Green beer and cultural appropriation
By Jay Brodell
Is guzzling green beer to the point of gastric reversal just another form of cultural appropriation?
These days little girls dressed as a hula dancer of the legendary Chinese warrior woman Mulan are berated for their cultural insensitivity. Presumably only native Hawaiian women should be permitted to wear grass skirts. Only Chinese girls in drag should portray Mulan. Blackface definitely is out unless the wearer is a governor of Virginia or prime minister of Canada.
Yet hardly an eyebrow is lifted when those without any roots at all in the Emerald Isle put on the green, head for the nearest bar every March 17 and dance an uncoordinated jig. Heck, a lot of them are not even Catholic.
Apparently the Irish in the Americas have been slow to stake out their historic claim to drunkenness and other aspects of Irish culture. They have not made much of an effort to counter the stereotype of the gossipy, boozie layabout.
In fact, most of the descendants of Irish immigrants are not drunk much of the time. And they surely do not prefer green beer. A very dark glass with a foamy head will do nicely. Or perhaps three fingers of Dublin’s finest.
This cultural appropriation is not limited to the Irish high holiday. One definition of this violation is: Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. . . It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.1
With that definition all those non-Irish professional politicians are engaging in cultural appropriation by following the footsteps of the Irish city bosses of the 19th and 20th century, such as Frank Hague in Jersey City, Richard J. Daly of Chicago and Honey Fitz Fitzgerald and James M. Curley of Boston, Fitzgerald, by the way, being the grandfather of the 35th U.S. president.
There is no doubt the Irish have been victimized and fit the bill as a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited. After all, the Irish worked cheap and dug the canals in the early 1800s, fought on both sides of the U.S. Civil War in the middle of that century and then were herded into the mines to extract hard coal.
Irish Americans have been uncharacteristically silent on the cultural appropriation front over such products as General Mill’s Lucky Charms breakfast cereals, not to mention all those scary movies with nasty leprechauns. Such mystical creatures are held in high regard by many Irish Americans, and it is likely that the little fairy fellows would fall into the category of sacred objects, as noted in the cultural appropriation definition.
The Irish, for some genetic reason, also seem to excel in the literary department, perhaps even including constructing a tongue-in-cheek moral outrage for St. Patrick’s Day.
1. Scafidi, Susan. “Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law.” Rutgers University Press, 2005, cited online by the National Conference for Community and Justice, https://www.nccj.org/blog/what-cultural-appropriation