2 Responses to Culturally Inappropriate Team Names and Mascots: What about Notre Dame?

  1. winnie50 says:

    I find your analysis terrific, as far as it goes, not least because Americans are so frequently oblivious to other people’s histories and have so thoughtlessly reduced Irish history and culture to kitsch. But in the context of current US race relations, it’s hard to see the Irish case as an egregious instance of cultural denigration or racism, when we’re dealing with killings like those of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and a Republican presidential campaign that is fueling anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim/Middle Eastern, anti-Latino “Build the wall! Deport them all!” sentiment all over the country. Notre Dame’s leprechaun isn’t in the same ball park, so to speak, as the Washington Redskins in a time when Native Americans, like other US racial minorities, are suffering even more than working-class whites as the income gap continues to grow exponentially. Just sayin’.

    In the global context, even as many Irish, especially young white people, are yet again emigrating in search of employment, their situation is not comparable to that of today’s Syrians or Sudanese. And as much as Ireland has suffered at the hands of the IMF, the World Bank, and other such institutions whose austere structural-adjustment programs are imposed by the richest countries in the world, Ireland’s fate cannot reasonably be compared to that of El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, or Vietnam. After all, many gigantic, tax-dodging US corporations are establishing lucrative inversions in Ireland, precisely because of a perceived cultural and economic bond among the powerful. I realize you weren’t declaring that any such parallels exist; but I do worry that the way you framed your argument tacitly suggests as much, if only by virtue of its structuring it in terms of an opposition between Protestant American nativists and Irish Catholic immigrants (or Irish Catholic Americans)–an opposition that has very little social, political, or economic meaning today, and that has virtually no adverse economic or political consequences for the Irish, however obnoxious it may be on a cultural level. This is in no way to diminish the importance of the issues you raise; I just think they have to be integrated into a much bigger picture.

    I take these matters to heart, in part because I’m personally invested in Irish and Irish American history. My great-grandfathers were both Irish Catholic laborers (one a coal miner in Pennsylvania, the other a docker near Liverpool) who married second-generation Irish women in their adoptive countries. They and their children remained in essentially the same miserable situation for ninety years, from about 1850 to 1940, though it must be said that, in the States, Irish men were permitted–indeed urged–to vote simply by virtue of formally declaring their intent to apply for citizenship. My great-grandfather’s two brothers voted here for 40 years without ever becoming citizens. Needless to say, Chinese, Mexican, and Eastern European immigrants did not have comparable access to voting rights (if they had any access at all), nor did African Americans or Native Americans. Also, as I recall, elsewhere you yourself raised the question of the general Irish opposition to emancipation during and after the Civil War; one could add that there were Irish slave owners in this country who fought for the Confederacy to defend their “property rights.” And as president decades before the Civil War, Andrew Jackson was responsible for some of the country’s most virulently racist policies, notably toward those Native Americans who endured the Trail of Tears. Granted, Jackson’s parents were Presbyterians from Antrim who came to the US before the Revolutionary War; but he was nonetheless Irish (Irish American), as were many of the (mostly Protestant) coal barons in late 19th c. Pennsylvania. Their Irishness meant something different here than it did in Ireland; it can’t simply be discounted on the basis of their ethno-religious and class privilege in Ireland.

    I basically agree with your analysis of the ways most Irish Catholics have historically been exploited, racialized, and trivialized in the US, in addition to being colonized, culturally demeaned, and bled dry by Britain. It’s important for both Americans and Irish to find ways to discuss these histories more critically. But I feel we need to be careful to distinguish them from the cruel histories that are shaping the present in very urgent ways both within and beyond the US. In many US English departments it has become depressingly common to hire a single specialist working on colonial legacies in some part of the global south, plus someone working on Ireland’s relation to Britain, and to imagine that the anglophone world beyond the US is being “covered” (the US itself being the almost exclusive focus of English departments these days). It’s so easy and so satisfying to do so: white people, who still comprise the vast majority of the faculty across the board, can feel righteous about having their very own history of oppression, and about seeing the problems with the Disney-fied Notre Dame leprechaun, even as they devote serious study to Irish literature and culture–all of this without really having to deal with race here or elsewhere, or with current matters of global domination in which the US plays such a central and powerful role.

    • seandalai says:

      Thank you so much for your intelligent, insightful commentary! I couldn’t have followed up better myself. Apologies, I have not been on in a long time, and am only just now seeing this! I agree with all your points across the board. Interesting that you comment on those particular points, because as I’m sure you can tell, the entire post was motivated by the Washington Redskins name/ Cleveland Indian’s ‘Chief Wahoo’ mascot media debate that was going on at the time. I saw both in my friend circle and in the news, an inability on the part of ‘white'(whatever that means) America to be able to relate to what should be obvious… that any marginalized community, regardless of color, or era, is subject to the dominant culture’s tendency to degrade and demean through caricaturization of stereotypes. I intentionally steered away from the points you covered in order to get readers remain engaged and hopefully relate to, the concerns of minority groups today- as a catalyst to empathy or to “incept” (as we say in my family, referencing the movie Inception) the reader with empathy, using their own ethnic history and a well-known icon. I find people will not read a piece if they even feel an inkling of blame aimed at them, or their culture. When people feel threatened, they stop thinking- and reading. Note that blame of the larger culture was not my intent, only to educate Americans of Irish descent about their own history and by doing so, perhaps open their eyes to others’ current position so that we can move forward past our colonial history.

      Unfortunately in the time that has passed since I wrote this, I find that information akin to what I discussed and new histories of “white slavery” in the Caribbean and the early colonial era in North America has become twisted to undermine the voices of minority groups in just the way you point out in your comment.

      A couple of other random thoughts-
      Who could have seen just three years ago, the virulence of the current political climate? I did see some of it coming, as I had predicted to friends and family that the demographic shift to white Americans becoming the largest majority wouldn’t happen without political upheaval. Even I was unprepared for what Trump has unveiled.

      As far as my own family ties, I guess it shows in my writing- One grandfather came from a Irish Catholic laborer family (iron foundry, and later my dad worked in a steel mill). The other was WASP; from a Scots-Irish immigration. As you say, “Their Irishness meant something different here than it did in Ireland” and I am still working on understanding that- how Irish Americans in the 20th century are painted with one huge brush but that within the microcosm of my family, are diametrically opposed in many ways.

      I didn’t know that English departments had become so, or should I say, remain so, insular? My professional focus is archaeology, and my knowledge of more modern times was/is lacking somewhat- historic times? ew. 😉

      You may find interesting that at the time I was working for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma concerning human remains infractions here in Indiana. I was particularly aware of their views re: the mascot issues at the time and trying to find a way to reach otherwise good people I know that just don’t, or aren’t willing to ‘get it’. Part of the reason I haven’t continued my writing on WordPress is that I have been writing and working on that human remains problem ever since. It is a long, slow slog and I have had to find additional means to address the issue. An article concerning same is about to be published in the Indianapolis Star, and I will post the link in these comments when it (finally!) comes out. Thank you again for taking the time to analyze and comment, and I hope other visitors here take the time to read it. It is quite helpful in understanding that larger context.

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