Friday, March 16, 2018

This St. Patrick’s Day, Don’t Forget to Celebrate Irish Resistance

On last year’s St. Patrick’s Day, progressives of Irish ancestry organized the first “Irish Stand” rally at Riverside Church in New York City to protest the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump administration. The rally represented an energizing shift in Irish American social consciousness back toward an original culture of resistance.

This year’s Irish Stand is on March 16. It’s a different sort of gathering than typically is held each year—the well-known raucous St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivities that include traditional music and dance with the aim of honoring the more than 70 million people worldwide who claim Irish heritage, over 33 million of whom are U.S. residents.

The history of the Irish diaspora is often given short shrift, even among Irish Americans. I’ve received more than a few odd glances when bringing up the Irish experience of British colonialism on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Irish endured centuries of British colonial rule, including land confiscation, the suppression and near eradication of their native language, second-class status imposed through the notorious Penal Laws, and forced migration. Irish historian Tim Pat Coogan contends that the Great Famine, which brought the largest wave of Irish immigrants to the United States, was more akin to genocide than a natural disaster. Between 1845 and 1855, an estimated 1 million Irish perished from starvation and disease, and more than a million others fled through emigration.

In telling the story of Irish America, one must grapple with 19th-century Irish Americans having embraced a white racial identity, as historian Noel Ignatiev notably does in his seminal text, How the Irish Became White. Like other critical whiteness studies scholars, including David Roediger, Ignatiev builds off W.E.B. Du Bois’ assertion in Black Reconstruction that Irish Americans identified as white for the “public and psychological wage” it conferred them. In short, Irish Americans sought social advancement through America’s white supremacist racial caste system.  (more...)


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