Tom Purcell: Irish stereotypes no joking matter
Ah, St. Patrick’s Day is upon us — which means it’s time for retailers, and too many other Americans, to perpetuate the “drunken Irishman” stereotype.
Here’s what three typical St. Patrick’s Day T-shirts available at Amazon.com say:
“Half Irish, Half Drunk”
“Irish Today, Hungover Tomorrow”
“I’m So Irish, I Bleed Whiskey”
IrishCentral reports there are more than 1,000 items on Amazon that “perpetuate the offensive defaming stereotype of conflating being Irish with drunk.”
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, America’s oldest and largest Irish-Catholic organization, takes issue with that.
Amazon recently removed items considered offensive to Muslims — an action that AOH praises — but has ignored repeated AOH requests to remove items that denigrate Irish-Americans.
This is rife with irony, because few enjoy a good joke or self-deprecating barb as much as the Irish — and goodness knows we all could benefit from a better sense of humor in these angry and divided times.
My father, whose grandfather came over from Ireland, and my Uncle Mike, whose mother was born in Ireland, loved sitting on the back porch on Sunday afternoons swapping Irish jokes, such as this one that my father particularly enjoys:
A German spy sent to Ireland during World War II is instructed to meet an Irish spy named Murphy and confirm Murphy’s identity by saying, “The weather could change by Tuesday.”
After the German parachutes into Ireland, he sets off for town. Along the way, he asks a farmer where to find a man named Murphy.
“Well, sir, it all depends on which Murphy,” says the farmer. “We have Murphy the doctor, Murphy the postal carrier, Murphy the stonemason and Murphy the teacher. As a matter of fact, I, too, am Murphy, Murphy the farmer.”
The German gets an idea.
“The weather could change by Tuesday,” he says.
“Aye,” says the farmer, “you’ll be wanting Murphy the spy.”
In any event, when does an attempt at humor cross the line into boorishness and offensive stereotype? Are these three Amazon T-shirt sayings in any way humorous, or merely rude?
“Kiss Me, I’m Irish, or Drunk or Whatever”
“Irish I Were Drunk”
“Today’s a Good Day to Get Drunk”
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737 for Irish immigrants to celebrate their heritage. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated, in part to recognize the many contributions the Irish have made to American culture.
But coarse T-shirt sayings and the propensity to drink excessively are no joking matters — nor do they reflect one of the greatest Irish contributions to American culture, a mighty sense of humor.
To be sure, with the world in such a tizzy — with so many people ready to shout, argue and poke each other in the eye — I can’t think of a better time to embrace Irish gaiety.
Which reminds me of the time St. Patrick walked into an Irish pub.
Donovan, McNalley and Finnegan saw him and each bought him a pint. Before leaving, St. Patrick shook Donovan’s hand. Donovan said, “My arthritis! St. Patrick, your touch has cured it!”
St. Patrick shook McNalley’s hand, and McNalley said, “My blind right eye! St. Patrick, you’ve cured it!”
St. Patrick went to shake Finnegan’s hand. Finnegan shouted, “Get away from me, St. Patrick. I’m on disability!”
Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com.