Brittany's Beat: Is the term 'paddy wagon' racist?

Now Irish-Americans play the victim card

Brittany Jennings
August 03, 2017 - 11:35 am

I am a proud Irish-American. And I am not offended by President Trump’s use of the term “paddy wagon.”

But apparently, James Mulvaney is. In a piece in The Washington Post, Mulvaney—allegedly speaking on behalf of all Irish-Americans—cries foul over Trump’s recent speech in New York. For those of you who missed it, Trump said, “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon—you just see them thrown in, rough—I said, ‘please don’t be too nice.’”

I heard his speech, especially his use of the phrase. I laughed it off and thought nothing of it. Not Mulvaney, however. In his op-ed, he claims that “to many Irish-Americans like myself, the phrase is insulting; it should not be used in polite discourse.”

Stop melting down, you snowflake. Even the Irish in the old country, proudly use it. For example, when I was in Ireland two years ago, I saw a tour bus called, “The Paddy Wagon.” The Irish in Dublin don’t find the phrase offensive, but somehow Mulvaney does.

According to Webster’s dictionary, the definition of a paddy wagon is “a police patrol wagon or van.” The term originally was used during the 1863 Draft riots in New York City. Because the wealthy were able to attain waivers, it was left to the poorest of the population—many of them being Irish—to be drafted and fight for the Union army in the Civil War. Many Irish-Americans revolted and rioted; hence, they were placed in “paddy wagons”—paddy (the slang for “Patrick”) being the ethnic slur for the Irish. By the 1930s, the term evolved. “Paddy wagon” came from the police, who were predominantly Irish at the time, to transport prisoners in a van or vehicle, who also were predominantly Irish—primarily for public intoxication. Combine the Irish with alcohol—preferably whiskey or Guinness, thank you very much—and you understand where the term “Fighting Irish” comes from. But the larger point is a simple one: Obviously, Irish cops had no problem referring to police vehicles as “paddy wagons.” So, if they weren’t offended, why should we be? Specifically, why should Mulvaney be?   

Moreover, my grandfather, a patriotic Irish-American, was the first in my family to become a police officer. My father, a second generation Irish-American, is also a cop. My papa wasn’t offended by the term "paddy wagon" and neither is my dad.

Why is that? Because as Irish-Americans we are self-confident in our identity and aren’t threatened by insults, smears or words. The Irish that I know are honest about their own history and do not flinch from it.

I am confident enough in my own culture and heritage that something as miniscule as a phrase, such as “paddy wagon,” doesn’t make me feel any less proud of my ancestors or my Irish heritage. It’s time for Mulvaney to stop being so politically correct and sensitive. Stop whining about the use of “paddy wagon.” It insults no one—with the possible exception of Mulvaney. And that’s his problem, not ours.

-Brittany Jennings is Executive Producer of “The Kuhner Report” on WRKO AM-680 in Boston.

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