In the United States Whiteness is a monolith that assumes (or promotes for capitalist aims) a lot of assumptions around class, religion, and ethnicity. The Irish weren’t always considered white, but now their assimilation is celebrated in the form of St. Patrick’s Day. Along with parades and silly socks their former oppression is used as the ‘I may be white but my family had it tough too’ set of folks denying currently experienced racisms.
Add to that mess that Saint Patrick’s real accomplishment was driving out the indigenous religion, jokes about car bombs and that the food is very boiled and meat centric you might wonder what a vegan, pagan, activist might like about the holiday. The only real ethnic identity my family discussed was our Irish Catholic branch (maternal grandfather). My grandmother’s family emigrated from Germany as the First World War was kicking up, so they very much downplayed their home country. My father’s family rarely discusses lineage – in fact they would barely acknowledge they had only recently left Appalachia, and my father’s adoption by his stepfather (and we knew little to nothing of his biological father). Given this context it makes more sense to latch on to my family’s St. Patrick’s tradition. We never did bars or green beers – it was a ‘family holiday’ with special food, movies, and my Mom’s Clancy Brother’s records on repeat.
It’s that connection to my Mother, to the special meal, and calm (not all too capitalist) idea of ‘where we came from’ that I want to celebrate. Proudly I now ‘fake’ corned beef (a slow cooking seitan with the same spices), cook up a big ol’ batch of colcannon (with kale!) and sneak a tiny bit of whiskey into dessert. As other days are gobbled up for merchandizing opportunities (es: Cinco De Mayo) and our histories are flattened into caricatures today is a reminder of much I dislike the narrative of today, and how relatively easy my family has had it. Yes, the Klan chased my family down – but that was 4 generations ago. Our whiteness is assumed, and our privilege is plentiful. It is not a radical act to say ‘my family’s heritage does not include green beer’ or to even extend that courtesy to any other person’s heritage – but it is at least a step in the right direction.