Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Who is an Anglo?

Ask "Who is a Jew?" in a circle of rabbis and you will get the kind of discussion that, as the Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye put it, "would cross a rabbi's eyes." But do that many Anglos, WASPs, the misnamed "whites" or "Caucasians," know just how much suffering is buried in the anglophone world concerning those labels?

This first came home to me as a young man, when I invited a proud-to-be-Celtic Irish-American colleague home for a beer. My boys were playing a tape of folk songs that included the classic working song "Drill, ye Tarriers, Drill," that laments the demands of bosses.

As the song replayed the refrain, this acquaintance sang along. To my horror, he replaced the word "tarrier" with "nigger." That's when I turned to him and said, "No, Pat, you don't understand. That song is about exploited Irish workers."

He gave me the Dan Quayle deer-in-the-headlights look. All his life he had thought that having pinkish white skin and an Anglo-sounding name, as many Irish names became after English conquest, meant that he was a bona fide member of the predominant and entitled U.S. "majority"!

So I proceeded to tell him about railroad chain gangs and the Molly Maguires and the whole nine yards, about how thoroughly his ancestors were once abused in the United States. This man came to admit he was racist and wrong -- more important, that he had a lot in common with the many who have suffered throughout the history of the anglophone world.

Much the same thing, but with less open acknowledgment, happened with a now-retired Episcopal priest,  a Rev. Arpee. As a geneology buff, I am always pondering the origins of family names and I innocently asked him about his, since Arpee is an unusual name with no obvious origin and almost certainly not English, as English names usually have meanings that are obvious to the historically inclined.

He told me privately that it was originally Arpinian, from -- you guessed -- Armenia. It's not the lineage an Episcopal priest would want to broadcast, given the penchant among many Episcopalians of asking individuals with a family name that is not obviously English whether they are "born and bred" Episcopalian, code for "Are you really one of us?"

To me, Armenia summons to mind the tragedy of the 1915-18 murder of 1.5 million Armenians in what is today Turkey, which the government of Turkey continues to refuse to even acknowledge. When I asked Arpee why he didn't change his name back, he brushed the question aside. Yet imagine the indignity of his father, a cobbler, fleeing for his life, then hiding who he was.

Like these two, there are legions of hyphenated Americans who "pass" for Anglo-Saxon but whose families had nothing to do historically or culturally with Albion until the Ellis Island experience.

Even Brahmin WASPs aren't WASP. The Roosevelts are Dutch and the Astors German. No educated person needs to have the Gallic origin of the DuPonts (in French "of the bridge') pointed out.

The Mellons are that curious and invented origin known as Scots-Irish. This was the predominant origin of rebel colonial America, but it was really a cover for Ulster Irish. In a few instances, it denoted an ancestry tracing back to those foot soldiers in Cromwell's Puritan army who decided to stay in Ireland after their military campaign to subdue rebels. Ulster legend has it, however, that the "Scots" part comes from (entirely mythical) Scots who, it is claimed, were the eight counties' "original" inhabitants.

This amply explains how it came to be that the Scots-Irish in America badly mistreated and discriminated against the Irish Catholic immigrants. Hell hath no fury like a feud among cousins! (If you have any doubt, check out the Arabs and the Jews in the Middle East.)

It also explains why the Scots-Irish migrated to America. Most of the Ulstermen were starving and the British Crown didn't give a farthing for their fate. Indeed, many who stayed participated in the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Here's the kicker: today less than 25 percent of the U.S. population is genuinely WASP. Indeed, the "majority" is a minority!

We all know we are really mongrels of one sort or another. What we don't face up to is the vast conspiracy of silence concerning the horrific pain, in the denial of various national and cultural identities, of past injustices, in plain human suffering that so many "white" Americans have undergone.

In the family history of many of us who do not have a physically identifiable ethnic origin, such as so-called black skin, someone made the uncomfortable attempt to "pass." My own mother, on grounds that she was partly French (one-eighth, to be exact), disliked it when I began to proudly call myself Hispanic.

In turn, I don't call Anglos "white" if I can avoid it. I don't even call Anglos Anglo, if I can avoid it. So many Anglos aren't Anglo at all. Their forbears suffered at the hands of the English or their descendants, some to the point of wishing to hide their own rich ancestral cultures and languages.

Now there's the real white man's burden!


anne said...

Does anyone really pay much attention to who is or might be an anglo any more? I have a smidgeon of anglo in me but figure my ancestors came out of Victorian England because they couldn't bear living there any longer. Perhaps much like the majority of emigres to America. (How many of the very, very wealthy leave homelands?)

Yes, I've used & heard reference to WASP but mostly it is a riff of conversation that merely gives some color. To me anglo is as alien as gringo or goy or gentile.

Genealogy interests me, as well, and I've dug in all the countries of my ancestry and glean only that the people of my origins were just like my family today. (Btw, the census forms for my Scots ancestors list them as "Scotch"...fine with me!)

There are a fair amount of what could be designated as anglos from long ago around me but really it is a matter of public indifference. In fact, I come across a few just recently with Mayflower & DAR ties. Their stories are just stories.

Yes, I am ashamed of the utter discriminatory and cruel practices of the past associated with anglo/wasps,etc. but frankly I have encountered more instances of discrimination and cruelty at the hands of certain Irish Americans (I'm some of that, too, readers) that make me Really ashamed and these were from only the past century.

How do we "face up to [ ] the vast conspiracy of silence concerning the horrific pain, in the denial of various national and cultural identities, of past injustices, in plain human suffering that so many "white" Americans have undergone."?

All I can imagine that I can do is to not repeat the ignorance and arrogance of the past.

Cecilieaux said...

Sigh! I meant to include people who count themselves as "white" (therefore somehow ending up on the "wrong" side of these kinds of discussions). And I forgot to include the English!

More on them coming up.

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anne said...

" "caucasian" comes from the [ ]Caucasian mountains..."

Don't most people (adults) know that?

And of "white" don't most realize that it is a very colorful and broad brush? Every time my freckles appear...almost to a point of covering any white and connect them with other of my features I can't help but think of my connectedness to another continent.

Cecilieaux, in turn, I find the late custom to frequently lump "hispanic" into a "black" race inaccurate, too.

Cecilieaux said...

I've never seen Hispanics lumped as blacks. The Census notes, quite accurately, that Hispanics can be of any "race" (meaning "white," "black" or Asian, not to mention American Indian).

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thailandchani said...

I know I just don't bother with all this ID tagging of races and ethnicities any more either.

Who has the time for that kind of mess?

We're all just people.

Cecilieaux said...

Now, Chani, I hate to challenge you, but if we're all just people, why is Thailand so dear to you? We're not all just people. We are part of societies and cultures. We can pick and choose in which one we will try to find a place, as you have done; or we can elect -- or let fate elect -- the one into which we were born.

Kaz said...

I came across this post when I was googling "Who is Anglo". Obviously, I am very frustrated with these racial labeling, and it should come to no surprise that in spite of my appearance of someone of African descent doesn't make me purely African American like some say Barak Obama, a true African-American (with a hyphen, two nouns conjoined and not adj-noun), since I have other origins as well as any average American.
But my frustration really started with this Latin/Latino/Hispanic labeling. Hispanics will call non-Hispanic whites "Anglo". Who's Hispanic. Technically,it's not a race. In fact looking at history, it's no different from United States, which it's safe to say that the New World itself is a melting pot and not just USA. And with that, I am force to come to this conclusion: seeing that not all Hispanics are directly of Spanish descent (in fact Welsh alone make up the population in Argentina), and can be call Hispanics as the Spaniards, the true Hispanics, then why can't I, an American born and bred just my fore fathers before in last 15 plus generations, and native English-speaker can't be call Anglo too, culturally speaking, even if I have more Spanish blood than what any Hispanic like to brag and I am more than likely don't have Anglo ancestry at all, just Celtic and African; besides, America was initiated by Queen Elizabeth herself, an English ruler. Not sure if she's truly biologically Anglo though...

Kaz said...

Correction: Like most blacks in US, I'm not African-American like someone say Obama because my roots in America are too deep ( I am a descendant of African slaves and Cherokee), not because I'm technically multiracial.

Cecilieaux said...

Kaz, thank you for your comments. This particular post continues to draw interest from the remotest corners of the globe, suggesting that your frustrations are widespread.