Pretending to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day is a time-honored American tradition. But at one pub this year, the luck of the Irish wasn’t on the side of drinkers who wanted in because of their Celtic heritage.
To honor the holiday, Detroit resident Dan Margulis rented out a space over the weekend in his city between two Irish-themed bars, decking it out as the “No Irish Pub” just in time for revelers to arrive. Margulis, who works as an advertising director and described the venture as an independent creative project, directed the bouncer to insult and deny entrance to any people outside who claimed Irish heritage.
“On a day when everyone is proclaiming solidarity with an immigrant group … we wanted them to feel what it was like to be treated like an Irish immigrant … years ago in this country,” Margulis told USA Today in an interview Saturday. “Hopefully, that would get them to think about the way we treat current immigrant groups.”
Margulis has a point — many descendants of formerly marginalized immigrant groups, including Irish-Americans, seem to have forgotten where they came from. Data aggregated by the Pew Research Center in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election showed anti-immigrant Republican Donald Trump winning 60 percent of the votes of white Catholics compared to only 37 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Most of these white Catholics came to the country in waves during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Yet it’s worth asking how effective the medium he chose was. It seems unlikely that drunken St. Patrick’s Day celebrants being denied entry to a bar would be in any position to change their minds about something as complex and difficult as anti-immigrant sentiment and racism in America. What’s more, the project is reminiscent of the short-term shows of support for social justice causes that commercial ventures often unveil. And that’s hardly sufficient.
For a business to take a broad, abstract social issue and melt it down to a difference in treatment for individual customers who might not otherwise understand the dilemma isn’t necessarily problematic on its own. In some instances, like last month when Canadian magazine Maclean’s charged its male readers 26 percent more than its female readers for the same product to highlight the gender wage gap, the net result overall was positive. The magazine donated the proceeds from the extra money paid by men to a scholarship fund for underserved indigenous Canadian women.
Absent a positive spin like this, however, corporate social justice all too frequently feels like it’s aiming mostly for clicks and page views. When clothing store Lululemon offered its female customers a 21 percent wage gap sale last year on International Women’s Day, for example, the move came across as calculated, mercenary and insincere.
That perception is hard to shake when a company or an individual commits to addressing an issue — like gender inequality or anti-immigrant sentiment — for one day only. It’s difficult to convince someone to change their mind about an important issue all at once. If the tongue-in-cheek anti-Irish business owners of the world recognized that, maybe real progress could be made.