So why do we celebrate Saint Patrick's Day? I mean, I've a strong love for soda bread and Guinness, so any excuse. But beyond that, I think that this is why:
King of 'Shanty--cartoon depicting poor Irish as ape-like
I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country...to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.
- Cambridge historian Charles Kingsley, letter to his wife from Ireland, 1860
A "White" face and bone structure contrasted with an "Irish" face and bone structure--the Irish face is shown with features characteristic of apes.
Though we often characterize racism in America as being a "black and white" issue, our ancestors both here and abroad managed to complicate and convolute the issue of race far beyond skin color. The Irish were caricatured as base, akin to monkeys, and more closely related to "Negroes" than "proper" white people like the English. (The disgust I feel at the comparison to Africans being a bad thing is enough for another post entirely.) Degrading the Irish through monkey-comparisons and slurs reduced them to something less-than-human--and, in the wake of the potato famine and other social/political issues, a people whose needs didn't really matter and who could be denied their voice.
So, it's because of this:
A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro is to be met with in some of the lowest districts of London and Liverpool by adventurous explorers. It comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate; it belongs in fact to a tribe of Irish savages: the lowest species of Irish Yahoo. When conversing with its kind it talks a sort of gibberish. It is, moreover, a climbing animal, and may sometimes be seen ascending a ladder ladden with a hod of bricks.
Satire entitled "The Missing Link", from the British magazine Punch, 1862
An Irish servant, depicted as oafish, brutish and with ape-like features, as well as red hair (and boats for feet--dang!), causes domestic problems for the poor, docile white mistress.
that I celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. The Irish weren't the only group to be marginalized in America's history, and other ethnicities were disparaged across Europe and elsewhere, too. But there's a story of overcoming there--and overcoming intact. Because if any of these cartoons has a grain of truth, I think it's this one: