"The Irish weren't considered white."

It’s a common left-wing trope I’ve seen numerous times on these boards, used to discredit critics of non-white immigration, to assert that at some point in the past, in America, the dominant view of Irish was that they weren’t white.

Is there any actual evidence of this? And please don’t post photos of signs saying “Irish need not apply.” That proves that Irish weren’t welcome, not that they weren’t considered white.

I’ve never heard the specific phrase, but the Irish were often portrayed in both the US and the UK as either racially “undeveloped”, or sub-human.

In particular in the 19th century the novel theory of evolution was co-opted to portray Irish as being closer to the African in the supposed route to white “perrfection”.

They were also often portrayed as ape-like.

Whether those attempts to link Africanness to Irishness constitute “non-white” in terms of actual skin colour I don’t know, but certainly they contribute towards an idea of “non-white” if one considers “white” to mean “Anglo-Teutonic” - see attitudes towards light-skinned Arabs and South Asians today.

Here is a book on the subject. You’ll either agree with it or reject its findings.

The Irish were considered less than white by the English for the period in which England colonized them; I’m not sure how this is in dispute, or how to claim my grandmother’s experiences as an internet cite. Certainly, it’s before my lifetime and I’m not a first-hand witness to it.

But the history of organized crime in New York and Boston shows that it was dominated in turn by the Irish, then the Jews, then the Italians, then the Blacks and Hispanics (I guess it’s Russians now). At the turn of the 20th Century, police wagons that held multiple suspects were called “Paddy Wagons” because Irish hoodlums were the presumed prisoners to be hauled. This gave way to the Black Mariah. I don’t know what they’re called now.

In popular culture, lowbrow characters in the 30s-50s had Irish names like McGillicuddy and Houlihan. In the 50s-60s they had Jewish names (See: MAD Magazine, the works of Alan Sherman, Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl). In the 70s it was Good Times and Sanford & Son. There’s just a certain measurable progression of ethnicities gaining cultural acceptance in American culture. John F. Kennedy was thought unelectable until he was elected; now our serious presidential contenders include Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Mario Rubio. “White” meant something different before World War Two.

I think the point is that in the mid 19th century, most people writing about race didn’t perceive a unified white race. Irish were considered a separate race, as were Jews, Italians, and many others.

Yeah, I think some people were surprised to find out that the Marx Brothers (A) were actually brothers and (B) all looked basically like Chico out of costume.

Yes, as alluded to in my earlier post, it seems that “white” was a social construct rather than a strict definition of skintone. Though it is interesting to note how much cross-hatching there is drawn on the “Irish” faces by the cartoonists of the time.

From the book cited by Horatio Hellpop:

The point is, there’s lots of other ways than skin tone of being considered “not us” - Jewish people, to take the most obvious example, are perfectly white and that never saved them from vicious racism. The Irish had a different culture, different brand of religion, and largely a different language in the 19th century - plenty of scope for “othering”. And, poorer than the English too. The attitudes that had been developed while Britain was busy conquering them, simply transferred itself over to Britain’s various colonies, with the English emigrants.

I can’t figure out if the caption, “A typical Nast Irishman with top hat and pope, appears left,” is a typo or not.

Nast is the American cartoonist examined in the article. “With top hat and pope” is how I always hit the town - I feel positively underdressed without a pope.

In seriousness, though, that article charts an interesting proposed progression of the simian depiction, from Ireland as a whole first being portrayed as a cheeky monkey challenging the British lion in an almost entirely political metaphor, to the image of a primate eventually being transferred onto Irish individuals. It reminds me somehow of the whole ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ Simpsons joke that eventually became people’s genuine opinion around 2003.

I think it’s best to read it as “The Irish weren’t considered WASPs”(the right kind of White) - ditto the Italians, Greeks and the Poles…

I think this was it exactly. White was shorthand for what became known as WASP. *So all those primitive Papists & Jesus killing Jews weren’t white by their definition. Dang immigrants are ruining the country and of course at times there was the perception they were dangerous elements being allowed in, criminal, disease-ridden, anarchists, communist or worse yet all of the above.

In a “race, gender, and science” course I took in college, I remember reading some writings from a 19th century racialist who hypothesized that the ruddy color of the Irish and the natural rouge color in women’s cheeks were just milder symptoms of whatever the Negroid race suffered from, thereby explaining why these groups were similar in their “failings”. Like, their irrationality and impulsivity.

You say “are perfectly white,” as if that were objective in some sense. No, if Jewish (or any) people aren’t generally considered white, they aren’t. The construct is the whole thing.

Many Jews do have slightly darker skin tones than the lightest Europeans, and a racist might well point to that, but it’s never really about that. If anything, imputed skin color, whether actually present or not, is used to represent the otherness.

Exactly. That can be read as skin tone, or as grime, but it amounts to the same thing in the end. Different. Lower. Not white.

I am reminded of when Paula Deen and her son caught some flak for appearing as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, with her son in brownface makeup. Obviously racist, right? But some of the critics argued that it was especially stupid because Desi Arnaz was “really”-one might say perfectly–“white.”

No, he wasn’t. Not according to the kind of racist code that the Deens subscribe to. No Hispanic person is ever white in that code, just as no ethnically Jewish person is white, no identified Greek or Turk or Arab or Persian is white. Et cetera.

In short, depicted skin tone is a reference, not a referent.

Just as in the African American community, the 19th C. racialist claptrap was internalized by its Irish American victims. The election of JFK was supposed to dispel all that: sure, the Irish has taken over so many city halls, police and fire departments, but if sewer rats had gotten the vote they’d have achieved the same results. But becoming president was national acceptance beyond that (even though it had been a squeaker election decided by the fiddled results in the Irish-run city of Chicago, which caused some Irish to question if they really had arrived).
The vast majority of them are so thoroughly assimilated now, of course. Irish-American is only vaguely meaningful as German or Norwegian American. Just another white face at the mall, albeit one that gets uniquely bleary-eyed and doughey as it ages. But there are still places in America where the inferiority complex of the Irish still rages.

My grandmother was from an old WASPy New England family, and was literally disowned for marrying my Irish (and Catholic) grandfather. It was a scandal. And he wasn’t a “real” Irish immigrant, having been born in the US. In fact, I know his parents were not immigrants, either, although I suspect his grandparents were.

This would have been around 1920.

As me sainted grandmather would say, it’s the drink.

Probably a typo for “pipe,” since the cartoon Irishman is visibly smoking a pipe, but I suppose it could refer to the clerical figure on the right, given the anti-Catholic and anti-papal sentiments of the times, often expressed by Nast. Although the cleric is dressed as a monsignor, not the Pope.

Of course it’s a typo; I’m sure Miller was joking.

Well, me too. Just making a point that Nast’s cartoons weren’t just anti-Irish, they were also anti-Catholic.