The New York Times has hit a lot of lows in its history, but this ugly attack on a New York City neighborhood damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the international volunteers who came to help takes it to an absolutely new low.
Breezy Point, Queens is a heavily Irish neighborhood in New York City. It took a lot of damage in the storm and it brought volunteers from Ireland over to help it rebuild.
The population of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland combined is just over six million. In America over 34 million people boast Irish ancestry. And while the nucleus of American Irishness is a tossup between Boston and New York, the towns of the Rockaway Peninsula have long been seen as jewels in the crown of the Irish abroad. There were even songs written about the Irish experience of “Old Rockaway.”
Over 63 percent of the 4,381 people in Breezy Point and nearby Roxbury are of Irish descent, including a large number of police officers and firefighters who live in bungalows and one-bedroom homes. That connection became well known in Ireland after Sept. 11, 2001, when the community lost dozens of residents in the attack.
“After 9/11, we became very aware of where the Irish were living,” said Anthony Kearns, a member of the Irish Tenors who sang at the Christmas luncheon. “After Hurricane Sandy it became highlighted even more.”
For a few paragraphs, Sarah Maslin Nir pens a conventional enough piece of the kind that newspapers routinely turn out about the many ethnic neighborhoods of New York. But unlike the Haitian, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Chinese neighborhoods in New York City… there is something very wrong about having an Irish neighborhood.
Or at least that is what Sarah Maslin Nir and the New York Times have concluded. And so a piece about the Irish relief effort to an Irish neighborhood in New York City becomes a hateful bigoted smear full of concern trolling about race.
But complicating the current embrace from abroad is the gated community’s extreme insularity. Breezy Point is the whitest neighborhood in the city, a demographic makeup that critics say illustrates the enclave’s entrenched xenophobia, a dark flip side, perhaps, to all that ethnic pride.
There is no such “dark side” or “xenophobia” to other neighborhoods in the city. It’s okay for every other group to live together and have a common history. A Dominican neighborhood is something to be celebrated. But an Irish neighborhood has a dark side.
Its ethnic and racial makeup has also been a source of controversy. It was once called an “an apartheid village” by the Rev. Al Sharpton during a protest.
The New York Times and Sarah Maslin Nir actually use a quote from the leader of a hate group whose followers carried out hate crimes against Jews and Asians as proof of Breezy Point’s racism.
Even in the days after the storm, volunteer firefighters in the community repeatedly told a visitor as she left to beware of the residents of Far Rockaway, the predominantly black neighborhood at the other end of the peninsula.
Did they tell her to beware of them because they’re black or because they’re violent? Far Rockaway incidentally has a fairly sizable Jewish community as well. And chunks of it are more Puerto Rican.
But parts of Far Rockaway did become violent and dangerous after Hurricane Sandy. News accounts covered that in some detail. It’s hard to believe that Sarah Maslin Nir would be unfamiliar with those accounts. Instead she is choosing to take away the context and smear Breezy Point’s volunteer firemen as racist because false claims of racism from a former nightlife writer are the way to get ahead in a propaganda press.
It’s absolutely ridiculous that the Irish need to apologize for being Irish and helping their own. It is ridiculous that they have to constantly mention diversity non-stop. The Chinese and Koreans would not be subject to similar questions if they did the entirely natural thing and came to the aid of their own brothers and sisters.
At Irish Central, Niall O’Dowd has a response to the New York Times smear by Sarah Maslin Nir.
Some weeks back I had calls from several concerned Irish working to restore Breezy Point and other areas in the Rockaways about the attitude of the New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir who was covering the story.
She seemed intent, according to them, on pointing out to everyone that Breezy Point was a whites only community and that the community there had been accused of racism in the past.
The calls were from people who had flown in from Ireland to help with the restoration of Rockaway and some Irish based here were perplexed at the attitude of the reporter who was making her concerns known loudly.
No evidence is given of any xenophobia. Have foreigners been beaten up there? Blacks shot? Has there been massive racist reports from Breezy? Not that I have noticed.
But prejudice isn’t always about color of the skin, it can be about attitude and a deep mindset which sees communities in cliches and stereotypes whatever the color of the skin.
O’Dowd also points out that those maligned volunteer firemen were “from the same community which sacrificed so many dead and injured on September 11th 2001.”
How many New York Times writers climbed 100 floors on September 11?