Dan Boyle: America The Bruised

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From top: Dan Boyle (third row second right) and classmates at Barton School, Chicago, Illinois, USA in 1970; Dan Boyle

I have written before about one of my earliest memories. It was a night of riots in Chicago after the murder of Martin Luther King.

My father had come home with the bashed in windscreen on his car. My parents patiently tried to explain to the five year old me the concepts of anger, of fear, of hate, and how they should be responded to.

As an adult, conversations with my mother have given me a wider context to try and understand the United States, and its society, a place that has played an important role in my family’s story.

She has told me of a visit to New Orleans and her fury at seeing the blacks at the back of the bus rule continue to be enforced.

She told me of a friendship she had with an African American woman who worked with her at a hospital. My Mom invited her to her wedding. She did not accept. “Your friends would not want to see me there,” she said as she declined.

Having liberal parents gave me a particular worldview. I consider it something of a privilege to have spent my early years education in the Chicago public school system. A multi ethnic, multi racial, mixed gender education gave me a later appreciation that the concepts of differece and otherness are very often conceits.

The monochrome, homogenised Irish education system I came into is something I’m still trying to recover from.

In Chicago my parents, in their liberality, would have been atypical in the Irish American community. Then, and thought immutably, Irish Americans were Democrats. My Dad would have been a ward organiser.

Even as a child I would have had an awareness of comments and attitudes that were cold and disparaging towards others. Since then Irish America has drifted towards the Republicans. A direction orginally led by Ronald Reagan to the extent, that now, far too many Irish Americans identify with the misanthrope Trump.

It took centuries for the Irish in America to achieve a better social and economic status. In doing so, many seem to have forgotten the part of their collective history, that was when they were solidly part of the No Irish No Blacks No Dogs category defined by the American establishment.

As the rungs of the social status ladder have been scaled, it sadly seems that the ability to look down on others has been adopted too enthusiastically by those who have once known discrimination, even of a different type and of a far lesser scale.

Here in Ireland we raise our eyebrows at the mythic version of our country many in Irish America seem to have. We should be less gingerly in letting them know that modern Ireland is not how they may want it to be.

Equally we need to be a lot more forthcoming in how their country appears to us. The values of Irish America and Ireland itself are wider apart than they have ever been. We are experiencing different realities that seem to have us living on different planets.

We can look in horror at events as they are in the US, but we should do so wary in the knowledge that there are those in our society who also wish to foster and trade on hate.

We should do so knowing that there are those who are subjects of discrimination within our country, who we are continuing to fail.

What the US has become is what we may yet be, though hopefully not. By talking frankly and working directly with our ever more distant cousins, we may make both our countries better places to be.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator.  His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

7 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: America The Bruised

    1. Tony

      Only Trump’s appearance and manner are easy pointless targets. What Trump and those behind him represent is far more complex and insidious – ie. he and his lot are difficult targets.

  1. newsjustin

    Wasn’t it mainly just Irish catholics in the US that were put in the No Blacks No Irish No Dogs bin?

    Irish-Scots. Ulster Scots people, on the other hand, tended to be welcomed as part of the establishment/”decent” working class.

    I’m interested in how/why the party that ended slavery (republicans) turned into the part with the most obvious race issue. Why is that?

    For what it’s worth, I think the overwhelming reason that Irish Americans align with republicans now (not the only one) is abortion.

    1. Gabby

      Maybe also as people rise higher on the greasy pole they start despising their peasant and blue collar origins?

      1. newsjustin

        That’s definitely part of it. Maybe the biggest part. But the abortion thing is fundamental for a good share of Irish Americans who might otherwise be tempted back by the Democrats.

    2. Cian

      I was always under the impression that the “no blacks, no Irish” was mainly a London (or UK) thing. I’ve never heard of it in a US context.


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