Love, Hate, and the Celtic Cross
Once upon a time, in my high school jewelry class, we were given a sheet of 2x3 inch, 22-gauge brass sheet metal and told to integrate at least one initial into something that represented who we were as a person. Technically, I was given two, as my first attempt was stolen from the classroom before it was turned in. This was in 2008.
Sara Ahmed prefaces her article “The Organization of Hate” with a quote pulled from the Aryan Nation’s website. In the nine years following the making of my Celtic cross, there’s been a bit of a push-and-pull developing that we of the Irish-American Catholic bent need to address. I’m not sure how many of you reading will remember the 2012 attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, but I do. It’s the day I stopped displaying the few Celtic cross adorned items I had, at least outside my home. I tucked the brass into my jewelry box. Trinkets, regardless how sentimental, weren’t worth the possibility of making someone feel even momentarily more unsafe than they normally would in my presence. Fortunately for my cousin who has the Celtic cross from his grandfather’s headstone tattooed on his calf, the Anti-Defamation League clarifies that devoid of other hate symbols, the long stemmed Celtic cross doesn’t necessarily mean the person it is attached to is a white nationalist. White nationalists usually opt for the version with equal length on all four legs. So that’s the emotional context I have for white nationalists co-opting the iconographic shorthand we as Irish-Americans so often use, and generally where my headspace goes when discussion white nationalism.
“hate does not reside in a given subject or object. Hate is economic; it circulates between signifiers in relationships of difference and displacement.”
Returning to Ahmed, she introduces the idea that it is not a specific person that someone hates, but rather what that person represents in whole or in part. If Hate works on the basis of abjection, I don’t think it will be productive to try and distance ourselves from the people who use the same imagery in such a different fashion. I think that as repugnant as the views those who chose the same cross may be, we need to look at why the cross is important to them as well, and what other factors of cultural identity they share with us, and really examine if that shared cultural identity is a palatable one. Is differentiating the long stem from the short enough, or is it just another cop-out a la white people agreeing that white people suck without doing the work involved in calling out friends and family, and working at examining the institutions and structures that put others in the position to say white people suck in the first place.
A culture of domination is anti-love. It requires violence to sustain itself. To choose love is to go against the prevailing values of the culture.
bell hooks’ statement that a culture of domination requires violence to sustain itself can be applied to the complicity of White Irish-Americans in white supremacy. To maintain the idea of the stereotypical Irish-American requires us to once again retreat into colorism and leave behind those who don’t quite fit the narrative as we did to achieve whiteness in the first place. It is through acknowledgement of that process and looking for how to make sure that going forward the idea of what your standard Irish-American shifts right along with the idea of who your standard American immigrant in general is, should there be such a person. It is to make amends by standing in solidarity with those who are not being afforded the same dignity and equity they deserve simply for being human.