Obama's Moneygall connection
Madam, – As rector of Moneygall and part of the group that accompanied the Corrigan Brothers (formally Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys) on their trip to Washington for the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I was bewildered and saddened at the toxic commentary of Fintan O’Toole (Weekend Review, January 24th).
In highlighting Obama’s Irish roots we are accused of “hijacking history and muscling in on other people’s identity” and apparently practising “Blackface minstrelsy”. Mr O’Toole says that the song There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obamashould be a reminder of a disgraceful past.
Not being as well informed as Mr O’Toole, I have to confess that I was not aware of the Irish complicity in such reprehensible behaviour in the 19th century but I am at a loss to see the relevance of his archaic meanderings.
The song, which was inspired by the well documented maternal Irish ancestry of President Obama, and more than once acknowledged by him in media interviews, does not claim to be a social history or political treatise. It is a pop song, which proclaims among other things: “He’s Hawaiian, he’s Kenyan American too”.
None of us would want to deny for a moment the overarching importance of Obama’s African American identity and certainly do not seek to rob him of it. However, President Obama did not campaign as an African American candidate. Rather, the key to his success was a refusal to be put in any box or category. He didn’t pander to any ethnic group but sought to stress the fundamental humanity of all Americans and their mutual interdependence.
That is why in the earlier periods of the campaign some who, like Mr O’Toole, didn’t get the point accused him of not being “black enough”! Mr O’Toole’s vicarious indignation on behalf of President Obama may be well intended but I fear it is misplaced and superfluous.
Visiting Washington for the presidential inauguration, our party was universally welcomed with open arms by the majority African American community who celebrated with us the diversity embraced by their new president.
Unlike Mr O’Toole, they are not trapped in a cynical time-warp but can look to the future with hope and joy. As one who experienced this at first hand I am profoundly sad that O’Toole doesn’t get it, and can only hope that one day his intellectual superiority will be complemented by a less cynical view of all he surveys. – Yours, etc,
Canon STEPHEN NEILL,