Thursday, March 17, 2005

“Say it once and say it loud: I’m black, and I’m proud.”

The Movie: The Commitments, 1991 (Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Roddy Doyle, screenwriters, from the novel by Roddy Doyle; Alan Parker, dir.)
Who says it: Robert Arkins as Jimmy Rabbitte, aspiring roots-rock impresario
The context: Jimmy explains to his bandmates that they have the right to sing the great soul standards, because “The Irish are the blacks of Europe, Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, and the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.”
How to use it: To claim solidarity with an ethnic group you have no connection to.

My friend Maeve, a naturalized American who was born and raised in Dublin, can't help bridling when well-meaning Americans hear her accent and say, "Omigod, I'm Irish too!" I don't want to speak for Maeve -- maybe she'll comment here later today -- but I do see how that exchange illustrates two different ideas about what it means to "be" Irish, or "be" American.

The first and most universal human emotion, I think, is homesickness. We're born into this world in an act of violent separation, pushed from comfortable darkness into a bright, loud, chilly void. Many of us never recognize that free-floating sadness and anxiety for what it is: a desire simply not to be separate, to be somewhere we can call home.

People in industrialized nations have the luxury of feeling this even more strongly, because we're not so busy meeting our immediate physical needs. So we flail around trying to comfort this homesickness with all kinds of things: serial relationships, alcohol, drugs, food, television, endless activities and noise noise noise. The healthy comforts -- marriage, family, home, community -- form the basis of society.

But we Americans of Irish descent are lucky, because we get this one day a year that recognizes our exile, even if it's from a homeland that exists only in our imagination. And we give ourselves permission to medicate our pain -- which doesn't really have anything to do with Irishness -- with the beverages of our choice.

As the Pogues say, where'er we go, we celebrate the land that makes us refugees.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, y'all.


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Great post--just seeing it made me laugh. But I must ask, for clarity's sake: the character in the movie doesn't say "blacks" does he? And can you expain, please, how the pogues got their name?

AnswerGirl said...

I think you are right about this, but can't find my DVD of "The Commitments" to check, and IMDb says "blacks." That's better, anyway, because that other word -- the word I thought I remembered -- has no place in this blog.

And you know perfectly well that "Pogues" is from "pogue mahone," which means "kiss my ass," back from the days when punks were really punks, and not just poseurs in expensive vintage clothing.

Anonymous said...

Your mother doesn't understand how in New York when I was a boy the Irish, no matter how long their families had been there, considered themselves "...a chosen people, a people set apart...". We felt that we were an oppressed people. The victims of the WASPS and the Wall Street Jews. The nuns told us that all the time. Your mother was a debutant from Westchester and was not exposed to that indoctrination. I wasn't really a punk kid from the Bronx, but I knew plenty of them.
That culture and attitude went away when Kennedy became president in 1961 and the Irish Catholics from Fordham and Georgetown took over the government, at least on the second level, but Gerry Adams still raises money in the Irish communities of Boston and New York for his bunch of Thugs.
Just remember what my Grandfather Hogan Told me, "God sent the English Kings so the Irish would go out and conquer the world".
I figured out on my own that he also invented whiskey so they wouldn't be TOO sucessful.
On this one day lets remember the Irish, "A race that God made mad, for all their wars are merry, and all theirs songs are sad".

Aldo said...

I have to agree Clair, that I'm an american of Irish decent. Although my mother's side of the family never came over to the US like she did, when I spend time over there I'm just a visitor, a guest. I'm always humbled by the way that they treat me as an Irishman, but I feel differently. I hope that when I retire, I can live in Ireland for the remaining days....

AnswerGirl said...

I've only been to Ireland once, in May 1998, when friends and I rented a house in Corofin, Co. Clare. I arrived early on a Sunday morning, before my friends were ready to face the day, so I went to Mass in Corofin's one (apparently nameless) church.
Some portion of my own family comes from that area, and I sat in a pew and thought about the fact that they had left -- in sorrow, in fear, in some last scrap of hope -- for that very reason, just so that someday some great-grandchild could return as a (relatively) wealthy American tourist.

It would dishonor their sacrifice if I weren't grateful to be American.