New York City shuts down on St. Patrick's Day. So does Boston, San Francisco, Milwaukee… the list of cities goes on and on. When the Irish celebrate their heritage there's no holding back. And I mean the liquor, the beer, the puke and the piss. Excuse the descriptions, but I'm just trying to be real. The bottom line is St. Patrick's Day is the official day in NYC when thousands of people wear green, get uber-drunk, and sway woozily on the A, B, D, Q, 2, and 5 Trains. And more power to them.
However, I have mixed feelings about the holiday. It reminds me of growing up in Cincinnati and how the city became inundated with citizens parading the streets during Octoberfest, the city's annual celebration of its German heritage. And most black folks were sequestered in our neighborhoods until the police cleared out the passed-out bodies and littered streets and made it safe to claim our city again. You know, the typical rituals for being a reluctant spectator in somebody else's assumed world.
Here in New York City, cultural celebrations are plentiful. From the Puerto Rican Day Parade to the West Indian Day Parade, folks gather to celebrate their nationality. But as a man of African descent from the heart of America, I feel a disconnect during these times. My family has been in this country since the 1600s. And although Malian, Scotch-Irish, Cameroonian and some Shawnee blood runs through my veins I have no direct or welcoming connection with these cultures. Except for the imposed Africanisms during Kwanzaa I feel like my cultural experience in America has been as plain as apple pie. At least New Orleans is a hotbed of cultural frenzy, but that's partly-inspired by the influx of Caribbean refugees some 200 years ago. You certainly could call Juneteenth a worthy and poignant celebration [for Texas], but even that feels muted and tame.
I'm not throwing clovers at St. Paddy's Day or any cultural celebration. I'm sure someone will hand me a green beer and I'll taste it. But holidays like these remind me how culturally-unspecific American-born blacks have been and how we're often asked to celebrate cultures that once marginalized, violated or ignored us. Maybe there should be an Emancipation Day?
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.