Matthew’s criticism of St. Patrick’s Day is well taken, and as someone who’s given to teasing my “Irish” friends about their debased heritage and Papist superstitions, I should be very enthusiastic about putting St. Paddy down.
But despite my bias, I’ve always felt pretty good about our crude assimilation of Irish culture. By now, Irish-American historical lore is well-established: generations of discrimination, “Dogs and Irishmen Keep Out,” Kennedy’s storied presidential campaign, and so on. But look: The Irish have made it! A group that was once thought of as completely alien is now firmly established within the American mainstream. You can take several lessons from this experience, but the one that seems most relevant is that the United States has been astonishingly successful at assimilating disparate ethnic groups. This strikes me as something worth celebrating.
Conservatives will sometimes ask why organizations like the NAACP are necessary when white ethnic groups have no comparable political representation. The answer to this is simple: Most white ethnics have made it! Their traditions have been thoroughly assimilated into American culture (a cynic might say they were thoroughly diluted in the process, but that’s another story). They no longer need organizations that grew out of political and cultural oppression.
I look forward to the day when the NAACP is universally viewed as a cultural curator or an outdated relic of past political struggles. Maybe we’ll have Black History Month parades and everyone will claim they’re secretly descended from Frederick Douglas or something. This assimilatory process – fueled by commercialism and crude cultural generalizations – will undoubtedly sap some of the vitality from African-American culture (just as St. Patrick’s Day is a far cry from anything authentically Irish). But the end result is still something worth celebrating.