Narratives and the Irish Threat

As we explored how the Irish became white, I found it rather difficult to truly understand their struggle. The plight of Irish immigrants has never fully been discussed in my classrooms. Like many others, I paired them with other white people and saw them no different. Their only exception was that they had a famine, but so what? Everyone suffered. 

What I failed to understand was the construction of race at the time. Whiteness was not accessible to everyone, regardless of skin color. It was deeply interwoven with status in class, religion, and features. As Britain foraged ahead as a colonial power, their symbols of beauty and intelligence colonized the world. In their view, the Irish, poor and Catholic, yet happy, posed a threat to the very foundations of society this colonial power defined (Llyod 5). They were like a contagious infestation, a rather hateful perspective. This fear was rooted in possible political instability. In my Creating Citizens class, we discussed the role narratives have in defining national identities and shaping the perfect citizen. If the working class, who suffered so greatly under British imperialism, realized that the public land they had could not be industrialized, but rather be used for their own purposes, it would challenge all the authority of the crown. The working class could not be activated. In Irish society, the land and government were at the service of the people; resources included (6). Fear-mongering continued, manifesting in the paranoia that Irish people were savages with infectious diseases (7-8). This is not unlike the handling of the AIDS epidemic. The population was excluded allowing an issue to fester because solutions were not provided, especially since they were integrating into society. The story of the Irish may be one of transformation and removal, but it was begotten in exclusion.