POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST
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Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White, (Routledge 1996).

From Subject
Adam E Sebastian <aeseba0@ilstu.edu How the Irish Became White (Adam Sebastian)
ROBERT MILLER <ltrobmil@HOTMAIL.COM How the Irish Became White(Miller)
Eddie Okelley <eokell@ilstu.edu How The Irish Became White (Eddie O'kelley)
Robert Wayne Taylor <rwtayl2@ilstu.edu Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert Taylor,
"sarah a. gill-branion" <sagill@ilstu.edu Re: Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert
ray briggs <rsbrigg@ilstu.edu How the Irish Became White
Mylon Jamar Kirksy <mjkirks@ilstu.edu Re: Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert
Peter Kousaleos <kousalep@OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU Re: Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert
john kropke <jrkrop2@ilstu.edu Re: taylor review

Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999 22:17:55 -0800
From: "Adam E Sebastian <aeseba0@ilstu.edu
Subject: How the Irish Became White (Adam Sebastian)

Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White, (Routledge 1996). Reviewed by Adam Sebastian.

In looking at the title of this book, one that is not familiar with Irish history might be puzzled. I’m sure my niece would say about my brother-in-law, her father, "Daddy’s Irish and he is as white as can be, he burns even if he gets a hint of sunshine on his body." Americans today think of the Irish as far from black and being Irish is often a thing not of oppression but of celebration now a day. But the Irish that came to this country created distance from their oppressed past and pursued a common American "white" life. They became considered part of the white race gaining all the privileges that go along with being white in America.

How the Irish Became White is a historical book that deals mostly with the Irish in and around Philadelphia. Yet Ignatiev begins by describing a bit of who the Irish were that came to this country. Many of the first Irish that came were not Catholic but Protestant. Catholics started coming in higher numbers after around 1840. This is also when numbers of poor and unskilled Irish increasing came to the United States. Another fact is that although the English language was being forced into Ireland, many of those who came spoke Gaelic.

The Irish that settled in the United States often lived in the same areas as blacks. They often intermixed, had children and became friends with blacks. The Irish Catholics had seen much oppression in their homeland, living in an apartheid like system. Even most of the Irish Protestants were coming for a better life because of their rejection of the Church of Ireland. These people settled in the poorer areas of Philadelphia, that had a high percentage of free blacks. Therefore early on in Irish American history the Irish were not much unlike a free black living in the North.

Yet soon, the Irish began distancing themselves from their oppressive past. The Irish that lived in the Untied States became overwhelmingly Democrat and antiabolition. Even though Ireland had a strong anti-slave past and many Irish in their homeland were pro-abolition. The Irish of this country seemed not to want to rock the boat. They began to see abolition as anti-American and extreme. The Democratic Party, which took the Irish in convinced them that slavery was needed in the American economy. A common argument was that the white laborer in the North had it harder than the slave in the South. The Northerner had to languish in the factories with no care given to him. The slave at least was kept in good care. The Irish did not claim to be pro-slavery but anti-oppression and this meant oppression in the North and the South. Of course, many of the Irish seemed to concentrate on the North while forgetting of the South’s injustice.

Becoming part of the Democratic Party the Irish furthered their future as being considered white. The Irish gained political a stronger political voice in becoming part of the Democratic Party. Yet the Irish also gained a fear of a the end of slavery a migration of former slaves into the North’s economy. This was a critical moment in their becoming white, they belonged to a party that accepted them and they gained an "us vs. them" mentality. Even though many Irish fought in the civil war more often than not they enlisted to save the union not to free the slaves.

The Irish gained power not just by the Democratic Party but by cheap labor. When the Irish first came to the country they swept into low class jobs by willing to work for the lowest pay. They were even cheaper than slave labor as Ignatiev points out, by the fact that on dangerous jobs Irish rather than slaves were sent in to work. It was cheaper to lose an Irishman than a slave, who was an expensive piece of property. With the Irish raid on labor they soon became an intricate part of labor unions, that didn’t allow blacks. In the labor force they began to exercise power and demonstrate their earned "whiteness". The author points out that in Philadelphia the Irish gained their own fire companies and became members of the police force. Both of these facts demonstrate major gains in power in the then ultra-corrupt government. With the fact that they had places in the fire companies and the police force showed that they were under no control of another group. The Irish freed themselves of bias by becoming police themselves.

In the late 1800’s Irish had spread out through the city of Philadelphia and created considerable distance from their earlier blackness. Of course this distance was more than just physical, the Irish had gained status in becoming white. They were the oppressed but became the oppressors. The Irish embraced whiteness and forgot their past oppression. In this country they took on what it meant to be white, one of these properties of whiteness were oppression of the blacks. The Irish no longer saw themselves as a lower class and neither did the rest of America.

I thought this book was very good, although I did have some problems with it. I would have liked to see the book follow the Irish into the 20th century. Although I think the book supports its points very well with the in length talk of the 19th century, I think it would be interesting to see the total assimilation into whiteness that must of happened in the 20th century. I also would have found more talk of other cities besides Philadelphia interesting. I like the fact that the book follows certain people and events in its chapters to draw out the points of Ignatiev. Yet I found it difficult to briefly summarize the book without giving the whole account of these people and events that the book includes.

Of course I do not live in the time period in which the Irish were becoming white, yet I do see some instances in my own life that, to a certain degree can demonstrate the Irish distancing themselves from other groups. I lived and went to school in with many Irish Catholics, and I myself am Irish and Catholic. In my high school one liberal teacher would always bring up that Irish were compared with blacks as late as the 1800’s. For many students this was greeted with disbelief. The teacher did this in attempt to face the large amount of racism in the area. He also compared middle Easter terrorists with the IRA, which many of the students did not see the IRA as terrorists or at least not as bad. In some cases students would not admit that they see much of a connection between the IRA and other terrorists. This seems to be just more identification with the white race and an underlying resistance to admit any comparison between the Irish and nonwhite people. This is the kind of sentiment of the Irish that lead them to be able to call themselves white.

Ignatiev presents a thought-provoking book that shows how race is socially constructed. Yet does this mean that if blacks want full equality in this society they must somehow become white? Could the Irish have gained as much equality without becoming white? &middot;

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Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 13:42:00 CST
From: "ROBERT MILLER <ltrobmil@HOTMAIL.COM
Subject: How the Irish Became White(Miller)

Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White. Routledge. New York, NY.1995

Reviewed by Robert Miller ltrobmil@hotmail.com

Ignatiev’s book, How the Irish Became White, chronicles the journey of Irish Americans from their beginnings as poor and under-class to their rise to respectable, productive members of American society. The book gives biographical accounts along with situational descriptions of the Irish immigrants through tier struggle to be accepted as "white" in the 1800s. Ignatiev chose to call this transition "becoming white" to place particular emphasis on the difficulties that the Irish faced due to their ethnicity. The book explains the social construct of race as the defining characteristics that separates one group from another. In the case of the Irish there are several differentiating factors that separate them from what was then mainstream "white" America, and their struggle to overcome the stigmatism leads them in several directions, ultimately to hypocrisy.

The characteristics that distinguished the Irish from other "white" Americans include their language, religion, manner of dress, and their lowly economic status. Most Irish did not speak English, instead they spoke Irish. They were also mostly Catholic, which later in this discussion will prove to be extremely important. Further, it was noted in the time that Irish had a distinctive manner of dress that allowed for easy identification. Finally, they were poor, as most recent immigrants are, and were therefore looked down upon by the mainstream "whites." "White" Americans in the early 1800s equated the Irish to black slaves, and in some instances held them in lower regard, since they were not as valuable as slaves.

The Irish that first immigrated to the U.S. were empathetic to the plight of African slaves. The Irish had a long history of anti-slavery sentiment in Ireland. They are proud of their opposition to slavery. When they came to the U.S., they initially continued their moral opposition to slavery. Many were active abolitionists, ardent in their anti-slavery convictions. They initially joined the Republican Party, traditionally against slavery, and held to their convictions. They were active in the press as well. The periodical, the Liberator, was an Irish publication that took a strong stand against slavery.

Ignatiev fills his book with biographical accounts of Irish immigrants. The personal accounts are interesting, but make the book seem choppy. Individuals’ stories have to be compressed and inserted into chapters where they best fit. They do not follow the chronological flow of the overall text. They are used, though, to provide more emphasis on particular aspects of the author’s generalizations in each phase of Irish assimilation. They give interesting historical accounts of the Irish’s determination to move into the mainstream of American society.

The chronological orientation the book takes the reader from the days of Irish anguish under the control of Great Britain to their acceptance as "white" in America. Their plight in Ireland gave them the motivation to seek a better life in America. Originally, in Ireland, as mentioned earlier, the Irish had been under a system that prohibited slavery. This was one belief that would cost them dearly in their move to the U.S.

The Irish’s closeness to black Americans was another factor that contributed to their being equated to blacks by "white" America. Their economic status forced them to live in the poorest locations in the cities, and they had to take any jobs they could to survive. This close proximity inevitably led to intermarriage and in turn to family ties between blacks and Irish. In the beginning, "white" Americans saw this as an indication that the Irish should occupy the same social status as blacks, which was very low. "Whites" commonly called the Irish white Negroes, and the blacks, smoked Irish.

Their low economic status led to another phenomenon. As most know the rate of incarceration among the lower economic strata is higher than the rate among the wealthy. The consequence was that prisons became one of the first truly racially integrated institutions in the U.S. The Irish in prisons further acknowledged their equity with blacks by not segregating themselves socially. The author places particular emphasis on this integration because prior to becoming "white", the Irish themselves did not see substantive differences between themselves and black Americans. Their commonalties such as social status and economic stature were more important than the difference in skin pigmentation.

The transition between Irish and "white" came over time. As explained above the Irish initially aligned themselves with blacks in the U.S. They later aligned themselves with "whites" in America. The reason for the transition is obvious, "whites" monopolized the power structure in 19th century America, but the means of transition is what deserves scrutiny.

The Irish began the move toward cultural autonomy by taking the lowest paying jobs away from blacks. Their strategy was to work for extremely low wages in order to obtain the jobs. They did not move up the social ladder by this strategy alone, but it did begin to give them a base from which they could transition into higher paying jobs, and eventually full equality with the "white" power structure.

Another base upon which the Irish were able to build was their religion. The Irish were predominately Roman Catholic. Historically, the "white" population in the U.S. had been Protestant until this point. This led to both the ostrification of the Irish and their ability to develop solidarity. The Irish built churches, schools, and other social support organizations for themselves that utilized their religion as a fulcrum for social leverage. These institutions allowed the Irish community to develop internal support mechanisms for economic redistribution and for political activity.

The use of religious organizations as a starting point for political activity is well developed in the book, Free Spaces, the Sources of Democratic Change in America, by Sara M. Evans and Harry C. Boyte. These scholars document the importance of independent social organizations that exist outside the government apparatus. These organizations are termed "free spaces." Free spaces, according to these authors, allow groups to develop political awareness and act collectively to further their interests. The authors emphasize organizations that have collectively helped the traditionally discriminated against groups, such as women, blacks, and labor. The principles outlined, though, are perfectly applicable to the Irish in the U.S. The Irish’s organizations allowed them to exercise democratic essentials outside the usual political arena. They were able to develop leadership skills, public talk, discuss issues confronting them as a group, as well as other nascent political essentials. The Catholic church is one of the major factors in the transition of the Irish to becoming a viable political group.

The key transition, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the move from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party by Irish Americans. This move marked a fundamental shift in alignment for the Irish. In the middle 1800s, the Republican Party opposed slavery. The abolitionist stance did not allow the Irish to fully enjoy the privileges of being "white" in 19th century America. The shift to the Democratic Party is, therefore, significant because the Democratic Party was pro-slavery. This shift did not come accidentally, however.

The Irish population, although they were socially equated to blacks, were allowed to vote. As the book explains, they initially proudly fought against slavery. By virtue of their abolitionist stance and the other social factors that identified them, the Irish were ostracized from mainstream "white" America. Their gradual transition to political viability came through their organizations and economic progress, though, and as they moved closer to the level of political equity, they continued to be discriminated against based on previously mentioned criteria. The change came when the Democratic Party realized the relevance of a large untapped population of "white", legal voters, who did not have a strong alignment. The Democrats decided to co-opt the Irish in an attempt to bolster their own agenda. The shift from Republican to Democrat, hence from abolitionist to pro-slavery, caused a permanent rift in the relationship between blacks and Irish. They could no longer be classified as white Negroes, since they were now fighting directly against those very people with whom they had previously been categorized.

To conclude, the book gives an overall chronological account of the transition from black to "white" for the Irish in America. They were initially equated with the social level of blacks for a variety of reasons such as economic status and foreign demeanor. They managed to transition themselves over a period of years to the status of "white" by both their own efforts and efforts of others anxious to tap into their political potential. Unfortunately for the blacks, the Irish abandoned their core ideological opposition to slavery, and chose instead to gain power for themselves at the expense of African slaves. It is hard to consider this example of political treason as a model for immigrants to follow, albeit a successful model.

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Date: Thu, 1 Apr 1999 13:39:31 -0600
From: "Eddie Okelley <eokell@ilstu.edu
Subject: How The Irish Became White (Eddie O'kelley)

Ignatiev, Noel. How The Irish Became White, (Routledge,New York,NY:1995)

Reviewed by: Eddie O'kelley(eokell@ilstu.edu)

"The Irish are the blacks of Europe.So say it loud,I’m black and I’m proud. "This is a saying from the movie The Commitments (1991). Not only was the Irish black in Europe but in America also. Noel Ignatiev explains this and other historical pasts about the Irish in his book entitled,How the Irish Became White. Mr.Ignatievs produces a very insightful book that gives light to how the Irish not only immigrated,but also assimilated in the United States through their adversity.

Mr.Ignatiev starts out his book by looking at what the liberator,Daniel O’Connell suggests to his fellow countrymen in America,to join the abolitionists and the movement of ending slavery, and the response by the Irish-American people. Next,he goes on to show how the Catholic Irish were treated in their country. Then he shows how the Irish were perceived by those at the port and how the Irish responded to their encounters with the blacks in America. For these encounters the Irish were according to Mr. Ignatiev, known as "n*#!$~ turned inside out or white Negroes" while the blacks were referred to as "smoked Irish," because of their relationships.

Although the Irish had white skin,this did not give them their acceptance into white America. Their white skin tone only gave them admission into this vast majority,however,if they were to assimilate into America they were going to have to earn this privilege. This is what exactly they did to some point. First,the Irish got into the political game,in Philadelphia,PA. They also had a strong religious Catholic foundation that some say is the main reason of how they evolved or shaped themselves into the citizens that they are today. Then ofcourse there was the war that they entered into,the Civil War,however they had a different hidden agenda for fighting instead of the main goal of what the war was really being fought. Their main goal was to establish themselves as citizens of America in the white race and to hold on to their position accordingly,without sinking back to the status of the blacks in America.

Noel Ignatiev believes that this transformation of the Irish who are often associated with the color green seemed to leave them,as they became whites in an American society. The Catholic Irish who were oppressed in Ireland,made a change from being the oppressed race in their country,to becoming part of an oppressing race in America,while stepping on the blacks whom they first encountered in America and most never looking back.

The Catholic Irish and those alike left Ireland from a system of oppression comparable to that of how an American white slave would be treated. They came into this country not knowing English and were treated as those that did not know. They entered a realm where the color of your skin determines your status in society and sets you apart from the rest. Their lives were perceived less than that of a slave in the South. They were told here is a shovel and to build our railroads in an environment and conditions not fit for a human. This was soon all to change.

They were the Irish whose history is as green as looking at an emerald in the sun and whose skin is as white as snow. The Irish learned the advantage of their skin color and took full advantage of it. Ignatiev puts it best by saying,"The white race consists of those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society."

Noel Ignatiev did a just job in explaining How The Irish Became White. It was easy to understand and clearly written. Taking this book for face value it seems that a lot of time was put into finding the facts that could be found for this historical time in history. I can honestly say that before I read the book I had no ideal what it was about and once I found out I greatly appreciated the message that was put forth by Mr.Ignatiev. I know now the answer to the title that was raised by Mr.Ignatiev,How The Irish Became White. I recommend this book for those that want to gain knowledge in the history of the Irish immigrating to America and what hardships they had to face. &middot;

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Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1999 13:25:29 -0500
From: "Robert Wayne Taylor <rwtayl2@ilstu.edu
Subject: Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert Taylor,

Ignatiev, Noel: "How the Irish Became White", Routledge Press, 1997 Reviewed by Robert W. Taylor, rwtayl2@ilstu.edu

Is he insane??

That may be the first thing that pops into your head when you read the title of this book. Of course Irish people are white, but believe it or not, they have not always been thought of as part of the white race in America. As an American, I consider myself to be white, and having Irish heritage I also consider myself to be white. It was a shock to say the least to find out that my early immigrant relatives were thought of as worse than black.

Ignatiev’s book starts in the early 1830’s in Philadelphia and chronicles the struggles that the Irish immigrants had once they arrived in the New World of America. Irish background held certain beliefs about the American way of life; specifically that Ireland was completely opposed to the use and ownership of slaves. Petitions and speeches were started in Ireland and sent to the Irish portions of America urging and demanding that the Irish in America fight for the freedom of the slaves. But as we will see this didn’t happen. In fact, almost the opposite happened.

Irish Americans were a poor people with little skills necessary for a job, and when they did have the skills no one would hire them because they were Irish. Ignatiev points out that it was relatively easy to figure out someone was Irish because the Irish spoke Gaelic not English. They also dressed differently than Americans. And even if they did speak English, they always had the telltale accent. So what were they supposed to do to earn a living? Ignatiev states that the only jobs Irish could get were the very low paying jobs or the ones that were so dangerous that no one, not even a slave, would or could do them. This gives us our first example of the idea that slaves were better than the Irish because slaves were worth money.

Having the lowest paying jobs, most Irish immigrants were forced to live in the slums of the cities. In Philadelphia, where there were many freed slaves as well as just free blacks, the Irish soon found themselves living with the blacks in the poor areas. They became friends and carried on relationships with each other. This gave rise to two different slang terms by the whites. Irish were known as white Negroes and blacks were known as smoked Irish. We also saw in the book that there was one other place that we can show that there was racial integration, mainly between the blacks and the Irish. These would be in the prisons and jails. There is considerable time spent in the book on the fact that there was racial harmony almost in the jails of the time. There was no segregation within the prisons and there were people getting along with one another. Why, one might ask, were so many Irish men in jail? This is a simple answer that still continues today. The Irish were of the lowest socio-economic status and the lower the status, the more likely to be incarcerated.

The Irish did have one advantage, they could vote for they were free men. This gave them the edge of political power. They became highly involved in the political arenas. This took organization. Organization was found in other parts of Irish culture, mainly the increased involvement in labor organizations. The Irish were slowly trying to become "more white." And with that title, they would start to give up on something that they stood so highly for when they first arrived, slavery. Slowly the Irish did not want to be associated with the blacks of society. They wanted the privileges and awards of the white nation. The Irish would take the jobs away from the blacks by undercutting the wages. Work for less and you will get the job. The Irish also couldn’t wait to fight in the civil war, not because they were once again against slavery, but because this was looked at as being a white American. So all of a sudden, the Irish, who left Ireland because of the oppression they were facing , were now the oppressors. This was seen as a major step towards becoming white. At this point the Irish wanted their skin color to matter. And this would continue from this point on.

Ignatiev doesn’t go into much detail about the 20th century Irish. The book just seems to come to a sudden end. There are also other problems I have with the book. Throughout the book there are multiple stories on people’s lives. This is fine except that I felt it broke up the text of the book. The manuscript was very hard to follow at times with the inclusion of all these different people. Also while I was reading the book, there were several times where I was confused about what the author was trying to point out. For one section I felt that the whole focus of the text was the problems with slavery and the oppression of the blacks. It took him way too long to tie this into the book’s main theme of how this affected the Irish. Overall, there were many interesting facts in the book but the presentation left much to be desired. I have read many books that I just don’t like for their content, but I cannot say that about this book. If the book would have been written to flow better, I believe the author could have presented a stronger text with more information and less narratives. It was clear that the author "did his homework" on this book and the facts were laid out, even if they were not always made clear or with perfect timing. I would recommend this book for someone really searching for information on the early lives of Irish in America, but as for entertainment or general reading value, I would find it hard to pass this one along. &middot;

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Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1999 20:33:21 -0500
From: "sarah a. gill-branion" <sagill@ilstu.edu
Subject: Re: Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert

To: Robert

But as we will see this didn't happen. In fact, almost the opposite happened.

Do you think that if more blacks these days did the same kind of selling out as did the Irish back then, anything would be gained?

They became friends and carried on relationships with each other.

If it was possible then, it ought to be possible now. Who in your opinion will the next group of people be to replace blacks as the lowest of the low?

show that there was racial integration, mainly between the blacks and the Irish. These would be in the prisons and jails.

Isn't it funny how a lot of cops these days are Irish, whereas a lot of prisoners are still blacks!?

The Irish would take the jobs away from the blacks by undercutting the wages. Work for less and you will get the job.

Do you believe the same thing is happening in America with many Hispanic peoples undercutting the current wages in the job market. How will black people overcome getting side-stepped again? &middot;

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Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 23:40:48 -0700
From: "ray briggs <rsbrigg@ilstu.edu
Subject: How the Irish Became White


 

Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White, (Routledge, New York 1995) Reviewed by: Ray Briggs rsbrigg@ilstu.edu<br

In an 1991 movie about a group of working class Irish who form a soul band the saxophonist tells the rest of the group, describing the plight of the Irish, that "The Irish are the blacks of Europe. So say it loud - I’m black and I’m proud.". Although it is not entirely correct it is, or was, a feeling that was felt by many Irish and non-Irish. It is a widespread notion that when the Irish originally came to America they were treated with the same level of respect as slaves and free blacks, essentially none. This is, for all intensive purposes, true. The Irish did receive a very harsh level of treatment during the earlier years of this country. Although this book is not about that topic it does incorporate some aspects of it. This book is about how the Catholic Irish left Ireland the oppressed, and became, in time, part of the oppressive majority in America.

In the beginning of the book we are treated to a discussion of the definition of race. It is pointed out that no biologist has been able to provide a decent definition of what a "race" is. Stemming from this the author feels that people are the member of a particular "race" because that is the status that society has given them. This book is more about class than it is about race. In the eighteenth century many of those living in Ireland felt akin to the slave in America since they themselves felt as though they were slaves. The Irish that came to America wanted to move up the class ladder from which they had previously been at the bottom. The only way to do this was to distance themselves from another group which at the time was on the same rung of the social ladder, that being blacks. They would have to learn the "value" of being "white". Once in America the Irish were taught to equate freedom with the color white and the status of slave as the color black. The Irish fled from their homeland because they had been oppressed by the British and by certain Irish who associated themselves with the Anglican church. There were laws set up, by the ruling English, to keep members of the Irish Catholic social group from climbing out of the poverty and low status that they held. Although they had suffered persecution in their homeland in order for them to succeed in America they would have to become part of the oppressing class.

Upon arrival in America the Irish found themselves in a position that was only slightly better than what they had previously been in. The early Irish were mocked and ridiculed, forced into the lowest jobs too dangerous to waste expensive slaves on, and crowded into slums. The Irish were thrown in with free blacks. They both fought and socialized with each other and the police. On some occasions the Irish and the blacks inter-married. While living in the same areas they formed a "common culture of the lowly" (Ignatiev 2). The Irish realized that if they were to rise up in the ranks of the ranks of the working class they would have to distinguish between themselves and the blacks. They began to exhibit outright hatred towards the blacks they previously had associated with. The first example of this was when in 1834 the "Liberator", Daniel O’Connell, who was very popular among Irish Catholics, made a plea to the Irish-Americans’ to join with the abolitionists and help to free the slaves. The abolitionists’ realized that Irish-Americans were a growing force that may sympathize with those forced into servitude. The Irish-Americans, after being persuaded by their political leaders, decided that it was not in their best interests to join the cause of the abolitionists. This was the first clear step in the Irish immigrants’ attempt to disassociate with the black man. Competition formed between unskilled labor, mainly the Irish and blacks, for what decent jobs were available. A tactic that facilitated this was to keep blacks out of the unions that consisted of mostly Irish workers. Finally, Irish workers threatened strikes when employers hired even small numbers of blacks, forcing factory owners and managers to fire the newly hired employees.

Another major step in the Irish attempt to join mainstream society was the allegiance that it devoted to the newly developed Democratic party built by Martin Van Buren. The issue of slavery had divided the Republican party led by Jefferson and those that left strengthened the Democratic party. The Republican party was held together by the notion of white supremacy. The workers of the north were seen as the true political power, of which the Irish were an important contingent. When added to the Southern planters the Irish were an integral part of this new Democratic party and in order to gain their allegiance the party as a whole rejected nativism. This Democratic party easily allowed the Irish workers in the north to join. Ignatiev points out that not only slavery was an important issue to Democrats, but also the issue of the "color line". He also argues that it is not that slavery made it possible to give Irish higher standing in society, but that the acceptance of the Irish into the "white" race made it possible to maintain the system of slavery.

A critical analysis of this book would reveal that it is more of a collection of accounts of early Irish immigrant experiences in America on a large, impersonal scale than a book solely focused on race. It is a history of the Irish joining the ranks of the powerful majority in America. The majority being that of those groups considered "white". I did like several aspects of the book. It provides good historical descriptions of events and people involved with the Irish in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This helps to paint a picture of what was going on during this time period. Ignatiev’s writing is simple and easy to read and understand. Unfortunately, at some times it becomes dry and bland. Still, this book would be easily accessible for anyone. Ignatiev does not put forth and revolutionary ideas or notions. Although this helps the average reader and keeps the book from becoming complicated it would be refreshing if there were a more bold statement made. Despite it’s shortcomings I would recommend this book to anyone who wanted to more about Irish immigrants and there assimilation into the American culture and it’s focus on race.

As stated earlier, this book is not essentially about racism. This book is more of a focus of the effects of labor on the turning of the Irish opinion towards blacks from positive to negative. In his conclusion section Ignatiev draws few that are readily definable. He does point out that unlike slaves, the Irish had no one to champion their cause. The blacks had the efforts of abolitionists and Quakers, few cared or wanted to care about the Irish. He feels that this book is less an argument and more of a biography of Irish immigrants. By this he also writes that it would be impossible to account for the feelings and actions of every single Irish immigrant during this time period. The underlying issue beneath that of the labor movement is that someone had to teach the Irish to hate the black man. Upon arrival in America many Irish held sympathies for the slaves in their new country. Through the use of labor America helped to change this sympathy to hatred.

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Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 12:51:58 -0700
From: "Mylon Jamar Kirksy <mjkirks@ilstu.edu
Subject: Re: Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert


 

At 08:33 PM 4/6/99 -0500, you wrote: Reply by Mylon Kirksy To: Sarah Gill-Branion

I just wanted to comment on a few of the questions that you asked Robert.

Do you think that if more blacks these days did the same kind of selling out as did the Irish back then, anything would be gained?

I believe that it was more than selling out that the Irish did. To sell out is a solution for some people, not an entire ethnic group. The Irish mainstreamed themselves into society. Let us not forget why they were able to do this so well, the were white in color. With that in mind, it would be impossible for Blacks to do the same. Some Blacks have "sold out" as you say, but the result has been unsuccessful on a wholistic scale. The rest of the race is still in the same condition as before; selling out benefits individuals. More than that, it is a condition that may change people's behavior toward you, but the perceptions still remain the same.

Who in your opinion will the next group of people be to replace blacks as the lowest of the low?

I think that there will be no group that replaces Blacks on the social scale of America. The construction of race truly cripples any chances that Blacks may have to go beyond skin color. In order for Blacks to reach the same levels as other immigrants have, race would have to play a non-existent role in the civil society as a discriminator. If there were to be any group that would fall in behind Blacks in the area of hardships, I would say that it would be Hispanics. I say this because they are the fastest growing minority group, and therefore like other groups when things go wrong, they would be an easy scapegoat. However, Blacks (as a whole) would simultaneously have to be making an effort to assimilate or mesh as political and economic players.

Do you believe the same thing is happening in America with many Hispanic peoples undercutting the current wages in the job market. How will black people overcome getting side-stepped again?

I do not believe that we are seeing the prelude to another How the Irish Became White. Once again I say that skin color makes the difference here. Hispanic people also have very dark pigmentation and the language accent for many, would stand in the way of being looked upon as white.

Another thing is that Hispanics are not really trying to assimilate despite their growing numbers. They are more or less creating a sub-culture of their own, sort of like Blacks were forced to do in earlier history (first couple of generations).

I do think that you have a point with the getting side-stepped as it pertains to economics. However, that effect might be curbed with the existence of new labor laws and the increase in Affirmative Action plans. Consequently, without these, I do not know what would save Blacks, as well as others, from getting economically side-stepped.

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Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1999 09:47:46 -0700
From: "Peter Kousaleos <kousalep@OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Subject: Re: Ignatiev "How the Irish Became White" review by Robert
   

"sarah a. gill-branion" wrote:

Reply by Sarah Gill-Branion To: Robert But as we will see this didn't happen. In fact, almost the opposite happened.

Do you think that if more blacks these days did the same kind of selling out as did the Irish back then, anything would be gained? They became friends and carried on relationships with each other. If it was possible then, it ought to be possible now. Who in your opinion will the next group of people be to replace blacks as the lowest of the low? show that there was racial integration, mainly between the blacks and the Irish. These would be in the prisons and jails. Isn't it funny how a lot of cops these days are Irish, whereas a lot of prisoners are still blacks!? The Irish would take the jobs away from the blacks by undercutting the wages. Work for less and you will get the job. Do you believe the same thing is happening in America with many Hispanic peoples undercutting the current wages in the job market. How will black people overcome getting side-stepped again?

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Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 15:31:49 -0500
From: "john kropke <jrkrop2@ilstu.edu
Subject: Re: taylor review


 

Your review on Noel Ignatiev’s book How the Irish Became White was very interesting. You seem to summarize the main points very clearly. I just have a few questions. Did Ignatiev discuss the importance of the church in his book? Since the Irish were probably not the majority, how did they get elected to higher office? And what was their relationship like with other Irishmen? Once again, good job. &middot;

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