peterking

Be Skeptical of ‘Irish Heritage’ Guys Like Peter King

There's nothing wrong with being proud of your roots — except when you use them against others

Rep. Peter King, of New York’s Second Congressional district, is retiring. As with the many other Republicans to bow out of the legislature over the past few years, mostly because Trump is making it difficult for them to win reelection, we can say this of King’s departure: Good fucking riddance.

This shithead attacked the Occupy Wall Street movement as “lowlife dirtbags,” defended the cops who killed Eric Garner by saying he died as a result of being “so obese,” has a gross record of Islamophobic remarks and compared NFL players’ kneeling protest to the Nazi salute. By all rights, then, he should never have made it to the national stage, let alone stayed there.

That, however, is not how Sen. Chuck Schumer, also of New York and leader of his chamber’s Democratic minority, sees King. In fact, he went out of his way to praise the greasy bastard. 

Don’t worry — this tweet was ratioed straight to hell, where it belongs. But I want to take a moment, before King lets the door hit his racist ass on the way out of government, to home in on something Schumer wrote there. Yes, it was weird to praise King’s adherence to “principles” when those principles add up to corrosive bigotry, and it’s not the best look to tout your bipartisan “friendship” with a guy who praised Trump’s nightmarish immigration policies after two migrant children died in federal custody. What I really can’t get over, though, is the nod to King’s love of his “Irish heritage,” which, let me tell you, is a huge red flag for any conservative Boomer, and that’s leaving aside the question of whether, like King, they fervently supported the IRA.

Coming from an Irish-American New York family myself — I was even born on St. Patrick’s Day! — I’ve never felt anything “fiercely” regarding my background. I grew up Catholic, have freckles and drink too much, all of which is common enough to barely merit remark. What you tend to get from Americans more obsessed with their Irish roots is a niche style of bias that starts from privilege and twists itself into a persecution complex.

Guys like King, when accused of xenophobia or white supremacy, like to remind you that once upon a time, “Irish Need Not Apply” job postings were a common sight (this is somewhat debated), and that “the Irish were slaves too” (they weren’t). They also romanticize the suffering of their ancestors — the flight from famine and a ruthless empire, to the tribulations of Ellis Island, to the struggle for political power in America’s cities. To them, this story is a cudgel — proof that non-white people who speak of systemic injustice in this country are just a bunch of whiners. If my great grandpa could make it when he stepped off the boat with only lint in his pockets, what’s stopping you from getting ahead? 

This bootstrapping mythology allows King, Bill O’Reilly and the rest of that ilk to demonize brown immigrants for coming to the U.S. “the wrong way,” even while setting up every barrier to entry they can dream up, to ensure that none will have the chance to assimilate as the Irish did.

Obviously, these folks also demonstrate a blind spot when it comes to the complexities of “passing” in a white hierarchy; negative stereotypes of Catholicism would have had a different impact if you could tell someone was Catholic by looking at them. Meanwhile, whatever hardship or discrimination your distant relatives faced, you didn’t personally overcome it, whereas the American descendants of slaves are, today, being crammed into prisons and killed by police — an arm of civil service the Irish greatly influenced, as it happens.

The end result is Irish-American right-wingers waxing nostalgic about discrimination like it no longer exists for anyone, when the truth is they were able to buy into a racist power structure to avoid sustained persecution. Quite simply, the Irish Heritage Guy thinks other groups haven’t worked as diligently for success or tried as hard to fit in; therefore, they don’t deserve what he has, which he didn’t have to fight for in the first place. It’s a very cool, normal, fun and disingenuous way to compare ethnic histories. These jabronis also have a 200 percent chance of replying to any critique of the GOP with “Actually, Lincoln was a Republican,” so you know their scholarship is legit.

Thankfully, King will soon have to peddle such lines to whoever he manages to corner at the supermarket. May the road there rise to hit him square in the nuts.