“No Irish Need Apply” — The assimilation of the Irish into American Society.

I frequently hear “white people do this” or “white people think that” and it always annoys me.

1.) It’s racist.

2.) It’s a blanket term.

“White people” is used as a blanket term in America to reference white people in their entirety. People forget or choose not to acknowledge that there are many different groups that go into making “white people” and it seems a little unfair to me for everyone to assume that there is one collective ethnic group that white people fit into. Especially when it’s considered rude and ignorant to do it to other races. For example you wouldn’t say “it’s an Asian thing” because Asians are a diverse group of people with their own cultures, languages and heritages. People would want to be acknowledged as Korean, Japanese, Indian or whatever it is they are. In regards to white people no one cares to make that distinction. I’m not sure why, there are probably a lot of different reasons, none of them pleasant.

Believe it or not we have many different races and ethnic groups under that white blanket. The one I’m choosing to talk about today is the Irish and their assimilation into American society.

Whoa, hold on there, whites having to assimilate? NO WAY!

In the early days of this country…well, I guess until relatively recently… different white ethnic groups were discriminated against and what they were going through has largely been swept under the rug or people want to compare it to other ethnic group’s sufferings. In my opinion it’s apples and oranges. You shouldn’t compare suffering to someone else’s whatever the cause. Only THEY know what they went through.

The Irish, though close in proximity to England, had a unique and very different culture and language than those of the ethnic groups across the waves. Ireland has unfortunately had a looooong history of being invaded, oppressed and abused by the English. It’s something that lingers to this day. I’m not bringing that up to start shit, and I’m not saying that the Irish never did anything wrong either; what I AM saying is that for hundreds of years the country was in a near constant state of strife.

In 1845 the potato famine caused millions of Irish to flee their homeland and many “chose” to come to America. Large-scale immigration to America continued during the rest of the nineteenth and century and well into the twentieth. Tons of Irish were coming over and despite being a very large immigrant ethnic group their assimilation wasn’t easy.

The shitty thing about assimilation is that it means giving up, at least outwardly, part of your culture in order to fit into the existing culture. People don’t seem to realize that various white groups have had to assimilate into the “main stream” population that was established by the descendants of colonists, mostly Anglos. Assimilation is hard and culture isn’t something that goes quietly into that good night. It’s the heart and soul of a people.

Catholic-Irish were regarded as uncouth and inferior by their various Protestant European-ethnic groups already established in the country. Many of the Irish coming into the country were poorly educated and most didn’t possess any higher-end skills that would help them apply to higher paying jobs. As a result most Irish found jobs as janitors, miners and factory workers. The political differences, lack of education and limited skills of the Irish immigrants created a negative stigma towards the Irish and anything Irish. It was very difficult for Irish people to advance in life because of the racism they encountered.

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Stuff like that was everywhere.

The Irish were forced to live in ghettos, and, interestingly,  shared them with African Americans.  The result of the mixed community is where we get tap dancing from! Because both the Irish and African Americans were looked down upon with derision both groups competed for the same jobs and the Irish were frequently referred to as white n*****s. The stress of competing for the same jobs created a bit of conflict between the two groups.

The New York Draft Riots of 1863 were largely started by the Irish who were resentful of richer whites who could pay their way out of the draft. So obviously, the drafts targeted the working class. The protesting exploded into a three day riot(s) and many were killed. One particularly shameful thing that was done during this time was that some of the protesters ran around killing as many black people as they could find. I believe the reason for this was a combination of desperation and job competition. It is believed that at least 100 African Americans were murdered in cold blood.

The Civil War found many Irishmen enlisting or being drafted into the military to fight a cause that technically wasn’t their own. Every person had their own reason for enlisting; one of the most common was the fact that it brought stability to their lives. They got clothing, food and money. In a fucked up way it was the best opportunity they had. In my ancestor’s case it was that but also a deep disagreement with slavery because it reminded him way too much of the stranglehold that England had over Ireland and all that Ireland had lost due to oppression. As far back as our records go our family has always been very…emotional. It’s not surprising to me, really. Anyway….

After the American Civil War things were a tad bit better for the Irish but were still by no means equal. They slowly held slightly higher economic positions such as managerial jobs for railroads or shop owners. The women faired a bit better too, becoming nurses, teachers and secretaries, among other jobs.

…Okay I’m going to finish this later since it’s 5:00 AM and my mind is drifting everywhere but here, so this is the sum of it all:

The Irish left Ireland after being severely oppressed for so long by the English and made the long, hazardous journey to America only be treated with nearly the same level of abuse that they endured in their homeland.. They found that the streets were not paved with gold (like they had heard) but with shit, blood and tears.

The Irish had already lost much of their Celtic identity due to England’s repeated attempts to try and “civilize” them. Over the decades Irish-Americans were forced to give up more and more of their “Irish-ness” in order to blend into society. In spite of that our Irish heritage is still important to many of us although we’ve lost quite a bit of our culture to make way for the ever developing American culture and those who don’t acknowledge us fully only see us as “white people” and ignore Irish American culture…which today is a mix of Irish and American cultures.

So this whole big thing is to say that (and to save time I’m gonna lump here, since I’m tired) it’s not just Jews, Asians, Africans and Latinos that had to assimilate into American society in order to prosper here. White groups had to do it too. If you don’t like being “blanket termed” then consider that the whites don’t like it either. I consider myself to be Irish-American. That is my ethnic group. My heritage. I dislike being called white because, to me, that ignores what I am.

I really think that such blanket terms should be reserved for instances when you need to refer to a race but can’t accurately guess what they are and just go loosely by white, Asian, black, Latino or whatever.

Okay, I’m done, I’m sure this will get me yelled at, but whatever.

**Too tired to edit right now **

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6 thoughts on ““No Irish Need Apply” — The assimilation of the Irish into American Society.

  1. Great post, and dead on!!! Another thing. The term “the luck of the Irish” has racist roots. It was used to denigrate any success Irish people had by attributing it not to hard work, but the so-called “luck of the Irish”.

  2. I’d like permission to share a link to this on my facebook wall. http://facebook.com/lonelywanderer2

  3. viefinale says:

    thoughtful post and so well written I had no idea you were tired at the time of writing until you mentioned it!

  4. erikamsteele says:

    I think you explained it well. I also think that too many people get their information from the media now days and they don’t question it. Due to the NCLB Act, history and social studies are ignored in the school systems in the US and students are only given a partial story of the history of the US.

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