As I continued to learn throughout the course of this class, something that I was continually fascinated with and confused by was the contrast between the oppression against the Irish during the transatlantic period versus the popularization and commercialization of Irish culture in today’s society. As anybody at this school would know, Irish culture is one that has not only become heavily commercialized, but also heavily popularized in today’s society without any acknowledgement of Irish tradition. An example of this from my own experience is that I have always known that St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated by drinking and wearing tacky, green outfits, but I had never learned the original reason for the celebration of the holiday.
Catherine M. Eagan raises an interesting point about this in her article, “Still ‘Black’ and ‘Proud’: Irish America and the Racial Politics of Hibernophilia.” When referencing a study performed by Mary Walters about the role of ethnicity in suburbia, Eagan makes the argument that there is no parallel between the experiences of prejudice that was experienced by Irish immigrants during the transatlantic period and the modern-day Irish American experience. Eagan’s argument is further supported by the eventual “rediscovery” of Irish cultural identity which allowed the Irish to share stories of prior oppression while still maintaining their whiteness.
Throughout this course, we have thoroughly discussed the motivations behind the Irish abandoning their cultural/ethnic identity for that of whiteness, which would allow them to gain power and have a better life in capitalistic American society than the famine that they had been facing in Ireland. While the Irish were able to gain power through this newfound whiteness, a lot of that power manifested itself in actively oppressing black people. This historical point further proves Eagan’s argument and shows the hypocrisy and chosen ignorance of modern-day Irish Americans attempting to reclaim their Irish identity and align themselves in relation to black people in a sense of “shared oppression.”