Final Thoughts 

I’ve found that the main thing sticking with me from this course is the idea and our discussions of the Irish “becoming” white in America, and how that process necessitated the subjugation of Black people. I think this process is really key to the idea of the Black and Green atlantic, as it represents how the two atlantics converged in the U.S. and how, despite the similarities between the two groups, the Irish were afforded (and chose) the privilege of whiteness over solidarity with Black Americans.

Noel Ignatiev wrote in his book ‘How the Irish Became White’ that Irish immigrants in America had to “subordinate county, religious, or national animosities, not to mention any natural sympathies they may have felt for their fellow creatures, to a new solidarity based on color.” He also emphasizes that this new form of solidarity Irish people developed with other groups of white people in America “was contradicted by their experience in Ireland.” When the Irish crossed the Atlantic, they developed a new cultural identity as Irish Americans that abandoned many cultural characteristics of their home country. While the Irish in Ireland had a culture that focused on collectivism, the Irish in America became more individualistic and less interested in solidarity, particularly with other marginalized groups. This led to many Irish Americans becoming staunch Democrats and opposing the Abolition of slavery, a viewpoint that Daniel O’Connell harshly condemned in his address to the Irish Repeal Association of Cincinnati.

I am very interested in the role that Capitalism played in the Irish becoming white. As we read in Moon and the Mars, the Irish in America were very poor and struggled to find employment. Since so much of the American economy was centered around slavery, it was very common for their jobs to be a part of that industry. Several members of Theo’s Irish family quit their jobs once they found out they were making clothes for enslaved people, but most Irish people either couldn’t afford to, or chose not to take a moral stance on the issue. Ignatiev makes it clear that the Irish had a choice in becoming white, which I definitely agree with— their anti-Blackness was intentional and abhorrent. But, as we’ve discussed in class, it was also a choice that was made under the circumstances of severe poverty and often starvation. Irish Americans learned that white supremacy was a key aspect of American capitalism, and participated in it in order to rise in social class and gain the privilege of whiteness.

One Reply to “Final Thoughts ”

  1. I really enjoyed these “final thoughts” on the problem of whiteness in the Black and Green Atlantic. I think your post gets at a key tension that we’ve mentioned in class — the difference between race and class. As we’ve learned, Black Americans and Irish were both oppressed, especially during the years at the beginning of Moon and the Mars. Though Baldwin noted that their middle passages were comparable, the distinction between those middle passages only became evident in America. In the United States, the Irish were not bound to identification with their “race” like African Americans were; they only needed to rise through class ranks. Therefore, they became white, as you so eloquently discussed. When we see Black and Green authors gesture at each other, it often feels incongruous because of this key distinction between race and class.

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