Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The O'Bama Irish"

US President Barack Obama and Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen walk down the steps of the Capitol March 17, 2009 following a Saint Patrick’s Day lunch hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington DC.

Only rarely do I ever comment on current news items. In my way of thinking, just about everything has already been written about any given topic, either for or against. My two cents would simply add to the overwhelming chatter of the blogosphere, and besides, I never want to make public statements that might alienate my readers. You see, I still hold to the notion that on some level we created the internet to bring unity, not division.

Having said that, a rather curious reference caught my attention from within a larger news article. President Barack Obama met with Irish Primer Minister Brian Cowen on this Saint Patrick's Day, and made a press statement regarding his Irish heritage. I did a double take. After all the public flap about President Obama's ethnicity, I was surprised to see that he added Ireland to a long list of ethnic origins. A quick Google search confirmed that literally thousands of websites referenced Obama's Irish heritage as early as the presidential campaign, including a few that criticized his claim to Ireland as an attempt to create a false sense of connection to "mainstream" Americans. One website even posted a video of a faux Irish drinking song where the chorus line croons over and over again, "There's no one more Irish than Barack O'Bama."

Ethnicity is a tricky concept, much less concrete than people might assume.

I consider myself a prime example of the "O'Bama Irish." My father was a "full-blood" member of the Spokane Tribe, and I have rarely been considered anything but Native American. But like President Obama, my predominant skin color only tells half the story. My mother is American like the prevailing notion of Americans. Her ancestors arrived to these shores from places like England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, and yes, Ireland. Like millions of Irish who fled the famines of their homeland, my Irish ancestors, the Lynches and the Tobins, settled near Minneapolis, Minnesota and unwittingly created a new concept of ethnic identity. On the day they first planted their feet on American soil, I suppose they never imagined they would one day produce a son born of the indigenous tribes of this continent.

As a man of mixed ethnic origins, I welcome the Obama presidency. Love him or hate him, his presence in the White House invites us to struggle with questions of identity more than ever before, whether we base that question on race, ethnicity, or political ideology.


octopus said...

Good luck every day!

jenX67 said...

How interesting. You've probably gathered by now - my dear Robert is 1/2 Achumawi - 1/2 Irish.

Every time Obama refers to an origin of anything other than African American people get up in arms. This bugs me. I always see it as him paying honor and respect to his mother and his grandmother - who raised him. He loved these women. It doesn't detract from the subject of his best-selling book - or his heritage - Dreams of my Father - or something like that.

Great post. And, I agree - I really try very hard to not comment on mainstream subjects. yak, yak, yak.

Blessings on St. Paddy's Day!!

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

Thanks Jen - I'm happy to see other people are thinking about these issues. I totally agree with the sentiments you express.


Oklahoma Farmgirl said...

Great post!! I, too, am of mixed heritage-Cherokee, Choctaw, Irish, English, German, & African/American. But people look at me and think "white", Bugs the daylights out of me. I just dispise labels-they are so narrowing as to ones' true nature-the authentic self. The one thing I really hope that comes out of this presidency is the ability to stop seeing color. Just see the person. That is one of the great things about blogging. You see the real, authentic person.

Blessed be...

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

Labels are a tricky business. Somehow they always fail to capture the whole story of anything. No matter which label we apply to a person or even a situation, something will come along to defy that descriptor.

We often use labels as a matter of convenience, but we should not allow them to define us or to confine us.

I'm not sure I want a truly colorblind society. I don't want people to suddenly start ignoring my indigenous heritage, for example. At the same time, I don't want people to hold my heritage against me, whatever that might be.

If I had my preference, I would want the world to value ALL of my heritage. In the case of President Obama, I value his Irish ancestry, just as I value his Kenyan ancestry. So many peoples, cultures, and places have contributed to his identity as a person and as a president.

A Collection of Letters Signifying All That is Me said...

I find it interesting that you post this commentary on ethnicity and labels after my bit of a rant about sexism and racial prejudice. Life's just funny that way. I think it's so strange that we finally elect a black president and freak out because he mentions some irish heritage, I'm sure at least one previous president had an irish heritage. I know people will anyway, but I don't see any valid reason to get so gosh darn excited about it. That's politics for you.

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

I agree Nick.

Even more than race, I'm wishing folks could have calm, rational discussions about a wide range of topics in this country, including the so-called "hot button" issues.

Good luck to all of us and that.


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