Irish Accepting their Whiteness

The whole process of the Irish becoming white in the United States sheds much light on how race is a fictional and fluid concept that was used to oppress certain groups in the name of advancing capitalism. There are many similarities between the oppression of the Irish and Africans but also many key differences, which allowed them to transform from the persecuted into the privileged. One key difference is the circumstance that brought them to America. The wave of Irish immigration in the 19th century was primarily due to the famine, while African immigration was primarily due to the transatlantic slave trade. Although both were very unfortunate circumstances, one was voluntary while the other was not. This already set the Irish up for greater freedom and potential to progress. In addition, according to the Lloyd reading, the Irish were discriminated against essentially because they refused to subscribe to capitalism and were content with being poor. It also did not help that they were Irish. The Africans on the other hand were not given a choice in the matter and were just assumed to be hopeless and always in “need” of white guidance. It is clear from this that race was never about inherent physical differences, but a tactic for controlling the labor supply and maintaining the current economic order. Once the Irish made themselves useful to this order, they began to move up the totem pole and gain status in society at the expense of their Black counterparts. Ironically, they didn’t have to change who they were fundamentally but just redirect their “mob” mentality elsewhere. The only thing standing in the way of their social mobility was themselves. Because of this, I argue that the Irish did not “become” white, but were always white and finally just chose to accept the space for them that was always there. In contrast, many Black people greatly desired to be a part of this capitalist system but were denied the opportunity to do so to ensure that there would always be a group at the bottom to handle all the menial work. The Irish never had any allegiance or loyalty to Black people because they were not struggling for the same reasons. All the degrading comparisons in the media that likened the Irish to Black people were done to bully them into fully transitioning into White Americanhood. Ultimately, they did what they had to do to thrive and that meant not just distancing themselves from Black people but also taking a lead role in their oppression.