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.

The Commitments and Cultural Appropriation

I really enjoyed both reading and watching The Commitments, and found it very interesting how this story displays a convergence of the Black and Green Atlantics through music. The band members were drawn towards soul because it was music of the working class— “Soul is the politics o’ the people”— and invented by Black Americans (38). In the film, when describing his inclination towards soul, Jimmy says “The Irish are the blacks of Europe, and Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, and the northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.” I noticed that during this scene in the book, his character says almost the exact same lines, but uses the N word instead. This and several other instances of anti-Blackness in the movie and novel, along with The Commitments’ use of a Black musical style, had me thinking about our discussion in class about appropriation. One of the ways that cultural appropriation is described today is when someone adopts an aspect of another culture without understanding the significance of it and the way in which it fits into that culture’s history— and this is most often a culture that has been oppressed or marginalized. I think it’s fair to say that the characters in The Commitments do not have a full understanding of African American history, and how soul music was intertwined with the Civil Rights movement. They have an understanding of soul as working class music, but there is not an acknowledgement of the nuances that separate their experience as working class Dubliners in the 1980s from those of Black Americans in the 1950s and 60s. At the same time, I do believe their adoption of soul music is out of respect and admiration, and that they aren’t trying to claim soul music as a genre they invented, but rather cover existing songs and pay homage to the great Black Soul artists. I am curious if any of you have thoughts on this topic— are The Commitments culturally appropriating by playing soul?

Irish Social Values & The Shame of the Informer

While reading the novel and watching the film The Informer, I paid special attention to the Irish social customs that are presented, particularly the anger towards and the shame of informers. From the beginning, it is evident that being an informer is a terrible crime in Irish society. On page 48 Gypo yells at Katie for making a joke about him considering her an informer, as he has just informed the police about McPhillip, which lead to his death. Gypo spends the rest of the novel grappling with this decision as his community seeks out the traitor and mourns the loss of McPhillip. “Informer! A horror to be understood fully only by an Irish mind” (77). O’Flaherty intentionally describes how the horror of informing is a specifically Irish sentiment. This likely stems from the history of Irish social focus on collectivity, community, and solidarity, particularly in times of political turmoil. Since the British were a violent oppressive force for so much of Irish history, there is no worse betrayal than aiding them in harming your own people. I think it is these values that Daniel O’Connell spoke about in his address to the Irish Repeal Association of Cincinnati, when he cast shame upon Irish American immigrants who supported slavery. By refusing to stand in solidarity with Black Americans, these Irish immigrants were effectively “informers” in choosing to side with the oppressor in order to gain social capital or whiteness. O’Connell emphasizes the importance of community and solidarity in Ireland, and accuses these immigrants of abandoning their traditional culture in favor of cruelty. I found it very interesting how serious the Irish took the crime of being an informer, and also how this type of loyalty and kindness was lost for many across the Atlantic as the Irish assimilated into a capitalist society and discovered that they could gain privilege by distancing themselves from other oppressed groups.

Hurston and Cultural Transmission

I found Hurston’s ‘Characteristics of Negro Expression’ to be an extremely interesting piece on African American culture. It was fascinating to me how she incorporated humor with anthropological insights to create an essay that refuted white supremacist’s claims and served as a cultural standpoint for Black America in the 1930s. I wanted to focus on the section ‘The Jook,’ in which she describes the ‘Negro pleasure house’ as a center of creation for music, dance, and theater. She describes the Jook as “musically speaking… the most important place in America” because it was there that the blues, and eventually jazz, were founded. In thinking of the idea of the Black Atlantic as the transmission of Black cultures around the Atlantic because of slavery as Paul Gilroy described it, I think that the Jook as a concept and its legacies are extremely relevant to our focus in this class. I also found it interesting how in this section Hurston turned the idea of mimicry on its head and discussed white mimicry of African American cultural tradition like Jook theater and the Blues. She also writes how “there has been no genuine presentation of Negro songs to white audiences,” describing how aspects of spirituals are always changed to cater towards the white audience, which has created a “misconception” about African American spiritual songs. Despite this cultural transmission, there still exists a gap between cultures, or maybe a type of mistranslation.​​ I was very interested in her description of white appropriation of Black culture, because this is an extremely prevalent phenomenon in our country today. I am curious what she would say if she could witness cultural transmission in the 2020s, particularly as it relates to music. Are white rappers appropriating Black music? Is it not as deep as appropriation, but maybe an embarrassing mistranslation as she described white women singing the Blues? It would be very interesting to see these modern issues from Hurston’s perspective.

Theatre, Literature, and Moral Panic

I was doing some reading on The Playboy of the Western World after finishing watching it, and was intrigued to learn that the play caused riots after it opened in Dublin in 1907. The audience was offended by its depiction of backwards morals and believed that it gave a bad name to Irish people. The points that prompted the largest objections were the glorification of patricide as committed by Christy Mahon, and the mention of women’s undergarments. People attended the show and threw objects at the stage to protest its subject matter, and this continued when it opened in New York in 1911. The cast of the play even got arrested at one point for putting on an immoral show. I would find it very interesting to explore how this play moved across the Atlantic, and how the change from an Irish audience to an American audience affected the public’s understanding of Irish customs and culture.

Theatre in general has a long history of causing moral panic and outrage. As we discussed in class, The Octoroon also stirred up a lot of controversy after it was released, because of its portrayal of interracial relationships, slavery, and the inclusion of a Native American character. Much of the content we are reading for this class has been incredibly subversive, for depicting the lives and stories of historically marginalized groups. I don’t know if this is a stretch in thinking, but this reminded me of the current push to ban books happening in many states in the U.S. Proponents of this idea have stated that books with LGBTQ+ themes or discussions of race are inappropriate for children, and they have backing from wealthy Republican donors. The protests against and censorship of plays from the 19th and 20th centuries shows just how long these types of moral panics have been prevalent. I am very grateful that these plays have survived, and that we are able to discuss and learn from them.

Daniel O’Connell, Frederick Douglass, and Intersectionality 

I found Daniel O’Connell’s address to the Committee of the Irish Repeal Association of Cincinnati to be very interesting. It’s both impressive to me that O’Connell took such a strong stance against the Irish Americans who were against Abolition, and disheartening that Irish immigrants would adopt such a position in the first place. O’Connell focuses a lot on this very idea, saying “It was not in Ireland you learned this cruelty” (1). 

I also find it interesting that O’Connell saw it as a necessity and a priority to denounce the racism of Irish-Americans, and that he fought for Abolition alongside Irish liberation. I think that his politics are very representative of the intertwined ideas of the Black Atlantic and the Green Atlantic, and the similarities in the fight for rights and liberation. I find it indicative of O’Connell’s passion in the fight against oppression that he advocated not just for his own people, but for Black people in America as well. This also reminds me of the term intersectionality, which is a more modern day approach to activism that values interconnectedness and goes beyond advocacy for just one group. I also do believe that it was easier for O’Connell, as a notable white man, to have a more expansive field of advocacy than it would have been for Frederick Douglass. I imagine that Douglass would not have been taken as seriously if he began advocating for Irish rights. It also would have jeopardized his relationship with the English, and he needed to build as much support as he could for the cause of Abolition.

It is also important to acknowledge that Frederick Douglass did indeed practice intersectionality, as he campaigned for women’s suffrage and was one of the only men in attendance at the Seneca Falls Convention.

Ethical Labor and Consumption

I am interested in discussing the part of Moon and the Mars during 1859 when Theo finds out that Ciaran and other members of her Irish family are working for businesses that fund and support slavery. Ciaran said he had been working for the Spanish company, but it was actually the Portuguese company— and he had known and kept it secret that their business was in slavery. Cathleen and Aileen had been sewing clothes that would be worn by slaves, but quit their jobs once they discovered the purpose of the business. Theo spends some time away from her Irish family, but eventually goes back to them after learning of their regret and remorse. 

This made me think of that buzz-phrase you hear all over the internet lately: “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.” No matter what you choose to consume, you are still living in an exploitative system that relies on paying workers less than the value of their labor in order to make a profit. I have also heard a similar rhetoric applied when it comes to jobs, as students discuss their potential career paths and how to discern what type of work to do. You can “sell out” your morals and make more money, or you can choose a more “ethical” job that will likely pay less but contribute more positively to your community. There are many discussions about whether it is each individual’s responsibility to choose not to work for an immoral company, or if the agency lies on those in charge of the company’s intentions and policies.

To bring it back to the novel, Cathleen and Aileen face the struggle of living in poverty, and the higher paying jobs are ones that actively support the illegal slave trade. For them, the choice is clear as soon as they realize what type of work they are doing, and they quit. But Ciaran knows for much longer, and continues to do the job because of the money. He only quits because he is forced to by the rest of his family, although he does show signs of shame over his decision. I am curious what the decision of Cathleen and Aileen would be if they didn’t have Theo in their family, and if she didn’t stop seeing them because of it. Would their morals have led them to quit, or would they continue the job because they need the money?

White Feminism in Moon and the Mars

One aspect of Moon and the Mars that I’ve found particularly interesting is the portrayal of the women’s rights movement in the nineteenth century, and its relationship with the Abolitionist movement. In the 1859 section, Auntie Eunice begins holding salon meetings with other black women to discuss art, literature, and social issues. In the second of these meetings, a wealthy white woman named Mrs. Heverworth attends after gifting Eunice a piano. Mrs. Heverworth is an active member of the women’s rights movement in New York, and seems to support Abolition as well. There is one specific line on page 197 that stood out to me— it occurs after one of the black women describes how the white executors of Maria Stewart’s husband’s will committed a theft that left her without any money. In response to this, Mrs. Heverworth says, “The white male executors,” emphasizing the idea that she shares womanhood with the others in the room, and it is the white male who is the ultimate oppressor. This reminded me of modern day “white feminism”, and the phenomenon of white women excluding racism from their realm of advocacy. There is a tendency for white women to distance themselves from the atrocities committed by white people, as we also have faced oppression from white men. But in doing so, we disregard our own complacency in racism and ignore the history of violence committed against black people by white women. This correction by Mrs. Heverworth read as a moment of intentional distancing to me, an attempt to portray herself as separate from these racist white people, despite the strong possibility that the only reason white women weren’t a part of this crime was because they couldn’t have those jobs. 

Mrs. Heverworth goes on to describe how all the women who founded the Seneca Falls convention were abolitionists, and that Frederick Douglass was present as well. But no black women were in attendance, and Mrs. Heverworth expresses “shock” when Theo asks if she can attend the next Women’s Rights Conference. I think that while Mrs. Heverworth believes in Abolition, she still enjoys the privilege she holds over black women and struggles to imagine them holding the same positions as her. Right after this scene Theo witnesses Mrs. Heverworth and other white women enter the hall where the Women’s Rights Convention is taking place, forced to pass by crowds of protesting men hurling violent misogynistic insults. Theo has moments of both resenting Mrs. Heverworth’s blatant privilege above her and other black women, while also understanding that Mrs. Heverworth is facing sexism as well, although it may manifest itself in a different way. I found it really incredible how Corthron portrayed the nuance of white and black women’s different relationships to feminism through the lens of a young girl.

I’m interested in exploring this further with the inclusion of the Irish women in the book, who are white but lack the privileges that Mrs. Heverworth has. There have been moments of both solidarity with black women and forms of racism exhibited by Theo’s Irish family, and I’d like to dig into their role in this white feminism as well.

This is a really interesting topic that I have talked a bit about in a gender studies class that I am taking this semester. While the feminist movement has made a lot of progress in advocating for women’s rights, it is always interesting to consider the hypocritical oppression of women of color and their long-term elimination from the movement that has occurred for as long as the feminist movement itself has.


This is a very insightful reflection as it speaks to the nature of intersectionality in the book. The book is centered on the convergence of Black and Irish identities but also brings to focus the added identity of being female, and brings the question of where Theo falls on the privilege spectrum given that she is a mixed race girl.