Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Me, I'm Irish... or Scottish... or whatever the *$!? else I want to be today!

Ask an American 'what they are', and you'll rarely hear 'American.'

More commonly, you'll hear 'Italian' or 'German' or 'Mexican' or 'Quarter Irish, two parts Dutch and some Cherokee Indian.'

Most American's individual identity stems from their ancestral heritage, rather than where they were born or the color of their passport.

It's a phenomenon especially noticeable on St. Patrick's day, when 'everybody is Irish.' From the amount of people wearing green on the trains and subway today, you might even believe it!

Really, though, it's just an extension of the same conceit which inspires people to boast that they're '100% Italian' when they were actually born on Staten Island and have never been out of the country.

Hey, I'm as guilty of it as anybody. I'll admit that I told people I was Scottish when I first arrived in America, when I'm actually British and for all intents and purposes totally English (it's a conceit James Bond – who was English/Swiss – also adopted.)

Mummy Militant also tends to adjust her racial identity depending on her mood. When she wants to boast about her cooking, or the fact that she has seventeen cousins (all called Paulie, who'll bury you in a New Jersey landfill if you do her wrong) she's Italian.

When she's boasting about her dynamic accountancy skills, or being sarcastic, she's Jewish (and since she's half Italian, half Jew, it's fair for her to describe herself as Jewish.)

Recently, when we had to fill in the census, there was uproar when President Obama listed himself as 'black' when he's actually half-white . Dozens of idiotic right wingers said that he should be censured for 'giving false information' to the census office.

But actually, it just demonstrates one of the core values of American society – and one I'm especially happy about. In this great nation, the only person who gets to define who you are is you.

Obama is half white (appropriately enough for today, genealogists have announced tracing his ancestry back to Ireland.) But he identifies as black. So he is. He's the only one who has the right to decide what he is, or who he is.

And likewise, as Americans we have that same right. That's really the beauty of America. We get to create ourselves, in our own image, whereas in other nations (Britain especially) you are limited by the definition other people set for you.

So today, whether you're brown or black or yellow or white, you can be Irish.

Tomorrow, depending on your heritage and history, you might decide to be something else entirely. We can all be whatever we want to be; which is one of the advantages of all being American.


Susanne said...

Great! I like being able to choose what I want to be on any given day. :) Actually I usually say I am American because I'm such a mixture of European ancestry that labeling myself as British or French or Dutch when I don't even know how much of each I am seems ridiculous.

I agree that Obama is black and I don't see why it's a big deal to anyone. Under the old "one drop" rule, if you had one drop of "black blood," (*ahem*) you were black. But I don't say Obama is black because of this. He's black because that's how he chose to identify himself as you stated. Enjoyed the post.

treena-ivy-carter said...

But I'm 1/4 German, 1/4 Portuguese, a little French, British, Spanish, Italian...but 100% American if anyone whose racist asks...but that would make me Native American wouldn't it?