The Price Paid by Irish Immigrants

Last week, our class discussed the “price of the ticket” for Irish immigrants in coming to America and becoming white. The process of becoming white and finding success in America as Irish immigrants hinges on denying the Black presence and thus debasing themselves. As Baldwin writes in “On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies,” the price of the ticket for white people is delusion. Because white Americans have built their identity on fear of Black people and the fear of lacking power, they are unable to have a community. Instead, as Baldwin writes, they are a multitude. However, they have deluded themselves into believing they are a community. 

Irish immigrants are a particularly interesting case of paying the ultimate price for power. Aside from their delusion, another price they pay is losing their community, their language, their culture. In joining the white monolith, Irish immigrants lose their Irishness. The extent of many Irish Americans’ understanding of Irish culture is rooted in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and possibly supporting Notre Dame football. 

In coming to America, the Irish lose their identity, but many of them left to escape that same fate back home. The English were hard at work subjugating the Irish people, stripping them of their language, their religion, and their freedom. Ironically, the Irish who left for America ended up suffering the same fate. In the process of escaping one power attempting to crush their culture, they lost their culture themselves. To some immigrants, the cost of the ticket was lower than the cost of staying. As white Americans, they denied the existence of Black Americans like the English denied the existence of the Irish. Black Americans were able to retain their community, because it was not built on fear. They developed a language and kept their culture alive as they battled for freedom.