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Meet Splang!, a group using Scottish Gaelic to fight white supremacy

A pre-pandemic Gaelic song session.
Adam Dahmer
A pre-pandemic Gaelic song session.

In Scottish Gaelic, the word splang means flash or spark. 

When Andy Dahmer created a group with that name, he wanted to cause a spark of his own. Once against racism. 

The creation of “Splang!” came about while Dahmer and his wife and co-founder, Dhanya Barid, were pursuing Celtic studies in Edinburgh and saw something concerning happening with people’s use of Celtic culture and symbolism. 

“We’ve both been somewhat horrified by the number of Celtic groups that exist outside of academia that are very much racist groups and that use Celtic imagery and those sorts of things to those sorts of purposes,” Barid said. “We wanted to be part of a group that has the opposite goals.”

Dahmer explained that membership in the six surviving Celtic cultures has nothing to do with biology.

“It’s something that a lot of people who are enthusiasts of Celtic culture generally don’t seem to understand, particularly in America,” Dahmer said.

Splang! aims to combat this misconception by offering opportunities for people to learn Gaelic no matter their race, ethnicity or prior knowledge of the language. 

Before the pandemic, “Splang!” hosted language learning workshops, Scottish dance sessions and performed at the Kentucky Renaissance Fair all as a way to promote Gaelic on a broader scale.

Beyond a direct push against groups using Gaelic culture to promote racism, “Splang!” hopes to break down the concept of whiteness within a U.S. context.

“If we can get people who currently consider themselves white to realize that at a time in the not so distant past, less 500 years ago, there really was no concept of whiteness,” Dahmer said. “And that their ancestors wouldn’t have considered themselves white, I think that we can maybe undermine the solidarity that white people have for each other as white people.”

He believes that the expansion or creation of whiteness was a calculated effort from those in power to keep their power.

“By expanding the master class to include all white people they were able to stop solitary between white people and the slaves of African descent,” Dahmer said. 

Dahmer and Barid hope that by reminding people that not everyone who is considered white today has always been considered white, they can make connections with folks from other races and ethnicities.

Teaching Gaelic comes into play because they believe that expanding the use of the English language was a key part of the creation of whiteness.

“So originally, whiteness had a lot to do with the English language and really that association has never stopped,” Dahmer said. “You see the idea of white people and anglo-saxons being the same thing.”

Gaelic is a language that was diminished by colonization both in the U.S. and in Europe. By teaching it, Splang! questions the idea of whiteness as a connecting factor between people.

It also serves as a way to preserve the language. Many native nations indigenous to the Americas have similar language reclamation and preservationefforts.

By illuminating a shared history of cultures that had been erased with the goal of expanding the concept of whiteness, and by extension its power, Dahmer and Barid hope that people will walk away with a more complex understanding of the Gaelic language and the culture associated with it.

“That they can see that it's a distinctive thing with older roots that is more welcoming and inclusive than that,” Dahmer said.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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