host of categories being assumed to be universal, and discourse only being accepted if it accepts these same definitions. Regardless of very real differences that may exist, and the negative impact American definitions may have outside America.
America and Americans, the reason everyone understands and speaks your language, how everyone is able to converse with you on many different issues, is not because your language contains some inalienable, universal truth that everyone agrees with. It’s because your voice is the loudest. The rest of the world has grown up being bombarded with American media, culture, opinions, technology, and we can all speak American. But America doesn’t necessarily understand everything non-American. When ideas appear to contradict, or the language is not conforming to, American standards, Americans don’t always let everyone else speak.
I ended up arguing with an American friend about whether Irish people (ie citizens of the Republic of Ireland, not “Irish-Americans”) can experience “racism”, despite being white. I understand that, by the American definition of “racism”, we cannot. Irish people, on the whole ARE white, and the white Irish benefit from white privilege. White people, while we may experience ethnic discrimination, cannot experience systematic racism, because the system is built around white supremacy from which we benefit. And while that contains a lot of truth, that is the American definition of “racism”, and it is not universal.
The British definition of “racism” is different. Under British law, discrimination based on nationality, ethnicity and religious belief also count as forms of racism. This isn’t a theory, this isn’t a differing ideology. That’s a legal fact. In the past, citizens of Ireland and their relatives have faced organised discrimination by the British state based on their nationality, ethnicity and/or religious belief. By British legal standards, that IS racism.
When I told my friend that Irish people have actually experienced racism, I was dismissed out of hand, told that I was equating the Irish and black American experiences, that Irish people have it just as bad as black people. Which is something I never said (I’m not an idiot).
I was pointed in the direction of Noel Ignatiev’s book “How The Irish Became White”, which looks fascinating, but which actually has very little relevance to the discrimination faced by ROI/Northern Irish citizens in the UK. It’s about the experience of Irish-Americans, Irish people in America, not Irish people in the Republic of Ireland. [The book’s blurb states that Irish people fled to America in the 18th Century, which is true, but the story of Ireland and its occupation by Britain doesn’t end there. It got much, much worse.]. And while the book sounds very interesting, analysing the position of the Irish and their descendants within America’s racial landscape, let’s get something clear: using a picture of a pint of stout as the cover of a supposedly serious book is beyond fucking tacky, it is re-enforcing a very negative stereotype, undermining anything the book may say.
I felt my friend was arguing with me about Irish/British history from a baseline of US-centric critical thought, when what I was talking about was a cultural experience that actually had nothing to do with America. I felt I was being shamed, my argument dismissed and hundreds of years of history erased because it did not correlate to an American definition, which in this case was irrelevant. In essence I was crying “white tears”.
There are many racism-deniers who use “white tears” to derail discussions of race, but dismissing, out of hand, genuine experiences of racism that happen outside of America and do not conform to the US definition of racism as “white tears” is cultural imperialism in action. Those who have the power to control narratives also have the power to dismiss and exclude, power which, in this case, non-Americans do not have and which we feel all too keenly.
I don’t know why exactly this type of reaction is so common, except to say that perhaps Americans have absolutely no interest in accepting as real or relevant anything that does not happen in America. But I don’t believe that - I know far too many decent, caring Americans for that to be the case. More likely is the belief that, to Americans, American opinions are inherently “true”, when the reality is the world uses American language not because it is true but because it is what we have been bombarded with.
I am not anti-American, not at all. (And, in case it needs stating, nor am I anti-British). I love US culture - not all of it, but quite a lot has been massively influential on my life, and even how I define as a person. I just wish that Americans would realise just how loud their voices are, how much influence they have, how blinkered their views can be, and listen more closely to what non-Americans are saying without dismissing them because it is different.
These homophobic Paddy’s Day parades have gotten more press than all of the parades in Dublin/Cork/Waterford/Athlone/Limerick/Donegal/etc combined. And that worries me, because I fear “homophobic” will be added to the US-centric definition of what being “Irish” means, along with “violent” and “drunk” and “lazy”.
But I want to end on a positive note, with something that reflects pride in my identity as both a homosexual and an Irish citizen, how those things are not contradictory, and how, despite antagonism, I believe we can get on with people whose culturse have oppressed us. So here’s Panti Bliss’s anti-homophobic speech from the Abbey Theatre remixed by Pet Shop Boys.
And one last thing:
HAPPY ST PATRICK’S DAY!