Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Green Peril

Obama celebrates St. Patrick's Day. Obama's got Irish roots: his great-great-great grandfather reportedly left Ireland for New York in 1850.

And Adam Serwer proceeds to knock it out of the park with a post entitled "Obama's Irish Anti-Colonialism":
I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up raised by his Irish-American mother, his view of the Brits, for example, is very different than the average American. When he gave the bust back to the Brits--the bust of Winston Churchill--it was a great insult to the British. But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Dublin with an Irish mother and grandfather, their view of the Irish Republican Army is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.

I have said many times, publicly, that I do think Obama has a different worldview and I think it is, in part, molded out of a very different experience. Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not pubs serving cream stout. Again, I am not saying he's not a citizen, I've never said that, I've said the opposite. I've never said he's a Catholic. I wish people would ask, though, does this president have a different worldview than any other president in the history of the United States?

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good post up where he was taken to task by his readers for being insufficiently harsh on Governor Huckabee. As absurd as the whole "Kenyan anti-Colonialism" meme is even on its face, it only gets more so when one digs in. Aside from the basic point that America was founded on anti-British anti-colonialism, the folks involved in the Mau Mau rebellion were of a different (and rival) tribe to that belonged to by Obama's grandfather. It's difficult to figure out how Obama -- raised by his White mother in (mostly) Hawaii, was supposed to have inherited a worldview from the African father he barely met on a conflict his family was never involved in on a continent he had scarcely even seen except via some uncritical lumping together of all things dark.

And Serwer's parody is so brilliant precisely because it lays the racial qualities of this whole discourse out so starkly. In modern America (in admittedly some shift from the 1960 election), it is patently absurd to think that just because someone is of Irish descent, they have some radical anti-colonial worldview. And, to the extent we think about Ireland's struggles throwing off anti-colonialism, we're generally positive towards it, whereas when Kenyans do it it's symbolic of the collapse of civilization as we know it.

1 comment:

PG said...

Warning: read to the end of this comment before replying.

Yes, but being Kenyan-American is a categorically inferior cultural identity compared to being Irish-American. We know this because Ireland is a developed country, enough to have a financial crisis. Kenya, on the other hand, is economically -- and thus culturally -- inferior to Ireland, because if both countries were under British colonial rule and one has become 1st World while the other hasn't, the only explanation for the difference is cultural. People who are of the cultural identity that has resulted in a 1st World country are on average superior (all else being equal, of course) to people who are of the cultural identity that has resulted in a 3rd World country.

/replicating a conservative claim I heard recently, except substituting Kenya for India. Really, conservatives *don't* believe that all religions are equal or that no culture is superior to another. It's pretty much intrinsic to conservatism to believe there is a hierarchy of such things, and that we can figure out who's #1 in large part based on the economic productivity of people in that culture. (Since Muslim-majority countries tend to do poorly on measures like the equality of women and homosexuals, these metrics have been grudgingly admitted to the ranking system, but only insofar as such equality exists in the conservative's own country. Because Western countries no longer execute people for being homosexual, executing people for being homosexual indicates an inferior religion/culture. However, considering America inferior to countries that treat homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality, e.g. by legalizing same-sex marriage, is NOT correct application of the metric.)