Becoming White

The David Lloyd reading and the idea of “The Irish Becoming White” really struck me this week. I had not considered that African Americans and Irish were similarly described in the same time period, as I had thought of the two histories as separate. Lloyd brings to light descriptions of the Irish as savages, with a distinct look of an ape. The Irish are seen as a vulgar and radical people who were not considered “white”. But, the Irish did not look much different from the British. To anyone’s eyes they are considered white. This proves that “white” and “black” are not biological labels. Lloyd writes that these labels given to describe those who are considered “ready” to take part in society and those who are “not yet ready” or “never ready”. It was only when the Irish began to integrate into important roles in society – firemen, policemen- that they were considered ready to be “white” and a full part of society.


How can society abolish these fake labels? As Lloyd writes, “Race, we may observe, is a variable set of structures not a quality” (17). Yet, race descriptions surround us everywhere. On applications, surveys, standardized tests, and government forms we are asked to check the box of our race. American history has seen lots of immigrant groups from different countries as targets of prejudice and violence – Jews, Irish, Italians – that eventually joined the big amorphous category of “whiteness” while black remains the other. How will these labels continue to change? These questions are not easy, but they are ones I will think about often as “whiteness” and “blackness” continue to transform.