Day 7, which means only 10 more until St. Patrick’s Day! Today’s an exciting one, as we’ve finally reached the first of my Moderately Offensive Irish Stereotype t-shirts!
My grandmother mailed me this t-shirt for St. Patrick’s Day in 2009 or 2010, I believe. It was the first that very clearly screamed, “Well, this can only really be worn around St. Patrick’s Day,” so one could even make the claim that we have this little guy to thank for our beloved 17 Days of St. Patrick Celebration.
What I like about this shirt is the depth of meaning that can be taken away. Is it referring to Irish people going out bar hopping? Is it referring to non-Irish people going bar hopping only to Irish bars? Is it making a statement via the bunny about the fact that Irish families traditionally are very large and have lots of kids? Even further, is it claiming that the Irish have lots of kids and reproduce like rabbits BECAUSE of the bar hopping? Or did someone simply say, “OMG, you guys, wouldn’t it be cute if a bunny went bar hopping? Get it? Because a bunny HOPS!” This t-shirt puts even great works of literature to shame with its expertly wrought subtextual nuance.
A quick note on stereotypes: I generally hate stereotypes and labels in all their many ghastly forms. If I use stereotypes and labels, then it means that I’m not thinking for myself, not properly analyzing situations or respecting individuals, probably because I’m either a) lazy, b) ignorant, c) or angry. I’m not perfect, but I certainly don’t want to go out of my way to be considered either of those three, so I avoid stereotypes and labels as much as I can.
Like many groups of people, the Irish have been the victim of stereotyping for centuries. It obviously began with the British, but it continued for many decades here in America, too.
The Irish were considered drunk, lazy, degenerate creatures, dirty immigrants unfit to live in society among “true” Americans—you know, those “true” Americans whose families had lived here for thousands of years. Oh what’s that? They had only stolen the land from the natives two centuries before? Weird…
Over the years, many parts of the country forgot why they hated the Irish so much, often because other immigrant groups moved in, and the ire shifted. (In some areas the Irish are still prejudiced against sadly, although it often has as much to do with their Catholicism as their nationality.) The ghost of those stronger prejudices still remains today in the stereotypes most people carry with them about the Irish, though. I’m the oldest of 8 kids, and I can’t tell you how many times in my life someone has heard that and said, “Oh, you must be Irish Catholic.” Thanks? I guess? I am, and proud of it, but it’s not the defining feature of my existence (says the guy in the midst of a 17-day St. Patrick celebration…). If I ever drink too much, it’s because I’m Irish. If I don’t like spicy foods, it’s because I’m Irish. If I drink Jameson and Guinness, it’s because I’m Irish. To many people, these are givens, as if I have no sense of agency in the matter. I don’t have a choice: I’m Irish, so this is how my life is supposed to be. I don’t like when anyone makes my decisions for me. I may happen to have tastes and interests and life experiences that are similar to many people with a similar background, but I choose those things for myself, and anyway there are just as many differences. Stereotyping isn’t cool, even when it’s funny or “mostly true” or not meant to be offensive.
The Irish are lucky these days in some respects, because their stereotype (in America, at least) is that they’re generally more fun than everyone else. Few nationalities get to have a “good” stereotype like that—probably the Jamaicans are the only other group with that particular “fun” stereotype, though both nations are the victims of other, less positive stereotypes. This idea that the Irish are more fun, though, comes from the old prejudices that we were worthless drunks.
There’s a story about why the houses in Dublin all have different doors of different colors. Allegedly men who got too drunk at night would frequently stumble into their neighbors’ homes, mistaking them for their own. They began painting the doors different colors to make it easier for the drunks to figure out which house was theirs at night. It seems like a harmless story, but it might not even be true. The Georgian-style homes built in Dublin in the 18th century were all identical, and their fronts couldn’t be decorated because of strict rules laid out by the developer. These rules didn’t apply to the doors, though, so many residents painted their doors, the one way they were allowed to show their domestic creativity to the outside world.
I’ve gone on a bit too long about this (haha “a quick note,” yeah right), and it’s true that the Irish really do have it better than many other nationalities/cultures/ethnic groups out there, especially Irish Americans. The image of the Irish today, though, has been cultivated from centuries of prejudice and persecution, and it’s important to remember that whenever one makes a seemingly harmless “joke.” Alcoholism is a real problem among the Irish, as it is among many groups of people who have traditionally been held back or kept down by oppressors. In that way, we’re no different from Native Americans or Mexicans or Russians or any other group: our reality today is the effect of centuries of causes and negative events, and it’s only through acknowledging these issues and treating individuals with respect that we can overcome them. Treat people as people, and identify with their specific circumstances, not their group’s general history.
I’m still wearing the shirt, and trust me when I say it is not even close to the most offensive one I have, but that’s why I only wear it once a year.