Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

April 22, 2014

How we devalued the 'R' word

At the risk of angering somebody like MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, I sometimes used to joke that I only look white. Actually, I’m Irish. Meaning basically that I wasn’t raised to think the man in the big house had all the answers, nor deserved all the power he’d inherited.

It was in that spirit that I recently challenged Rep. Paul Ryan’s remarks about the shiftlessness of African-Americans. From the 17th century onward, I wrote, “virtually every negative stereotype applied to our ‘inner city’ brethren today was first applied to Paul Ryan’s (and my own) ancestors. Irish peasants were called shiftless, drunken, sexually promiscuous, donkey strong but mentally deficient. They smelled bad.”

No doubt some were; certainly some did. The big question is how to improve lives blighted by historical injustice.

However, my joke was definitely a joke. Here in America, ethnic boundaries can be as fluid as you make them. As long as you’re white. My people didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 20 years after the Civil War, but the only “ghetto” they were ever confined to was of their own choosing.

One of the formative episodes of my youth was getting caught in a PG-rated clinch by a young woman’s old-country grandmother, who in high-level diplomatic negotiations with my mother agreed that it was contrary to God and nature for Irish boys and Jewish girls to so embrace.

If not exactly Romeo and Juliet, we both thought they were crazy.

We used to talk a lot about ethnic groupthink, and our mutual determination to avoid its confines. We were very young, with no more idea of history and fate than two butterflies.

It’s the American Way.

For blacks, it’s not so easy to leave the “old country” behind. Because you’re living there. For the descendants of slaves, America’s where your ancestors were bought and sold like cattle: less the land of opportunity than the land of white supremacy.

Text Only
Opinion
  • Teachers unions' destructive behavior You can always count on the national teachers unions to behave badly at their annual conventions, and they certainly didn’t let us down this month. In doing so, however, they let down many of their members, along with students who are working hard to

    July 26, 2014

  • Workers of the world, curb your ambitions A group of Democrats introduced legislation this week to protect low-paid shift workers from last-minute changes in their schedules. The idea fits into an intriguing category of economic activism: Not trying to lift low-paid workers out of poverty, n

    July 26, 2014

  • State of the reunion ‘Katy! It’s been so long! How’ve you been?”My God, she’s gained so much weight I didn’t recognize her. It’s a good thing we’re all wearing nametags. I thought it was some distant cousin past due with triplets.“Bob! Long time, no see.”No hair, either.

    July 26, 2014

  • Fear indifference ‘Perhaps the Catholic church would volunteer to pony up some cash for the illegals’ care then? Hmm?”“Pope should stay out of it. Matter of civil laws, not church laws.”“Thinking that the pope should want the illegals to go to Argentina to get better

    July 25, 2014

  • A push for felon voting rights If advocates have their way, voting rights could be a new reality for the nation’s incarcerated.Full voting rights for felons is as hot a topic in Washington as voting rights in reverse pushed by voter-ID-tickled Republicans. But with new legislation

    July 25, 2014

  • Big insurers need better oversight Could Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. threaten the stability of the financial system? The U.S.’s top regulators are asking themselves this question as they consider whether Berkshire and other large insurers should come under Federal Reserve

    July 25, 2014

  • Questions for Obamacare after the ruling Tuesday, I outlined what we knew about Halbig v. Burwell, the case in which a federal appellate court ruled that subsidies for purchasing insurance under Obamacare can only be made available on marketplaces established by states. Now I propose to out

    July 24, 2014

  • Pensions not the problem I see in last night’s Register-News paper that James Rippy has attempted to enlighten us on pensions in Illinois. I also notice he has written so often he no longer has the title “guest columnist.” It is obvious he has the time and energy to work on

    July 24, 2014

  • Impasse threatens border solution After more than a year of contentious debate, could Congress be any more divided over the issue of immigration? The answer is yes.In the House, positions are hardening over what to do about the tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied young im

    July 24, 2014

  • Take a lesson from Texas I like to eat at blue-collar diners and cafes, particularly when I’m on vacation.It’s a chance to step beyond the homogenized national chains and experience a bit of local flavor.And being a reporter, I like to chat up local folks to find out a bit a

    July 23, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks