St. Patrick’s Day deemed ‘cultural appropriation’

An op-ed in Concordia College’s student newspaper argues that St. Patrick’s Day, like Cinco de Mayo, is a form of “cultural appropriation” on the part of revelers who do not share those ethnicities.

“Similar to the way many non-Mexicans celebrate ‘Cinco de Mayo,’ most of the people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day are not Irish,” Johnny Wagner writes Thursday in The Concordian. “St. Patrick’s Day seems like just a harmless day on which people go to parades and drink lots of beer, but is it actually an example of subtle cultural appropriation?”

Strictly speaking, he asserts, the celebration does constitute cultural appropriation, though he acknowledges that “some of the greatest features of living in the United States come from the vast diversity of cultures” and that many forms of cultural appropriation are perfectly acceptable. In the case of St. Patrick’s Day, he concludes that the appropriation is offensive because it involves “a majority party that is taking important, celebrated aspects of another, more oppressed party,” similar to “white people wearing dreadlocks” or sports teams using Native American mascots.

“When Irish people first came to the United States, especially after the potato famine, they were oppressed and marginalized by the other people who already lived here,” Wagner explains. “Furthermore, most of the people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day now do not understand its cultural significance. Thus, St. Patrick’s Day is, in fact, an example of subtle cultural appropriation.”

As an illustration of the harm done when members of a majority adopt aspects of a marginalized culture, Wagner points out that both Rock ‘n’ Roll and rap originated in the African American community, and that “when white people claimed Rock ‘n’ Roll, the effect on black culture was devastating in that an entire art form was stolen, and future profits went to white people instead of African Americans,” just as “white rappers like Eminem, Macklemore, and Iggy Azalea have gained success and fame from a style of music created by black culture.”

In order to make cultural appropriation “more acceptable,” he submits, those doing the appropriating should make sure to do so in a way that benefits the culture being appropriated. If a white person wishes to purchase traditional Indian clothing, for instance, Wagner advises that they should buy it from a producer in India rather than a company owned by white people.

And while Wagner concedes that “I’ve not heard of an Irish person being offended by the way Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day,” he cautions that this does not mean every Irish person is so forgiving, remarking that “St. Patrick was known for going to Ireland and converting the entire country to Catholicism, but not everybody wants to thank him for the way Catholicism controls the government and the morality of the people.”

He concludes by offering a few bits of advice for those who wish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a spirit of inclusivity, instructing readers not to “wear Ireland’s flag,” to avoid any mention of St. Patrick if one is not a credible historian of his life, and finally, “unless it’s specially made by some secret Irish brewing recipe that distorts the color, don’t drink green beer and say it’s Irish.”

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