Africa Speaks Reasoning Forum

ENTERTAINMENT/ ARTS/ LITERATURE => Books & Reviews => Topic started by: Ayinde on July 06, 2003, 04:24:03 PM

Title: How the Irish Became White
Post by: Ayinde on July 06, 2003, 04:24:03 PM
How the Irish Became White ( by Noel Ignatiev

Reviewer: An Customer from Ballwin, MO United States

I found this book powerful and enlightening. The opening pages of the book delineate the plight of the Irish in their homeland and uses this as a basis for their evolution as citizens in the US. What is more, they are not the only ones who go through this evolutionary process of "becoming white", the Poles, Italians, Jews and others after them would have their own journey to assimilation into US culture as well. As this book clearly describes, immigrants had the possibility to become white, African Americans did not. Further, the Irish had to choose: conform to the native-born culture or be forever shut out of opportunity just like the Blacks.

It is an illuminating look at our society and one which truly does help us understand today. I read this book as part of a 13-book cirriculum for a graduate history seminar whose topic was the history of Racism in the US after 1870. It was one of the best-written texts and provided an excellent foundation for cultural studies. I highly reccomend it to anyone who seeks a better understanding of social history and today's US culture. Rather than placing blame, the author provides the facts and understanding of what happened, good and bad, so that we see the complexity and ultimately, the uselessness of blame. It is only with this understanding that we can start to make changes.

How the Irish Became White ( by Noel Ignatiev

Title: Re: How the Irish Became White
Post by: Kebo on July 06, 2003, 09:06:20 PM

Obrigadu Ayinde, just ordered the book from Amazon. I trust your judgment based on your reasonings.
Plus, I'm of Irish descent (Kevin Patrick O'Brien) and I've got to know how my ancenstry fits into this white supremacy and Amerikkka. Obrigado for this info and for other encouragement you've given me in this forum towards healing and rastafari.

friendship and work,

Title: Re: How the Irish Became White
Post by: Ayinde on July 06, 2003, 10:20:26 PM
How the Irish Became White ( by Noel Ignatiev

I have not read that book but a friend who researched the history recommended that it be added. I know this story of the Irish from many different sources. Below is another review of the book by someone who understands the history.


by Art MacDonald, Ph.D.

It's a book about Irish emigration, race, class and U.S. labor history.

It was a tough read. It was a story of primarily Irish Catholic emigration before and after the potato famine - roughly 1840 to the Civil War - and that people's struggle to survive in this white, Protestant world. It's a sympathetic yet tragic story of how race has been a defining characteristic in U.S. culture and how the race question has also plagued the white working class in this country. One might say that it is a story of how the Irish exchanged their greenness for whiteness, and collaborated with the dominant white culture to continue the oppression of African Americans.

Ironically, Irish Catholics came to this country as an oppressed race yet quickly learned that to succeed they had to in turn oppress their closest social class competitors, free Northern blacks. Back home these "native Irish or papists" suffered something very similar to American slavery under English Penal Laws. Yet, despite their revolutionary roots as an oppressed group fighting for freedom and rights, and despite consistent pleas from the great Catholic emancipator, Daniel O'Connell, to support the abolitionists, the newly arrived Irish-Americans judged that the best way of gaining acceptance as good citizens and to counter the Nativist movement was to cooperate in the continued oppression of African Americans. Ironically, at the same time they were collaborating with the dominant culture to block abolition, they were garnering support from among Southern, slaveholding democrats for Repeal of the oppressive English Act of the Union back home. Some even convinced themselves that abolition was an English plot to weaken this country.

Upon hearing of this position on the part of so many of his fellow countrymen now residing in the United States, in 1843 O'Connell wrote: "Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice, saying, come out of such a land, you Irishmen; or, if you remain, and dare countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognize you as Irishmen no longer." It's a tragic story. In a letter published in the Liberator in 1854, it was stated that "passage to the United States seems to produce the same effect upon the exile of Erin as the eating of the forbidden fruit did upon Adam and Eve. In the morning, they were pure, loving, and innocent; in the evening, guilty."

Irish and Africans Americans had lots in common and lots of contact during this period; they lived side by side and shared work spaces. In the early years of immigration the poor Irish and blacks were thrown together, very much part of the same class competing for the same jobs. In the census of 1850, the term mulatto appears for the first time due primarily to inter-marriage between Irish and African Americans. The Irish were often referred to as "Negroes turned inside out and Negroes as smoked Irish." A famous quip of the time attributed to a black man went something like this: "My master is a great tyrant, he treats me like a common Irishman." Free blacks and Irish were viewed by the Nativists as related, somehow similar, performing the same tasks in society. It was felt that if amalgamation between the races was to happen, it would happen between Irish and blacks. But, ultimately, the Irish made the decision to embrace whiteness, thus becoming part of the system which dominated and oppressed blacks. Although it contradicted their experience back home, it meant freedom here since blackness meant slavery.

An article by a black writer in an 1860 edition of the Liberator explained how the Irish ultimately attained their objectives: "Fifteen or twenty years ago, a Catholic priest in Philadelphia said to the Irish people in that city, 'You are all poor, and chiefly laborers, the blacks are poor laborers; many of the native whites are laborers; now, if you wish to succeed, you must do everything that they do, no matter how degrading, and do it for less than they can afford to do it for.' The Irish adopted this plan; they lived on less than the Americans could live upon, and worked for less, and the result is, that nearly all the menial employments are monopolized by the Irish, who now get as good prices as anybody. There were other avenues open to American white men, and though they have suffered much, the chief support of the Irish has come from the places from which we have been crowded."

Once the Irish secured themselves in those jobs, they made sure blacks were kept out. They realized that as long as they continued to work alongside blacks, they would be considered no different. Later, as Irish became prominent in the labor movement, African Americans were excluded from participation. In fact, one of the primary themes of How the Irish Became White is the way in which left labor historians, such as the highly acclaimed Herbert Gutman, have not paid sufficient attention to the problem of race in the development of the labor movement.

And so, we have the tragic story of how one oppressed "race," Irish Catholics, learned how to collaborate in the oppression of another "race," Africans in America, in order to secure their place in the white republic. Becoming white meant losing their greenness, i.e., their Irish cultural heritage and the legacy of oppression and discrimination back home. Imagine if the Irish had remained green after their arrival and formed an alliance with their fellow oppressed co-workers, the free blacks of the North. Imagine if they had chosen to include their black brothers and sisters in the union movement to wage a class battle against the dominant white culture which ruthlessly pitted them against one another.

Oh that there had been other Irish Americans such as the soldiers from St. Patrick's Battalion who fought on the side of Mexico in the War of 1848, who did remain green and fought against oppression. So perhaps we Irish in America must reclaim our greenness and, perhaps, our anti-racism trainers are right that we all must reclaim our cultural heritage and bring it to the multicultural table. The only stipulation is that we do it in a decidedly anti-racist manner and in solidarity with oppressed classes of people. Maybe we can all share in the sentiment proclaimed in the 1991 movie about Dublin, "The Commitments," when it was stated that "The Irish are the blacks of Europe, so say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud."

Art McDonald is the Minister and Director of Social Advocacy at Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church.

How the Irish Became White ( by Noel Ignatiev

Title: Re: How the Irish Became White
Post by: ROOTSWOMAN on July 07, 2003, 06:40:25 PM
Any comprehensive account of the African presence in early Europe should include England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Scandinavia.  The history and legends of Scotland confirm the existence of "purely Black people." We see one of them in the person of Kenneth the Niger. During the tenth century Kenneth the Niger ruled over three provinces in the Scottish Highlands.

The historical and literary traditions of Wales reflect similar beliefs. According to Gwyn Jones (perhaps the world's leading authority on the subject), to the Welsh chroniclers, "The Danes coming in by way of England and the Norwegians by way of Ireland were pretty well all black: Black Gentiles, Black Norsemen, Black Host."

There is also strong reason to suggest an African presence in ancient Ireland.  We have, for example, the legends of the mysterious "African sea-rovers, the Fomorians, who had a stronghold on Torrey Island, off the Northwest Coast."  The Fomorians, shrouded deep in mist, came to be regarded as the sinister forces in Irish mythology.

A prominent Viking of the eleventh century was Thorhall, who was aboard the ship that carried the early Vikings to the shores of North America. Thorhall was "the huntsman in summer, and in winter the steward of Eric the Red.  He was, it is said, a large man, and strong, black, and like a giant, silent, and foul-mouthed in his speech, and always egged on Eric to the worst; he was a bad Christian."

Another Viking, more notable than Thorhall, was Earl Thorfinn, "the most distinguished of all the earls in the Islands."  Thorfinn ruled over nine earldoms in Scotland and Ireland, and died at the age of seventy-five.  His widow married the king of Scotland. Thorfinn was described as "one of the largest men in point of stature, and ugly, sharp featured, and somewhat tawny, and the most martial looking man... It has been related that he was the foremost of all his men."

Ancient And Modern Britons, by David Mac Ritchie
Nature Knows No Color-Line, by J.A. Rogers

Queen Charlotte (of African Descent)



Title: Re: How the Irish Became White
Post by: Kebo on September 15, 2003, 06:44:23 PM

This book, How the Irish became White, was no doubt a tough read. It contains so much political jargon, and so many facts, names and dates, that I felt it a very hard book to get into. It actually took me over a month to finish it, and its less than 200 pages.

After pushing through the book finally, the impression I walk away with is that times were more than tough in 19th century America, especially for the peoples at the bottom of the barrel, in the context of this book them being the Irish and the African-Americans.

These two classes of people had to compete and duke it out just to hold on to their scraps in the workforce, or go destitution. This historical account shows the kind of struggle our ancestors had to endure (not too long ago) to make it here on the east coast in America. Philadelphia, New York and Boston were cities virulent with unveiled racial tension, fighting, rioting, and debasing standards of living for the lowest classes.

For readers with minds for lots of facts and information, you may get alot more out of this book than this basic gist of the rabid competition for survival between Blacks and Irish in 19th century east coast america.

The extreme poverty conditions the Irish were forced to face in America must have put the Irish mentality into a near craze but it looks like the sad truth is the Irish were not able to resist the weapon of white supremacy, and ultimately used it to step on the Blacks to get ahead.

Title: Re: How the Irish Became White
Post by: Ayinde on September 16, 2003, 11:51:32 AM
"The extreme poverty conditions the Irish were forced to face in America must have put the Irish mentality into a near craze but it looks like the sad truth is the Irish were not able to resist the weapon of white supremacy, and ultimately used it to step on the Blacks to get ahead."

This is important to get. When Whites find Blacks do not easily trust them it is because of awareness of these possibilities.

I hope you enjoy reading and sharing.

Title: Re: How the Irish Became White
Post by: Kebo on September 17, 2003, 08:58:40 PM

I'm beginning to hear you
There's definitely a divide between us, and its deep, and filled with all kinds of ill behavior

Reading and sharing is a good way. Your support helps.