I think that this past week, by looking at the different ways that both the African American community and the Irish community use the same coping techniques and how they gesture towards each other over history, I’ve gained an even deeper understanding of how they seem to be connected. When I went back over my previous discussion questions for Monday and Wednesday, I was struck again by how the questions I asked were so similar: is there something wrong when one side takes a coping/protesting method from the other side, and uses it for their own struggles?


I was rather conflicted about this question. When I was looking at Seamus Heaney’s poem “Strange Fruit”, and how it was directly borrowing from the song “Strange Fruit”, I thought that the answer was yes. There is something wrong with this instance of borrowing, though it was hard to place at first. And then when I asked the same question about UpTight as a remake of The Informer, I came up with the opposite answer. There was nothing wrong with this borrowing. Again, I couldn’t tell at first just what made this appropriate, and the previous instance inappropriate. After our class discussion, however, I think I may have figured it out. There seems to be a kind of “but…” statement attached to every similar circumstance that we can see between the two cultures.


The Irish were oppressed in their home country, but… they had a means of escape in America.

The Irish were not considered white, but… they were able to transition into whiteness over time.

The Irish were maltreated, abused, and considered inferior, but… they were never slaves.


There is no “but” statement on the African American side of the transatlantic. This lack of a “but” makes it far easier for African Americans to gesture toward the Irish as an example, but harder for the Irish to gesture toward African Americans without taking this somewhat out of proportion.

3 Replies to ““But…””

  1. Also, Heaney’s use of the song title in his own work misappropriates the sentiment of the song and what it means within the broader American context. While Heaney does keep the horrors of such gruesome violence intact from the lyrics of the song, its use within his own time is not quite equivalent as when Nina Simone sings the song. Heaney uses the title in reference to the bog bodies which are located in Denmark, not as close to home as Heaney’s native Ireland. Yet, the song “Strange Fruit” was written in 1939, at a time when lynchings were not uncommon in the American South. Holiday and later Simone’s uses of the song are a cry for justice and equality, unable to comprehend the “strange fruit” still hanging from the Southern trees after so many years. For Heaney to invoke this title carries a pretty hefty cultural burden and while it is an interesting connection to make on the issue of continued violence in societies, his use of it to describe a crime which is far from his time and place seems odd and even disrespectful in its motion towards the concurrent threat of lynchings to African Americans when the original song was written.

  2. I think you make a really good point that it is easier for African-Americans to gesture towards the Irish than vice-versa. From what we have seen, the situation of African-Americans seems more dire. Yet I think we should be a little more critical of the way African-Americans are gesturing toward the Irish. We criticized Heaney for speaking about the Black Panthers from a place of ignorance. He didn’t try to understand their position, goals, or motives, rather judging them from an outsider’s perspective. While African-Americans are not attacking the Irish rhetorically, I don’t know if they approaching the Irish situation from a place of knowledge. The question I am gesturing toward is: Do African-Americans have a responsibility to understand the true situation in Ireland before they make comparisons to that or are the depictions of the situation from Irish-Americans good enough? I can’t say whether any of our authors have made references to Ireland without having the full picture but I wonder if that criteria is necessary.

  3. I think that this is a very interesting point that you have made. You have managed to put into words exactly what I realized this week as well. In all of our past readings, we have come to the conclusion that the Irish borrowing from black culture always seems to be problematic. The Irish constantly use the blacks to define themselves as a people, usually with murky results. Upon realizing this earlier in the semester, I had just assumed that the black community borrowing from the Irish would be just as problematic. In our readings and the movie this week, however, I did not find that to be the case. Something about the adaptations seemed surprisingly right? I’m not entirely sure why—perhaps someone else has some insight into it?

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