The Drive of Hunger: How the Irish Became White

material that we have studied and discussed in this class to pull together a somewhat comprehensible answer about how the Irish as a people “became white.” 

In order to answer this question, one must first define whiteness as to determine in which ways the Irish became white. As I mentioned in class, I have never really attempted to define whiteness as anything other than one of many races that a person can self-identify as, however, the more I read, the more I started to see how the definition of whiteness can be subjective and fluctuating. 

In terms of the 19th century (for the sake of this blog post I am honing in on this time period), whiteness was more so a word associated with and defined as power rather than as a race. In America specifically, white men dominated every aspect of life—familial, social, political, and economical—while people of color were dehumanized to the point where their lack of whiteness alone deemed them inferior. Because of the positioning of the white man in society through the means of this deeply-rooted systemic racism, the only way that immigrants of other races (in this case, the Irish immigrants) were able to make lives for themselves in America was to essentially adopt whiteness in order to position themselves in a place where they are able to gain power and wealth. 

An interesting contrast to the Irish peoples’ racial transformation in America is in David Lloyd’s article when he discusses that even though the Irish lived poor lives in Ireland, they still found fulfillment and contentment in their lives and even resisted any colonizers who tried to improve their society. Despite this contentment, however, famine broke out and caused many Irish families to immigrate to America, which was dominated by a very white, capitalistic society that automatically deemed them unable to succeed. The horrific experiences that the Irish faced during the Irish potato famine were a driving factor which forced the Irish to do whatever they needed in order to make lives for themselves in America, including sacrificing their Irish heritage and identity for that of whiteness. 

There are few things that drive change quite like hunger and famine. Therefore, I think it makes sense why the Irish became white out of a sense of necessity and survival instinct. What I think would be an interesting thing to consider is had the famine not happened, would there still be oppression against Irish-Americans today? Would the lack of famine have caused a lack of immigration and therefore prevented these Irish-Americans from having to adopt whiteness?