When Irish eyes are not smiling

No one can accuse the Irish of taking themselves too seriously. We excel at poking fun at ourselves and we do so with a soupcon of self-deprecating humor and wit. But as an Irish American who lived 19 years of my life in Ireland, I am truly offended by the way the U.S. celebrates St Patrick’s Day and views Irish culture in general. It’s insulting. Our national holiday is not about celebrating our country’s supposed drinking culture; it celebrates our patron saint, the man who brought Christianity to Ireland.

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No one can accuse the Irish of taking themselves too seriously. We excel at poking fun at ourselves and we do so with a soupcon of self-deprecating humor and wit. But as an Irish American who lived 19 years of my life in Ireland, I am truly offended by the way the U.S. celebrates St Patrick’s Day and views Irish culture in general. It’s insulting. Our national holiday is not about celebrating our country’s supposed drinking culture; it celebrates our patron saint, the man who brought Christianity to Ireland.

And now sportswear giant Nike as come under fire for taking the stereotype a step too far: Launching a St Patrick’s Day-themed version of its SB Dunk Low sneaker nicknamed “Black and Tans.” To Americans, this refers to a pint of Guinness mixed with Harp ale. Unfortunately, like the Irish Car Bomb before it, the name has a much darker meaning in Ireland: “Black and Tans” is a reference to British forces that terrorized civilians, including women and children, in the early 1920s. To this day, we associate it with the murder, massacre and indiscipline of the years leading to southern Ireland’s independence.

“Tis the season for Irish beer and why not celebrate with Nike,” read ads for the sneaker. Retail displays in stores around the country directly describe the shoes as “Black and Tans.” Yesterday a spokesman for the shoe manufacturer said, “This month Nike is scheduled to release a version of the Nike SB Dunk Low that has been unofficially named by some using a phrase that can be viewed as inappropriate and insensitive. We apologize. No offence was intended.” But as Ciaran Staunton, President of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform said, has no one at Nike heard of Google? Especially as a similar uproar occurred in 2006 when ice cream empire Ben & Jerry’s released a “Black and Tan” flavor.

And while it’s easy to find the humor in most marketing mess-ups (when Coors entered the Spanish market, little did it realize that its “turn it loose” slogan would become “suffer from diarrhea”) this blunder hits too close to home to be brushed aside as a simple lost-in-translation error.

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