I know, you think the phrase is supposed to be, “It’s St. Patricks Day and everyone is Irish. I don’t see it that way though. This isn’t the first thing I wanted to post on this blog. I have other things I have been working on and hoping to put up that were insightful, entertaining, informative, and just a hell of a lot better. Hopefully this will be some of those things, but it ain’t where I wanted to start.
I started this blog to try and figure out where I fit into this world. You might think that since I am about 75% of my ancestors are Irish that St. Patricks day would be a good place to start, but it really isn’t. For one thing, St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. For another, neither am I. Yes for the most part my ancestors came from there, I didn’t. I have never even lived there. I haven’t struggled through what the folks that came from there struggled through. Before my ancestors were Irish they were Celts and even before that they were Keltoi. A loose confederation of tribes that were all over what is modern day Europe. Eventually most of those ancestors settled in what is present day Ireland. My paternal grandmother is Piikáni, more often referred to these days as Blackfoot. Yet another group that I don’t belong too. See, I am special.
I was raised in the USA. In the USA if you are white (extra points for being male) you belong to a class that regardless of your wealth is a privileged class of people. You are separate and superior to all those around you. If you don’t believe that all you have to do is read any history book, watch any TV show or movie, or just hang out with any other white people. In the USA white people started a country for the benefit of and run by white males. That is what this blog is supposed to be about. About my daily journey to try and overcome that privilege so that I can become a person who actually strives for what I believe to be an egalitarian society. I self describe myself as an anarchist, but the more I find out about myself (and most other anarchists), the less that label really means to me. But this post is about being St. Patricks day and the Irish being everyone.
A discussion (ok, heated argument) I get into with people of Irish ancestry in the USA often involves comparing themselves to every oppressed group of all time. See, being a white guy in the USA and being Irish, you hear of all the awful things that have happened to the Irish throughout their history. And hell yeah, they have suffered. Imperialism is a brutal, evil thing and the Irish (and the Celts) have seen the shitty end of that stick for a long, long time. They still suffer from British imperialism in Ireland. But like I said, I ain’t Irish and not from Ireland and my experience with the Roman and British empires differ from the experiences of most other people who have suffered from the colonialism that was the European expansion around the world. For one thing, the most important thing, by two or three generations after your Irish settler families came to one of the colonized places, you were just a regular white person. You might still suffer from income inequality. That isn’t because you are Irish really but it does make a good scapegoat. That has to do with capitalism and is a subject I will hit on more in other posts. This one ain’t about that anymore than life in general in the industrial nations revolves around capitalism. Again, this post is about how the Irish are just like all other oppressed group, according to people with some Irish blood that want to detract from the history of oppression and colonization and their place within the hierarchy of white supremacy.
I read an article entitled “10 Stunning Similarities Between Irish and Native Historic Experiences” by Christina Rose. Let me be clear, the piece isn’t a bad piece. She has lots of good pieces. But this could as easily have been entitled “10 Things Imperial Forces Do To People” and be done with it. In fact, I wish it would have been. The reason for this is that these “stunning similarities” are often the “go to” defense given by white settlers that don’t want to recognize that they aren’t an oppressed group and that somehow, because their ancestors suffered some shitty things, they are more empathetic too and mainly absolved from the things they do on a daily basis that perpetuate the system we live in TODAY. That because somewhere in their past their ancestors suffered, they are also victims of the society they live in TODAY. That they somehow enjoy a less privileged existence within the white power structure than other white people do TODAY.
Like I said, Christina Rose does some good work and she based this piece on writings by other authors who have written about how the Irish have been treated and the similarities of being attacked by a colonizing power. Awesome. But some facts not in evidence in the piece might have shed some more light on the present situation of Irish descendants living in colonized countries, and it might have even shed some more light on the current plight of the people now living in Ireland. Current best guess estimates place the number of people worldwide that claim to be of Irish descent are at around 80 million people, and I think that is probably a lowball estimate. In fact I am not sure if I have ever met anyone that didn’t claim to have a little Irish in them. Lots of black folks I know talk about how they have Irish ancestors. Lots of people I have met on different reservations talk about their Irish ancestors. And vice versa. Plenty of people claiming Irish descent have stories about being “part native” or having black folks in their family histories (strange though, they never claim to be “part black”). The bad thing is though, most of them don’t even know their own stories past a generation or two. Can’t even connect themselves to a specific part of Ireland or to when their Irish ancestors came to the USA. Most of them claim it was during the Great Potato Famine, but they don’t really know for sure. I am luckier than most with knowing when and where my family came from in Ireland as they are, for the most part, recent additions. My great-grandparents were still alive when I was young enough to hear their stories and it was most of them that came to the USA themselves, or sometimes they were close enough in age to have known their family members that made the crossing. Contrast that with my grand-mother who is full blood Piikáni and told me almost ZERO about her culture, her family, or her past. About the closest she ever came to telling me anything about it was, “being an Indian isn’t all you think it is”. Her and her brothers were sent to boarding school when they were young and eventually anglicized their name to Camp. In my two attempts to find relatives in Montana where she came from I had no success in finding any relatives and was just another outsider white boy tourist. Everything I know about my native history or culture is what I have learned by doing my own research and even that is mainly through the lens of the white culture in which I was raised.
But some of the history of being a Celt and being Irish that some of these folks need to know, things that might make them think twice before trying to draw similarities between themselves and oppressed communities are left out of their dialog. They just don’t know it for one thing. The story of the Irish in the US is part of the narrative that supports US Nationalism and is a sad tell retold to continue to demonize the British Empire and reinforce the idea of the European colonization of and the migration to North America.
Before we were Irish, we were Keltoi (Celts). A loose federation of tribes that ranged from present day Germany, France, Spain, all the way to Iran. The great empire of that time was the Roman Republic. Celts held seats in the Roman Senate. They controlled the salt trade of all of Europe. Different tribal families were granted “royal titles” by the Romans. They were granted lands to lord over, not forced onto reservations. For the most part they embraced Christianity when it became the dominant power of Rome.
Yes, we had no written language and the druids were the keepers of the religion, the history, the traditions, and the language of the Celts. But they weren’t treated with respect and the were not killed off by colonization, but mainly attrition. They were given no respect by the Christians and the Celtic culture was allowed to die, it wasn’t killed off and it wasn’t genocide.
The Irish did live agrarian and nomadic lifestyles. They did resist the British empire and do still to this day, but it was a war of Catholic versus Anglican, not so much a clash of culture.
The Celts were the kings of cultural appropriation. When Vikings raided, we took their art. And the Vikings left. When the Romans invaded we took their warfare and dress and law and religion. When the Germans and Franks invaded were took their languages and traditions and alcohol. The Celts assimilated themselves out of existence.
Gaelic was our language and many are now speaking it again or learning it, the best we can. Our only link to our past traditions were what the Catholic church wrote that they were, so we are inventing a new nature based religion, that we learn from other cultures who have maintained theirs.
I have traveled many places and everywhere I go I find Irish. You know what I don’t see in these places? Navajo, Cree, Crow, Lakota. They are all being held in camps that my colonizing ancestors help put them on, at least the ones they weren’t able to kill off.
Ireland doesn’t want us. We can never return to a Celtic homeland that we willingly assimilated.
I would like to know about my Celtic past, but that is all it is. I would much rather learn to become Diné though. Where my heart lives is on their land.