On St. Patrick’s Day and Being a Black Lady

by Thembi Ford

This morning I opened my e-mail to find this:

Direct your gaze to the upper left-hand corner. Did a Black Big Beautiful Women dating site just send me a St. Paddy’s Day promotion?

Let me explain. A few years ago I did an online dating experiment. I was 30% legitimately interested in meeting someone and 70% interested in entertaining myself with the inevitably disastrous results. I posted a limited profile on just about every dating site that seemed semi-reputable, including one where you had to check a list of adjectives about yourself, which I suppose is how I ended up on a Black BBW Singles site among many others whose mailing lists I can’t get myself off of no matter what I do. I’m not sure exactly where the line between regular-sized and big and beautiful is but most guys place me on the big side of it while the rare men who fetishize big women don’t consider me big enough. Whatever. I sure am black, so BBW Singles it shall be. What I am not is encouraged by anything involving St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m sure that 99.99% of my fellow Black BBW’s feel the same. So no, this promotion doesn’t do anything for me and actually has me kind of miffed.

Let’s be real here. I’m not able to fully identify with any ethnicity except for my own, but I do have a very close Irish friend. She is really Irish as in from Ireland, not from Boston or what have you. When she hears Americans refer to themselves as Irish in any way she rolls her eyes and replaces her usually cheerful face with a blank stare. “I am Irish. Those people are Americans.” Italian people do the same thing to “guidos,” and African people do it to slave descendant black Americans. As Americans, we like to live these hyphenated lives and identify with some culture that pre-dates that whole United States thing. It’s part of what makes us different on the world stage while also making us look kind of foolish at times.

While St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland, Americans use it as an excuse to get as drunk as possible, dress like leprechauns, and run through the streets with no jackets on while singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” until they can’t sing it no more. That is not Irish. That is American. Sure there’s a St. Patrick’s Day parade, but the legions of drinkers taking to the streets dressed in all green do so for four or five nights surrounding the actual holiday, obscuring most of its cultural value with a constructed version of something real — sort of the Irish-American version of Kwanzaa, just way more fun.

Back to the topic at hand. I can’t begrudge anyone a cultural experience or a night of drunken revelry, but you won’t see me out there. I tried to go out on St. Patrick’s Day a few times in my early twenties and every reason that black women are few and far between in Irish pubs reared its ugly head: my hair was touched many times, people spilled beer on me and stepped on my feet without excusing themselves, and of course I was the only black chick as far as the eye could see and the handful of black guys in there wouldn’t even look me in the eye. Everyone was so drunk and gregarious that I spent most of the night talking to guys who looked like this:

I can’t work with that! Yet after a few hours surrounded by douchebags with green spray-hair and beads I’d always convince myself that I could! Ten years into the game and I am finally sure that I cannot, I will not, and my white friends can go have a blast without me.

For the record, I generally love Irish bars. My policy when traveling is to always find an Irish pub because no matter where you are in the world there will be an English speaker in there and some good beer. But there’s always someone messing up a good thing, so when I’m stateside I have to be way more choosy.

I’ve come to realize that I’m a grown black lady and some things just aren’t for me, St. Patrick’s day being one of them. And shame on whatever dating site sent me this promotional e-mail, both for refusing to honor my request to remove me from their list and for having the nerve to present such woefully poor targeted marketing.

  • http://1stamend-kisa-kisa.blogspot.com/ kisa

    Why didn’t you just hit the “delete” button?

  • http://www.adivastateofmind.com A Diva State of Mind

    LOL @Kisa. My thoughts exactly. Didn’t think a black women receiving an email about a St. Patrick’s Day celebration was that deep.

    It’s only poor marketing if you weren’t interested in participating. Some black women on the email list may be like going to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day festivities. I’m a black women and went out and “celebrated” St. Patrick’s Day while in college. I’d do again 5 years later. To enjoy the fesitivities on an ocassion like this you have to be open minded and not be so serious. Everyone is out to drink and have a good time.

  • LN

    In Chicago EVERYONE (regardless of ethnicity) gets in on the St Patty’s Day parade. It’s the perfect opportunity to get sloppy drunk in public. It’s not so much seen as an ethnic parade as one of the city’s many warm-weather festivals. Same thing for the Pride parade. A ton of straight guys and girls (including myself) go for the general festivity, color and booze!

  • LAD86

    I am a Black woman with an Irish name.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    eh, I’m stumped at your long essay about not fitting in or understanding the wowzer of St.Patty’s day. It is not because you are a grown black lady, it’s just that, you could care less for their culture. It ain’t that deep.

  • Monique

    I know, right?! I didn’t think it was that serious either. I plan on donning some green eye-shadow, eating some corned beef & cabbage and enjoying myself. Better believe I’ll be out for Cinco de Mayo, too :)

  • Alexandra

    Some things aren’t for everyone. I know lots of non-White/non-Irish that love and are going to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Just leave it alone & take care :)

  • Candy 1

    I’m really not that big on holidays, period (not even Christmas, and I’m a Christian). Especially the “ethnic” holidays (or whatever you call them). I always have people asking me why I’m not wearing green on St. Patrick’s day, and I’m always like, um, I just don’t celebrate it. I do get a little annoyed that some people expect you to celebrate it. I mean, why do people think you’re automatically ‘supposed’ to?

  • LAD86

    Yea, that and when people look at someone *funny* for not getting their mother a gift for Mother’s Day.

  • binks

    I don’t see it as people living their hyphenated lives but celebrating their heritage just because you aren’t directly from Ireland. Ital

  • binks

    Ggrr… anyway. Italy or Africa doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it with an American flare. Nor does it means that just because your aren’t apart of that ethnicity you can’t celebrate and enjoy the festivities hell maybe it’s the new Orleans native in me but I go to pretty much all parades/ festivities st. Patty, Italian day parade, the west Indies,Jewish, German, etc. Sometimes we think and analysize to hard events like these are suppose to be thinkless and fun but it it isn’t your scene then it just isn’t

  • ogawdDee

    So am I!!!

  • Laina

    What I do not get is Black people wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. But I guess if it makes you happy to be part of a celebration, got for it.

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    Ireland and Italy are countries, African is a continent. That is all.

  • Laina

    I meant go for it.

  • KENZY

    im not sure where to go with this so all i will say i worked at an estate planning law firm…please let that sink in because that is key… a black lady was the attorney even though that bit of information doesnt matter, the point is she would make us do these mass email blast and mailings complete with designs for ANY LITTLE HOLIDAY..seriously from groundhog day to grandparents day to yes st patricks day…so my point is maybe this company has that same mindset (which i dont agree with by the way) which is, find a way to incorporate the upcoming holiday as an excuse to blast our clietns with marketing information to try and get them to spend

  • LAD86

    Do you mind saying what your name is?

  • Shania111

    I hear what the author is saying about St. Patty’s Day. It gives people that have benefitted from being “white” 364 days of the year to all of a sudden become “ethnic” and celebrate their “culture.” White people are quick to claim they have some Irish in them on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s convenient. Did your Irish heritage ever keep you from getting a job or getting a cab? Probably not. Do you celebrate Irish traditions all through the year? I can say with certainty that my circle of “Irish” claiming friends do not.

    When Irish immigrants migrated to the US, they were of the lowest and poorest classes; of course their white skin color has helped them assimilate/integrate into white culture until it is practically impossible to discern an Irish-American (if that can even be claimed with all the other ethnicities mixed into white culture).

    They are happy with just being white until it’s convenient to be Irish on this holiday. Geez, I wish I could pick and choose when I wanted to be of the majority and when I wanted to be a minority. Except I can’t because my skin is brown – there’s no optional ethnicity for black people.

    That’s what the author is getting to.

  • Simone

    “When Irish immigrants migrated to the US, they were of the lowest and poorest classes;”

    Yep, this right here. I spent a couple years of my life researching the Irish and Irish-Americans in a doctorate program, and the British treated the Irish as badly as black citizens were treated under Jim Crow, and not for 100 years as with Jim Crow, but for hundreds of years. They basically had no rights. You couldn’t own an Irish person as a slave, but for instance, the laws pertaining to indentured servitude, which many Irish were forced into, made the Irish virtual slaves in every way except the term. In the British kingdom, you could go to jail for a much longer time if you killed a man’s horse or his sheep or his hunting dog than if you killed an Irishman. That followed the Irish over to the U.S. when the Irish starting showing up in this country, with people putting out signs saying, “No dogs and no Irish” at hotels and restaurants, with the Irish facing tremendous bias in hiring, housing, medical care, etc. When the first canals needed to be dug in New Orleans, slaves were considered to be way too valuable to risk their lives like that, so they brought in Irish laborers, many of whom died in work accidents or from malaria digging the canals. They were not valuable human beings, so it was okay, no big deal. The ones that survived were allowed to stay in New Orleans, but only in a well-defined area. To this day, that section in New Orleans is called the Irish Channel. The same when the Transcontinental Railroad was built. The Irish laborers started from the East, and the mostly Chinese laborers started from the West. It was very dangerous, brutal work. There are hundreds of these examples of the “expendable” Irish being used for these kinds of tasks.

    Scientists of the day routinely described the Irish as “sub-human”, “low-intellect”, “physically brutish” and other white people ascribed the following types of behavior to them: immoral, violent, loud, drunk, brawling, sexually promiscuous, dishonest and filthy with disease.

    No, other white people would not have wanted to claim Irish blood or Irish heritage in them. That is a fairly recent development.

  • JC

    @Simone Thanks for the knowledge.

  • Simone

    Clutch is making my comments disappear again! Sorry if you read this twice…

    FYI, the reason so many black people in America have Irish last names (Marcus Garvey, Shaquille O’Neal, Melba Moore, Joe Frazier, etc.) is because the Irish often worked side by side with black people (whether the black people were free or slaves), because other white people thought that the Irish, since they were also sub-human, would get along well with the black people.

    When it came time to pick a last name, whether before or after emancipation, many black people in this country chose a last name they were already familiar with, and there you have it.

  • http://runhardeatclean.blogspot.com/ Gio

    Haha! You are a hilarious writer! I really enjoyed this. Best ST. Patty’s article I’ve read in a while.

  • Shari

    not being critical, just honest…you sound kinda snooty.

  • Shari

    naw, I think it’s just like when NON- christians celebrate christmas. They’re just enjoying the holiday. With a last name of Gunn, I hold legitimate claim to being of Irish descent and the most I do is wear green so I don’t get pinched (i’m not a drinker). I would venture to say that is why black folk wear green too….no body wants to get pinched. Now, go have some fun!

  • Nina

    I loved your article… I grew up near Baaaastan and i can totally relate to your POV….I don’t dislike the Irish or hate the holiday, i could just do without…..

  • Bosslady

    You learn something new everyone day. Thanks for sharing Simone.

  • Bunny

    “I tried to go out on St. Patrick’s Day a few times in my early twenties and every reason that black women are few and far between in Irish pubs reared its ugly head: my hair was touched many times, people spilled beer on me and stepped on my feet without excusing themselves, and of course I was the only black chick as far as the eye could see and the handful of black guys in there wouldn’t even look me in the eye.”

    From a chick who is regularly the “only” at parties, I’m relating to this.

  • Roberta

    You nailed it.

  • http://www.theputonputon.tumblr.com Trey

    I’m telling you. St. Patricks day makes some white people feel even more invincible! LOL in all seriousness tho, definitely got the N bomb dropped at this years St. Patty’s day festivities…#icant

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