A St. Patrick’s Day Reflection

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A blessed belated St Patrick’s Day to you. As you can imagine, with a name such as Erin Leigh Flinn, St. Patrick’s Day is a big day for my family. One of festive food, music, and heritage pride. I usually start cranking Irish tunes in the car about a month in advance, and jig around my house when no one is watching. I am deeply proud of my Irish roots, we are a tough and hearty bunch with hearts full of stories and love for our kin.

Four years ago, I got to visit my ancestral lands for the first time, and it truly felt like home. As a matter of pride and identity, my grandfather always sports a rich green blazer with a four-leaf clover pinned to the collar. The Irish flag flies in front of his house just underneath the American flag and above the Navy flag. As for myself, on important days I wear my claddagh earing’s and Celtic cross. I am Irish-American and proud to be so.

Yesterday, in the Chicago Suntimes was a commentary piece written by three O’Shaes titled, Irish Americans, we must stand up for Black Lives Matter, I remember having conversation with friends and family who sport an Irish flags or clovers on their lapels who are opposed to the BLM movement.

As a community that knows oppression ourselves, we should be the first in line to help our Black brothers and sisters who are crying out for equal treatment, respect, and acknowledgement of the past sins that were committed against their ancestors. As Irish we know this fight in some ways, and yet in others it is not the same as all.

The colonization and indentured slavery experienced by my Irish ancestors was not the same as that experienced by Blacks who were sold into chattel slavery, no hope of ever buying or working their way into freedom. The famine ships were horrible, and still the people who boarded those ships were escaping oppression, disease and hunger, not dragged from their lands at weapon point and packed into a ship like cargo, chained and stacked together like boxes. We know what it is like to have our stories, and names, and language stripped away and Anglicized and forced to convert to a foreign religion; but we also have known a way to and through assimilation, afforded to us in part because of our white skin, in a way that people with black and brown skin have not yet been privileged to know. Our Irish ancestors endured and fought not only to survive but to thrive and preserve their heritage and their humanity.

When I look at the Black Lives Matter movement today, I see a place in the struggle. Our history should unite us, not divide us. It is often said that the oppressors win when the oppressed begin oppressing themselves and oppressing others. We know what it means to see a sign in the window, “Irish Need Not Apply” and it turns our stomachs to think of that past, but that is still the present for people of color. No, our laws today do not permit anyone to put such signs in the window, but discrimination is still happening in ways that are more insidious.    

I have often heard, and have even said myself, “I was not here when slavery occurred, my family came over from Ireland during the famine, we are not responsible for the atrocities of slavery.” That may well be true, but I hope as we reflect on our Irish story, we see similarities to the BLM story and that our hearts of flesh are moved to examine our own stories, and to open our hearts to the stories of our kin of all colors and creeds and at this moment in time, especially the cries of our Black brothers and sisters.