Irish · Irish Diaspora

How Irish Slaves Were Worse Off Than African Slaves During 19th Century, USA

Irish slaves being whipped Source: movieplot
Irish slaves being whipped Source: movieplot

19th century Irish immigrants fled from desperate poverty and arrived to the US in destitute conditions … In the United States, the Irish experienced not only religious and political bigotry, but they were also discriminated against through racial overtones. The use of racism against the Irish was at times more prevalent than the racist discrimination against those defined as ‘Blacks’ or ‘Negroes’. Describing his childhood in the northern United States, William Du Bois (2009: 14) recalled that ‘the racial angle was more clearly defined against the Irish than against me’, as ‘it was a matter of income and ancestry more than color’. This recollection of Du Bois describes the different criteria utilized by those who enforced racial categorizations in the United States and highlights the contingent nature of racial hierarchies …

In the southern United States, Irish workers were often used instead of Black slaves for dangerous jobs, as the slave was a purchased asset, while the Irish worker’s life was considered dispensable without any incurred cost. This division of labor was witnessed by Frederic Law Olmstead as he watched workers load cotton bales onto a ship during his visit to the South in 1855. He observed Black workers recklessly tossing bales from the top of a chute down towards Irish workers, who would then stow them onto a ship. When he asked about his arrangement, he was told that ‘the niggers are worth too much to be risked here; if the Paddies are knocked overboard or get their backs broke, nobody loses anything’ (Olmstead, 1996: 215).

The previous passage was extracted from:

Dunne, S. (2012) ‘The Irish bifocal and American sport: Exploring racial formation in the Irish Diaspora’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 48,4, pp.405-420.

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