Bonding Activities

A lot of what I have learned in this course was something I knew was subconsciously true: that there is a connection between Black and Irish culture. I’ve gotten plenty of looks for minoring in Irish language because I’m bi-racial, but this class fortified my reasonings for doing that minor. Each of my posts have talked about this connection in various forms. Whether it was through soul music, movies, or traveling, I attempted to discover the explicit and minute ways these groups have interacted with each other. Writing these blog posts forced me to look deeper into the assigned works. Although I sometimes found it repetitive, it really helped me notice the theme for the week. I also really enjoyed looking at other people’s blog posts. Other classmates picked up on things I did not, which would make me understand the works more completely.

I think the most impactful work I read this semester was Daniel O’Connell and the Committee of the Repeal of the Irish Association. I have never considered the Irish as being something other than white, and this was one of the first instances I saw such a separation. He states “It was not in Ireland you learned this cruelty” (1), chastising them for abandoning their values for those of the US. This chastisement was reflected in other works such as Moon and the Mars and The Octoroon. Irish-Americans were turning on their neighbors (regardless of race) to gain more power and become more “white”. My blog posts reflect on how Irish-Americans have bonded with and betrayed Black people. The works we’ve read and watched demonstrated there has been a transatlantic conversation for centuries. Shared struggles are not limited to one race. Shared triumphs are also not limited to one race. Black and Irish people have been subtly rekindling the bond that they once shared. Even though this connection may not be as explicit as others, it is time that we realize there exists a deep bond between the groups that is desperately trying to resurface in society.

“Blue-Eyed Soul” in the Emerald Isle

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle shows how Irish people have connected to Black culture, but strayed away from it when it was no longer beneficial. We discussed this idea when we first read Moon and the Mars in January. We see that Jimmy wants to bring soul to Ireland because he wants to “[bring] the music, the Soul, back to the people.–The proletariat” (Doyle 122). While soul music was not limited to one class, a majority of listeners in the US were in the Black working class. In a time where opportunities were non-existent and racism was rampant, soul music was a way for Black people to escape their realities and enter a different world. This concept is reflected in Ireland when Jimmy comments “Soul is a double-edged sword…one edge is escapism. Gettin’ away from it all. Lettin’ yourself go” (35). Although Black and Irish people were facing entirely different circumstances, both communities had the same reason to listen to soul music. This further exemplifies the most important concept of this class: that both groups have had a transatlantic conversation for decades. We saw this last week with how Uptight, a fictional movie about the start of the Black Panthers, is a rendition of The Informer, a movie about an Irish revolutionary group. In The Commitments, we see the opposite exchange happening with an Irish band performing soul music. 

However, The Commitments shows the same split between Black and Irish culture that was seen in Moon and the Mars. At the end of the novel, the Commitments dissolve and Jimmy agrees with Joey that “soul isn’t right for Ireland” (157). Jimmy and a few other members form “the Byrds”, which is a country-punk band. This is a similar move towards White-American culture that was seen in Moon and the Mars. During the Civil War, Irish-Americans turned on their Black neighbors in Five Points to gain more social power. These two novels exemplify how the two communities connect across various aspects of life, but inevitably part when times get rough. It shows the complexities of the transatlantic conversations we have discussed, and its similarities across time. 

The Importance of Being a Criminal

Playboy of the Western World and The Informer display similar themes of defying law enforcement, and show its importance in the context of early 1900s Ireland.. Christy Mahon in Playboy of the Western World becomes a hero after his community learns that he killed his father. Pegeen even harbors him to protect him from the police, and falls in love with him throughout the play. She says “any girl would walk her heart out before she’d meet a young man was your like” (Synge), showing that men like him were highly admired in society. Additionally, Gypo Nolan in The Informer shares a similar fame that Christy experienced. Gypo is part of the Revolutionary Organization in Ireland, which gives him favor amongst his community as well. Christy and Gypo are reflections on how the Irish may have felt about law enforcement during the early 1900s. Both plays are set when Ireland is still under British rule, and law enforcement was an extension of the monarchy. Defying law enforcement was admirable in both works because it reinforced their push for independence and their national identity. As we’ve discussed throughout this class, defying laws and social norms was essential to keeping Irish and African American culture alive. Both marginalized communities saw this as a path to social and legal freedom, and those who pursued such paths were admired. Additionally, the consequences of not living up to such heroic images are similar in both works; demonstrating the importance of finding a hero in Irish society. When Christy’s supposedly dead father reappears, the community sees him as a fraud. When Gypo reveals that he informed the police on his comrade’s whereabouts, he is killed. Both works demonstrate the struggle for power and identity in Ireland, and its priority in society. They highlight the consistent search for a hero in the early 1900s as it was needed to establish their identity as a nation.

New World vs. Newer World

One part about the Banjo passage that interested me was how Banjo talked about how promising Europe is supposed to be, but has let him down because he is a Black man. Banjo came to Europe so he can form a band, and he also came for opportunities that he cannot get in America. I find it ironic that he thinks the “Old World” is his “New World” when he initially arrives. The narrator comments that Marseilles’s port is “marvelous, dangerous, attractive, big” (McKay 12), a place that seems like it is full of opportunities for Banjo. However, it is hard for Banjo to get a job because he is Black. The narrator comments “A Negro in Europe could not pick up casual work as he could in America” (65) which brings Banjo’s once optimistic attitude back down to reality. This statement affirmed some of my preconceived notions that I had before reading Banjo. I have never heard about African-Americans traveling outside the country in 1929, and I feel like there’s a reason for that. Although the State Department’s Passport History page does not mention racial discrimination in obtaining passports, I still believe there were other barriers (such as cost) that hindered Black people from getting passports. To see Banjo travel abroad taught me about Black Americans’ abilities to travel during this time, yet his inability to find work while in Europe affirms the reasons why most of them may have been hesitant to travel.

I also find the “Old World vs. New World” concept interesting. Banjo leaves the New World because he believes it’s not new enough: it lacked diversity and opportunity for Black people. However, the narrator comments that the “overworked Old World lacked a background that young rough America offered to a romantic black youth to indulge his froward instincts” (65), demonstrating that the Old World is called old for a reason. It’s ironic that most of the Old World abolished slavery before the US, yet was still lagging in social aspects like these. One of my main takeaways from this section of Banjo is that Black Americans were still met with discrimination across the Atlantic. This was not just an “Americas thing”, but a reminder that such discrimination was transatlantic as well.

Authority Across the Atlantic

Playboy of the Western World shows the appreciation for challenging authority, and how that differs across the Atlantic. Christy Mahon stated that he killed his father as soon as he walked into Pegeen’s shebheen. I honestly thought that she was going to be scared and kick him out of her shebheen, but she let him stay. She wanted to hear his story and felt sympathetic towards him. No one else offered to turn him in at the beginning because they admired his father’s murder, who is an authoritative figure to Christy. Pegeen was not concerned with being arrested for harboring a fugitive, which shows she prioritizes challenging authority than following the law. Playboy of the Western World was written while Ireland was still under British rule. I believe that this play is a testament to how Irish people felt about authority at the time: that they were being wrongfully governed by a far away government. Throughout this play, they talk about the police as if they are distant figures and are not worried about them coming to the shebheen anytime soon. The citizens take matters into their own hands once they find out Christy did not kill his father, furthering that they do not need authority to execute justice. I believe that this reflects how many Irish people felt that they could govern themselves without British rule, which would culminate to their victory in the Anglo-Irish war years later.

However, such challenges to authority did not have the same outcomes in the US. When George confesses his love to Zoe in The Octoroon, he says that they would have to run away to be together because challenging authority here would have more drastic consequences. Zoe could have been killed for marrying the man that she loved, but Pegeen would not have been killed for that. The US government was not distant while the British government was in Ireland. These two plays show that challenging authority means different things in different countries. One could be praised for murder and get away with it in Ireland, while another could not marry the woman they loved if they were a different race without fearing being killed. Overall, I think Playboy of the Western World shows how people expressed their political values and how that is different from similar causes in the US.

A Friendly Reminder

Daniel O’Connell and the Committee of the Repeal of the Irish Association contrasts the broken relationship between Black people and Irish-Americans seen at the end of Moon and the Mars. The Civil War and the years leading to it caused both communities to place their own needs above the other’s. Many Irish-American men resented fighting for the Union because they believed that they were fighting in a war that had nothing to do with them. This resent bled into their relationships with Black people, as they blamed them for stolen job opportunities and lost lives because of the war. Furthermore, there were Irish-Americans who owned slaves in the South which is a larger contrast to the relationship seen in the North. Yet O’Connell speaks to both audiences in his essay to push his message more personally than he could with other groups. He states “It was not in Ireland you learned this cruelty” (1), arguing that they have pushed further and further away from their cultural roots. It is also a reminder to them of where their ancestors came from, which is a humbling message for them.

This week in class, we talked about what it meant to be an Irish-American back then and what it means today. In the 1850s and 1860s, more people were connected with their European roots and O’Connell’s reading stresses the “Irish” part more than the “American” part. While they are assimilating to American society, he reminds them that the “Declaration of Independence applies to all races” (O’Connell, pg. 2). This statement challenges their current perspectives on Black people’s place in American society by placing them as equals. O’Connell emphasizes that they learned these ideas in the US, and have incorrect interpretations of them at that. This piece was written when Irish-Americans were straying away from Black people. But O’Connell paints them as hypocrites in this essay to show the evils of slavery and their parts in it. Overall, I think it is an effective abolitionist piece since he discusses their cultural values directly and reminds Irish-Americans of their true identities.


“A Voyage to Lilliput” demonstrates one of the main themes that we saw in Moon and the Mars: coexistence as a tool for survival. In “A Voyage to Lilliput”, Gulliver must learn how to live like a Lilliputian to avoid being killed (which might be impossible for people who are less than 6 inches tall, but they were able to capture him and take him to their capital city). Even though Gulliver has an enormous physical advantage on the Lilliputians given his size, he still takes efforts to learn about their culture to survive. He says “I made a great progress in learning their language” (Swift, Chapter 1) so he can try and get the emperor to liberate him. Once he is liberated, he starts to learn more about Lilliput and respects its people. Gulliver could have easily destroyed the city for capturing him as revenge and taken more efforts to return to England. However, he decides to discover the city and does it very carefully as to not destroy anything. He says he “walked with the utmost circumspection” (Swift, Chapter 2) which demonstrates that he now respects the people that once bound him up. He is learning to coexist in a society that is very different from Bristol because at this point, it is all he has. It is very similar to what we saw in Five Points in Moon and the Mars. For many Irish immigrants, they learned to coexist with Black people because they lived in the same neighborhoods, worked the same jobs, and shared many other aspects of life. Once this coexistence was disrupted with the building of Central Park and the Civil War, chaos ensued between the Irish and Black people. Once Gulliver loses the respect of the Lilliputians, he has to escape. Both works show us that coexistence is used as a survival tool to avoid civil conflict. When this coexistence dies, then each side tends to protect themselves even if it means attacking other people.

Pulling Out the Reverse Card!

Towards the end of “Moon and the Mars”, we rstart to see how the Civil War incited civil conflict in diverse communities. In the beginning of the book, we see Irish and Black people coexisting in Five Points. They worked together, lived together, and even danced together as we saw with Auntie Siobhan and Auntie Eunice. But as the Civil War developed through 1862 and 1863, we see the termination of this coexistence. In particular, a lot of Irish men were drafted to fight for the Union. However, as the Irish saw that their people were getting killed or wounded in large numbers, they started questioning their roles in the Civil War. One officer noted that he “did not come out to fight for the n*gger or the abolition of slavery” (Corthron, 475) and another said that he has no encouragement “to fight for a lot of N*gger lovers at home” (Corthron, 476). These two statements demonstrate that although New York was a free state and had diverse neighborhoods, racism was still inescapable and would be used to propel one community over the other when needed.

In class today, we talked about how Irish-Americans started to break away from the Black community and identify more as White Americans. As discussed earlier today, a lot of Irish-Americans used this as a means of social survival. They thought that disassociating themselves with Black people would give them social benefits (more jobs, more political positions, etc). We see that they participated in the idea of “masters and slaves”, where the Irish were once “slaves” in this case (not actual slaves like Black people were) and had a lower social position that other White people. They became “masters” after the Civil War once they decided to use their race (not their ethnicity) to gain social status. This decision that was made in the 1860s has almost been reversed in today’s society. Nowadays, many Americans with Irish ancestry want to claim this part of themselves to show that their ancestors also experienced oppression. They want to disassociate themselves from White people with British ancestry so they do not seem like the “masters” that their ancestors once were. In today’s society it’s almost “cool” to be part of a marginalized group when it was the exact opposite during Theo’s time in Moon and the Mars. It’s interesting to see how such positions have been reversed yet remained the same since the Civil War.

Being Bi-Racial in “Moon and the Mars” and Today

“Moon and the Mars” is a testament to what many bi-racial people have experienced at least once in their life: balancing the identity of two different races while only being one person. Oftentimes, people believe that bi-racial people take on the racial identities of their mothers. “Moon and the Mars” offers us a different perspective in which Theo takes on the racial identities of her mother and father and therefore, expands the idea of what it means to be Black in America. She has run into this issue several times with her mother’s side of the family, especially with Ciaran. For example, when she and Ciaran visit the minstrel show at the circus, Theo finds the show offensive and Ciaran says “it’s just a show” (Corthron, 271). This statement essentially minimized Theo’s legitimate concerns about the show and how it portrays Black people. Moreover, it speaks to how bi-racial people explain one-half of their identities to the other side, and the frustrations that come with it. Ciaran’s indifference towards the show makes Theo feel like her feelings do not matter to that side of her family. Especially when her Aunt Maryam was a former slave, Ciaran’s words show the indifference he has towards her bi-racial identity. Having to constantly explain half of your identity to another person can be frustrating, which is seen several times in “Moon and the Mars”. It demonstrates that balancing these identities is not easy, especially during a time when Black people when enslaved.

Furthermore, “Moon and the Mars” speaks to Gilroy’s idea of expanding the idea of what it means to be Black. Although his main argument was to expand the idea past “African American exceptionalism”, I would like to argue that this book demonstrates that an individual can be Black and bi-racial simultaneously. I take this idea very personally considering I am bi-racial and I too can speak Irish. We see that Theo can speak Irish, which is very uncommon in modern society. Yet, this book does not use that against her to make her seem less “Black”. Instead, “Moon and the Mars” shows how both identities can coexist at the same time. We see that Theo takes Black culture and Black politics just as seriously as the rest of her family members even though she is bi-racial. For example, she is concerned about her Aunt Maryam’s freedom status and is seriously upset at Ciaran working with people involved with slavery. This book spends considerable amounts of time recounting Theo’s time with her paternal family and showing the deep relationships she has with each of these relatives. She never denies the Black side of her family but instead, she embraces it. She proves that being bi-racial is an expansion of what it means to be Black instead of being separate from it just because her mother is Irish.