On Episode Eleven I told Charlie a little about the history of Saint Patrick’s Day. The holiday has evolved from a day where a persecuted minority celebrated their national heritage to a day where everyone is “Irish for the day” and every bar tries to sell you some green beer and Guinness. As a nation we evolved from “No Irish need apply” to “Kiss my I’m Irish.” And while some people would shake their heads and decry the way that a cultural group is being co-opted to sell drinks, I think there is a lesson to be learned here by anyone who wants greater acceptance for their own brand of differentness, be it sexual orientation or a love of tattoos. It all comes down to just wanting to be accepted for who you are.
Don’t Assume that Everyone Hates You
The St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City is one of the longest running parades in the world. I don’t think that we would have gotten to that if the parade had been a hostile march by a group of citizens who assumed that the rest the city hated them and that they would never be accepted. When you are out and about, assume that any people who are watching you are just curious. They haven’t got the chance to know you yet and are still making up their minds. You won’t get anywhere by starting from the position that the people who are looking at you are judging you or think you are going to hell. It’s true that some of them probably are the vast majority are not. And even if there is an asshole in the crowd, don’t let the basterds get you down. They are no doubt jealous of the fact that you are free and happy and doing what you want while they are repressed and miserable. And don’t forget, most people are pretty self-absorbed. Most of them probably haven’t noticed you and if they have their thoughts were almost certainly more about themselves than they were about you.
Living-Well is the Best Revenge
Most people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day aren’t doing it because they have any real amount of Irish blood in them or to show their appreciation for the contributions of Irish-Americans to our culture. Most of us who go out on March 17th to listen to some good music and have a pint of beer do so because it’s fun. At some point people must have gotten tired of making fun of the Irish and instead looked at their close-knit communities, the parades, the music and the drinking and thought “You know it looks like they are having a really good time. I wish I could do that.” I realize that I am over simplifying the complicated process of cultural assimilation and changes to communities, but I really do think that the best way to gain cultural acceptance is to go about your life being as happy and successful as you can be. For example, there have been woefully few laws passed protecting the civil rights of LGBT people in the country but for the first time polls are showing that the majority of Americans favor gay marriage. This didn’t happen because of laws or protests but because gay people came out of the closet and started living their lives openly and happily. Eventually people will start to realize that being hateful, judging what consenting adults choose to do in the bedroom is no way to spend their life. Until then you can do more to influence your acceptance into society by doing what makes you happy and making no apologies than you will by protesting in the streets.
When All Else Fails: Organize
Of course being friendly, happy, successful people will only get you so far if society continues to deny you important civil rights and full equality. As the Irish-American population continued to grow in the 18th and 19th centuries, they eventually realized that they represented a significant voting block. The Tammaney Hall political machine was organized to leverage their numbers into political power. If you are after more than just acceptance of who you are, if you are fighting for civil rights, then you can’t wait around for the rest of society to accept you before you demand your rights. Right now in politics there seems to be a small percentage of the population who are calling the shots and defining the terms. It’s time to make sure that you are the one defining yourself and your terms, and you can do that much more effectively by coordinating with other people who are fighting for the same thing. Even if you are part of a small minority, chances are you share larger values with the majority. Women who consider themselves liberal feminists may not be a significant voting block but women who use contraceptives are. Gay people who want to get married may not be significant voting block but people who respect a public commitment to a life partner are.
At the end of day I am an optimist. We have come a long way in this country toward integrating many cultural, racial, and religious groups into our society. And as the history of the Irish shows, there are always people who push back against greater inclusion and acceptance. But this history also shows that the conservative reactionaries who fight against you are eventually proven wrong. So this St. Patrick’s Day get out there, be friendly, have a good time and show the world who you are. I predict that in another 100 years sports bars will be using Gay Pride Day as a chance to sell more drinks and everyone will be sporting “Gay for the Day” pride pins.
Photos by Miroslav Culjat, from the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin 2009.