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How the Irish Became White de Noel Ignatiev
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How the Irish Became White (1995 original; edició 1996)

de Noel Ignatiev (Autor)

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'¿from time to time a study comes along that truly can be called ¿path breaking,¿ ¿seminal,¿ ¿essential,¿ a ¿must read.¿ How the Irish Became White is such a study.' John Bracey, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachussetts, Amherst The Irish came to America in the eighteenth century, fleeing a homeland under foreign occupation and a caste system that regarded them as the lowest form of humanity. In the new country ¿ a land of opportunity ¿ they found a very different form of social hierarchy, one that was based on the color of a person¿s skin. Noel Ignatiev¿s 1995 book ¿ the first published work of one of America¿s leading and most controversial historians ¿ tells the story of how the oppressed became the oppressors; how the new Irish immigrants achieved acceptance among an initially hostile population only by proving that they could be more brutal in their oppression of African Americans than the nativists. This is the story of How the Irish Became White.… (més)
Membre:kennedy1984
Títol:How the Irish Became White
Autors:Noel Ignatiev (Autor)
Informació:Routledge (1996), Edition: 1, 248 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
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Etiquetes:to-read

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How the Irish Became White de Noel Ignatiev (1995)

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How the Irish Became White and Whiteness of a Different Color challenge the biological and static nature of racial categories by demonstrating that race, particularly the white race, is in fact a socially and historically constructed category open to multiple and shifting meanings. Both texts dispel any lingering notions of American idealism that attempt to locate the origins of this country in egalitarianism or color-blind equality by illustrating how in fact, this country’s legal, political and social history is premised on the equation of whiteness with privilege. Noel Ignatiev does this through his case study of Philadelphia Irish in the nineteenth-century, an immigrant group that fled victimization in Ireland. Ignatiev makes the case that the Irish were not perceived as “white” upon arrival in the United States, but had to gain entrance into the white race through a series of choices which most significantly included the oppression of African-Americans. Mathew Frye Jacobson does this through his sweeping historical account of the shifting formulations that whiteness and the superior status it denotes takes from colonial times through the civil rights movement. Analyzing an impressive array of sources ranging from naturalization and immigration law, court cases, novels and writings on eugenics, Jacobson primarily focuses on the transformation of various immigrant groups from nineteenth-century biologically designated white racial others to twentieth-century scientifically sanctioned Caucasians.
In contrast to scholars such as David Roediger and Theodore Allen who have focused on “class and economics as the primary movers of race” (18), Jacobson explores, “national subjectivity and national belonging-as they both inflect and are inflected by racial conceptions of peoplehood, self-possession, fitness for self-government and collective destiny” (21). Whiteness of a Different Color demonstrates the ways in which the meaning of whiteness has been historically contested in the United States, and is organized according to “three great epochs of whiteness”. Jacobson documents cultural shifts from 1790 until the 1960s in which a multi-racial system of white races, defined in opposition to the Anglo-Saxon white race, ultimately are subsumed within the category of Caucasian. He argues that during the nineteenth century a biologically based system of “racialism” prevailed whereby the white ethnic groups of today - Italian, Jewish, Slavic, etc.- were then understood to be distinct races. This system, premised on people’s position within a hierarchy based on perceived inherent differences, was a dominant and organizing ideology governing U.S. political and social relationships.
According to Jacobson the question is not how the Irish or Jews or Italians became white, but how they could be defined as both white and something other than white. For, as he significantly points out, immigrant groups had to somehow approximate the category of white in order to enter the country. Jacobson explains that it was both the inclusivity and the exclusivity of the language of the 1790 Naturalization Law, which limited entrance and citizenship to “free white persons”, that allowed unlimited entrance to European immigrants while denying entrance to Asian immigrants. However, whether or not a particular white racial group possessed the criteria for “fitness for self-government” became highly contested by the 1840s with the Irish Famine Migration and the large growing German immigrant population. At this point Jacobson locates the shift to the second epoch of racism or “whiteness”, “from the unquestioned hegemony of a unified race of “white persons” to a contest over political “fitness” among a now fragmented, hierarchically arranged series of white races” (42-43). During this time of heightened European immigration Jacobson points to the rise in American nativism and its interrogation of whether or not certain white groups should be granted citizenship. He locates the third epoch of whiteness or racism in 1924, when the Johnson Act, a product of the “science” of eugenics, went into effect in order to restrict immigration to Nordic races. Ironically, Jacobson writes, “But in “solving” the immigration problem, the Johnson Act laid the way for a redrawing of racial lines, and so that year does mark the beginning of the ascent of monolithic whiteness” (93). From 1924 to 1965 Jacobson argues that the hierarchy of multiple races was reformulated into three categories: Mongoloid, Negroid and Caucasian. The events precipitating this shift in racial perception included a decrease in immigration due to the Johnson Act, the eugenic policies of Nazi Germany, and significantly, the massive migration of African-Americans to the north and west, and the rise of Jim Crow laws. This new system transformed a system exclusively based on racial hierarchy into a system of ethnicity, whereby white races were now seen as ethnic groups subsumed within the category of Caucasian. The three major racial divisions were now seen as products not of biological difference but of differing cultural and environmental factors. Jacobson points out that these racial shifts don’t mean that one regime or epoch was fully supplanted by the other, often simultaneous racial systems coexisted. Finally, Jacobson concludes that the race politics of the civil rights era further consolidated white people (now white ethnics) under the umbrella of “white” as the nation became polarized over issues of black-white relations.
How the Irish Became White brings the discussion of whiteness back to its connection with class in its case study of working-class Philadelphia Irish in the nineteenth-century. Ignatiev’s study, organized across six chapters, seeks to answer how the Irish, an oppressed group in Ireland came to become an oppressing group in the U.S. He locates the answer in their willingness to choose whiteness and its inextricable privileges at the expense of solidarity with African-Americans. In doing so, Ignatiev seeks to illuminate the subject of race within the context of the New Labor History, arguing that exclusion of African-Americans contributed to the formation of the white working-class. Unlike Jacobson who insists that the Irish, Jews, Italians, etc. were viewed through the lens of a white otherness, Ignatiev makes the point more provocatively that the Irish were in fact not thought of as white at all but had to gain admittance into the white race, a process which emphatically shores up the malleability and constructedness of race itself. An interesting piece of evidence which effectively exemplifies the degree to which Irish were not perceived as “white” comes from his analysis of the situation in the Philadelphia Walnut Street Jail. Ignatiev finds no reference to segregation by color in the minutes of The Board of Directors or the notes of the Prison Society. While the primary inmates of the jail were African-Americans and Irish, he argues that it is very difficult to determine whether or not and how segregation by race may have taken place. Strikingly, while relations between Irish and African-Americans were not positive outside of prison walls, within the jail there were no recorded instances of black/Irish strife. Ignatiev explains that the prison experience points to “the weakness of ‘race’ as a social definition within the prison” (51).
Ignatiev also argues that the policies of the Democratic Party and the practices of labor organizing are primarily what enabled the Irish to assimilate into white America, and not what some scholars believe was their ability to speak English. Prior to the Irish Famine Migration, Ignatiev explains, not all Irish immigrants were poor, Catholic or spoke English. They assimilated, or as Ignatiev argues, became white, because they bought into the white supremacy of the Democratic Party. Unlike the Republican Party’s adherence to American nativist restrictions on voting rights, the Democratic Party, consistently reduced voting restrictions for “white” men, enabling the majority of immigrant men access to the franchise. Through its rejection of the Republican Party’s American nativism, the Democratic Party, “established an acceptable standard for “white behavior” and “created the white vote” (76). In addition, Ignatiev looks at the development of labor and finds that the Irish effectively pushed African-Americans out of work in order to rise within the ranks of white labor. He argues that in order to do this, the Irish had to maintain color-based distinction regarding “black” and “white” man’s work whereby the Irish ensured that no black man could do the same work that they did. Relying on some inconclusive evidence, particularly with regard to his discussion of the Manayunk textile mill, Ignatiev nevertheless concludes that the Irish’s familiarity with the mill system, “their willingness to work for low wages” combined with their refusal to work with African-Americans rendered factories “as ‘white’ preserves” (115). Subsequently, Ignatiev makes the case that labor unions themselves became bastions of “whiteness” where the Irish continued to learn and participate in whiteness, while African-Americans continued to be pushed out of work and were often labeled as strikebreakers, that category of worker anathema to unions.
Jacobson provides us with a much broader overview of the ways in which immigrant groups became white while Ignatiev provides us with a close and focused analysis of one particular immigrant group’s process of becoming white in a particular place. This enables Ignatiev to facilitate a comprehensive accounting of the emigration and immigration of the Irish, in which we learn about the experience of the Irish under the British Penal Laws and the race-based oppression they experienced in Ireland. Jacobson’s scope is wide so we don’t get to know any particular group’s history as richly as Ignatiev’s Irish. However, in the chapter “Looking Jewish Seeing Jews” Jacobson provides if not a case study then a complex analysis of the ways in which Jews have historically been visually apprehended as something other than white. Jacobson, while resisting a class-based approach to race, nevertheless provides a thorough and seemingly all-encompassing understanding of the political and social implications denoted by the absorption of European immigrants by the Caucasian racial category. He does not suggest as Ignatiev does that such a transformation occurred due to the nearly calculated oppression of African-Americans by white ethnics. However in his Epilogue he importantly emphasizes that while in today’s multicultural climate many white ethnics might wish to argue that they “are not really white”, they need to recognize that their whiteness enabled them admission into the U.S. Furthermore, it entitled them to certain legal and economic rights that were consistently denied to African-Americans, Chinese immigrants and Native Americans.
In addition, both authors, while they each chart the rise of whiteness at different historical moments, do attribute much of its monolithic prevalence to circumstances involving African-Americans, such as migration, Jim Crow, and various forms of political and social oppression. They each argue that this resulted in polarizing the nation into essentially two races, black and white, which subsumed all other European immigrants into the category of white, or, as Jacobson would have it, Caucasian. Whiteness of a Different Color and How the Irish Became White importantly address the white supremacist roots of this country and impart an important lesson to their readers in recognizing the historically intimate connection between whiteness and privilege. In telling the story of whiteness and those that chose or were fortunate enough to find themselves gaining admission to the white race, Ignatiev and Jacobson expose race as a fabrication. ( )
2 vota Nomi73 | Apr 27, 2007 |
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'¿from time to time a study comes along that truly can be called ¿path breaking,¿ ¿seminal,¿ ¿essential,¿ a ¿must read.¿ How the Irish Became White is such a study.' John Bracey, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachussetts, Amherst The Irish came to America in the eighteenth century, fleeing a homeland under foreign occupation and a caste system that regarded them as the lowest form of humanity. In the new country ¿ a land of opportunity ¿ they found a very different form of social hierarchy, one that was based on the color of a person¿s skin. Noel Ignatiev¿s 1995 book ¿ the first published work of one of America¿s leading and most controversial historians ¿ tells the story of how the oppressed became the oppressors; how the new Irish immigrants achieved acceptance among an initially hostile population only by proving that they could be more brutal in their oppression of African Americans than the nativists. This is the story of How the Irish Became White.

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