Beyond Stereotypes and Accents
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Beyond Stereotypes and Accents

A reflection on the memoir All Souls, heritage and communities

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Beyond Stereotypes and Accents

Michael Patrick MacDonald’s memoir All Souls tells of the heartbreaking loss suffered by MacDonald’s family and others in the community of South Boston during the era of Whitey Bulger. While the novel begins in one particular moment— during a vigil, which MacDonald says was the “beginning of a truth-telling”— the story extends far back to detail the history of MacDonald’s family, from his abusive father to his independent and hard-working mother, to the mental illness and depression that took the lives of two brothers, to the crime that killed one brother and left a sister paralyzed and, for a while, comatose. MacDonald also paints a larger picture of Southie during that time and of the effects of poverty and crime on a suffering neighborhood. Most importantly, though, he shows the survivors of the time— those who lived through the pain of losing loved ones to drugs and crime and who were later able to heal through, as MacDonald calls it, “being able to say [the] names” of those they had lost.

Coming from an Irish-American family, I can understand much of the cultural influence on Southie’s reluctance to speak of their pain. Besides the fear from Whitey and his followers, there is a tendency among those of Irish decent to mask negative feelings and suffering. In my experience, we Irish-Americans in particular seem to have a mindset of independence, where we would rather pretend negative experiences cannot affect us in any way, and thus we repress our pain so others around us do not see it. While this is a cultural norm, it is not a healthy way at all to process grief, which is why MacDonald’s assertion that “finding a voice” is so important. Once Southie was able to acknowledge its collective suffering, the individuals were able to heal and openly share their pain.

While I have corrected some misconceptions about my home that others bring up— that New Hampshire is isolated and everyone in the state knows each other, that my hometown is full of only “rednecks” and “hicks”, or that my previous hometown was filled with only privileged rich kids— none of them are nearly as damning as many of those spread about Southie. I admit that I believed what people told me about Southie; I had never been there myself, so it was easy to assume that the Whitey-era crime and widespread addiction were in fact reality.

The pervasive idea is that the neighborhood is full of racist, criminal, blue-collar Irish-Catholics, when in fact, as MacDonald points out, the so-called criminals are usually also the victims of crime, poverty, and addiction— they are not “two separate camps”. Southie’s reputation for racism, mainly rooted in the Busing Crisis of the 70s, is largely unsubstantiated today, since it has become more diverse and less violent. In addition, much of the anger that manifested in racism was based on a sense of neglect by efforts attempting to alleviate poverty and related issues. The residents of Southie felt ignored while those of other races were aided, and so when they had to join the communities with greater attention, they were indignant.

As with many stereotypes of both individuals and communities, while there may be some truth to the reputation itself, there are often contributing factors, and while that does not necessarily excuse hatred or injustice, it can explain the mentality of individuals. In the case of Southie, the factors were a sense of abandonment and a lack of voice for the people of the community, but the reputation should have dissipated when MacDonald and his neighbors were finally able to speak the unspeakable and be “voices of love” for their beloved community. All Souls shows the journey to this point and why we should forget our misconceptions about the intention of the people of Southie and instead focus on helping them heal as victims, not just perpetrators.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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