I’m writing these words on the 17th of March, the day when Chicagoans make their river run green.
So let me ask: Does anyone out there who’s not Irish themselves feel ethnographically challenged, personally offended, or existentially threatened by St Patrick’s Day and its celebration of things Irish? Are you afraid of being overrun by O’Reillys, finding your cold Coors Light replaced by warm, dark Guinness, or being elbowed off your local dance floor by brigades of straight-armed step dancers?
No, of course not. The notion seems absurd on its face now, doesn’t it? (How you might feel about the holiday’s perpetuation of certain stereotypes is a different question entirely.)
But as you may know, it was not ever thus. Irish immigration following the Potato Famine in the mid 1800’s was seen as a scourge, a veritable plague, a calamitous threat to the existing social order. Certain folks were convinced that the waves of Catholic refugees fleeing ecological catastrophe and political mistreatment in their homeland were in fact only the advance troops for a Papal plot to overthrow the United States government, enforce Canon law, and set up a new Vatican in Cincinnati.
But today is also the 17th of March, 2019. Two days ago, an Australian gunman made the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand, run red with blood when he attacked two mosques, killing at least 50 people and injuring dozens more.
There’s a straight line connecting these events. In fact, they’re just different manifestations of the same curious and deadly phenomenon. Nowadays we call it “white supremacy.”
White supremacist philosophy, as I understand it, seems to hinge on a paradox. On the one hand, its adherents believe in the innate genetic superiority of their “race.” In fact, in one of its more bizarre flavors, the so-called “Christian Identity” movement, this supposed superiority is actually ordained by no one less than God Himself.
But somehow, this unassailable primacy, this supernatural endowment, is incredibly fragile and vulnerable. It could all be lost at any time, or so these folks declare, and the great edifices of European civilization could come crashing down around our ears. Only through vigilance – and violence – can the dark tide of multicultural “contamination” be kept at bay.
Never mind that DNA and ethnographic studies now suggest that not only is there no such thing as “racial purity,” the entire concept of “race” as we have previously known it may be completely invalid. To these unfortunate folk, all the advances of humanity are the work of their ancestors, and under constant and pernicious assault by their savage inferiors.
It seems to me that this philosophy is in fact a philosophy of self-loathing and fear. It attempts to defend what does not exist, something that never has existed. It looks back longingly to a illusory past, rather than thinking about how we might all construct a mutually beneficial society together, one that allows us to celebrate both our commonalities and our diversity. It is self defeating – in trying to engender pride, it brings shame upon the very people it supposedly wants to exalt.
Its followers are dangerous to be sure, as the string of white supremacist terrorist attacks loudly attests, but they are relatively few. The folks who are really dangerous, who are the real threat, are the political, religious, and media leaders who cynically manipulate and encourage such beliefs for their own ends.
(PS: Here is an excellent article about the American roots of white nationalism. )