I am an avid fan of camp and kitsch so it is with a somewhat heavy heart that I feel compelled to note the underlying ideological failure of the kitschiest moment of my time in Ireland spent outside a Carroll’s. Unfortunately, the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin is not a lovable affront to good taste. Instead it is the clearest example that Ireland, like other colonized nations, has been drawn into the orbit of the neo-imperial trappings of the United States.
To a large extent Irish identity in the United States has been subsumed into whiteness, and has been reconstituted as just another slightly different brand of the same destructive product. As I’ve often interacted with that identity, both in my own negligible roots and in the larger context of the United States, it’s often been as farce because the power exercised by the harmful hegemonic racial impact of whiteness is fundamentally farcical, a pretense of history and “culture” thinly draped over the naked exercise of power.
Actually being in Ireland has given me an opportunity to understand Irishness not simply as a cynical exercise in branding, but as an existing rich identity with meaningful cultural expression. That in turn has pushed me to remember that whiteness is a historically contingent structure that we can seek to deconstruct just as it has been constructed. The reality of Irish identity in Ireland demonstrates that the common artificiality of Irish identity in America is neither inevitable not immutable. I’ve greatly appreciated that part of my time here in Maynooth in my coursework, personal relationships, and professional experiences.
However, American understandings of Irishness are certainly not absent from Ireland, from the Paddy Wagons that traverse the island to any establishment within spitting distance of Temple Bar. This invasion of American sensibilities, which I now know reach their peak on St. Paddy’s day, is malignant not because it threatens some imagined singular “authentic” Irishness, but because it is not about Irishness at all. It is about claiming space for laundering the legacies of white power, of white supremacy. This paddywhackery is harmful not because it seeks to exclude Irish people, as paddywhackery did in the past, but because it seeks to include them and recreate the exact commodified whiteness here as exists in the US. Perhaps my most valuable role as a Mitchell is helping Americans understand where we don’t belong, even here in Ireland.
No matter where we go as Americans we bring America with us, and as a result we change the spaces we are in. Global hierarchies of power do not stop at coast of the Emerald Isle, even after a year, and they do not disappear just because we have forgotten them. It is certainly to his credit that St. Paddy exorcised Ireland’s metaphorical serpents, but it seems he might have made space something for something much worse; me with a shamrock sticker on my nose. But at least there are no snakes!