Irish America · Irish Diaspora · Irish identity

The Irish Were Once the Muslims, Mexicans, Haitians and Africans: That’s Why I’m Anti-Racist

19th century newspaper depiction of the Irish as ape-like species. Courtesy:

“Irish America,” if I may use that term, has a problem with racism.

As Niall O’Dowd of Irish Central (as discussed here) recently pointed out: “The belief among many [Irish Americans]… is that America today is fading fast because of overly intrusive government, too many handouts, minority mollycoddling, and a fear of saying the wrong thing.”

To summarize, many of those of Irish descent in the United States reflect world-views of Donald Trump.

After Trump’s 2016 victory, the BBC reported the joy among Irish Americans after Trump’s victory:

“I haven’t stopped smiling all day… I like Trump because he is not a politician – he tells it like it is,” said Pat Troy.

“I identify with him…. He wants to keep jobs in America and change the system politically,” noted Aileen Deeter.

These are ironic comments. Considering…

Anti-Irish sentiment in the United States.

The Irish were once “non-white” in the United States. They were, quite literally, a despised race located at the bottom of the racial hierarchy of America (right there with African Americans). They used to be part of some “other species,” maybe something close to apes.

Writing in A View of the Present State of Ireland, author Edmund Spencer said of the Irish: “[T]hey steal, they are cruel and bloody, full of revenge, and delighting in deadly execution, licentious, swearers and blasphemers, common ravishers of women, and murderers of children.”

Another author, James Silk Buckingham, commented on the Irish: “The emigrants who land at New York, whether they remain in that city or come on in the interior, are not merely ignorant and poor – which might be their misfortunate rather than their fault – but they are drunken, dirty, indolent, and riotous, so as to be the objects of dislike and fear to all in whose neighborhood they congregate in larger numbers.”

The Irish were once the terrorists, the criminals, the impoverished, the menaces. The Irish, as the Boston Globe noted, were depicted in the popular press as an abomination to humanity. “They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunker brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.”

Sound familiar? All you need to do here is substitute Irish for Muslim, Mexican, Haitian or African.

And yet today, Irish Americans are some of the most steadfast supporters of Trump’s blatantly racist agenda. Consider the following: Ryan (House Speaker Paul), Bannon (Steve), Conway (Kellyanne), Hannity (Sean), O’Reilly (Bill), and Kelly (Chief of Staff) are all common names of Irish origin. Vice President Mike Pence also has Irish ancestry.

Irish Americans, especially those listed above, would do well to remember the coffin ships that carried their ancestors from Famine-wracked Ireland. They would do well to remember the “Irish Need Not Apply” signs their ancestors encountered on the streets of Boston.

I’m talking to you Irish Americans. Our coffin ships are the killing fields of Syria. Our famine ancestors are the Mexican mothers risking their lives to cross the border for a better life. Our “Irish Need Not Apply” signs are the American Muslims who experience job discrimination because they wear hijab. Our burning of convents and churches are the Muslims who wake up to find their mosques torched by white supremacists. Our media depictions as lazy and impoverished are the Haitian and African migrants who are characterized today as “shitholes.”

The story of the Irish, both at home and abroad, is one of immigration, racism and oppression. We, as Irish Americans, must “understand and echo the concerns of those communities who face fear and uncertainty,” as the Irish Stand passionately claimed. If we – as Irish Americans – do not do that, we have lost our Irish identity.

Craig Considine at the Irish Famine memorial in Harvard Square, Cambridge (Massachusetts)

One thought on “The Irish Were Once the Muslims, Mexicans, Haitians and Africans: That’s Why I’m Anti-Racist

  1. Hi Craig,

    I just put a post up at Google+

    This was in response to an Atlantic article regarding the Trump comments and featured a reference to another Atlantic article from June 1896 I also read by one Francis Amasa Walker, president of MIT for 15 years beginning in 1881, and of the American Statistical Association in 1882. (I’m an MIT alum, and a member of the ASA.) There’s even a Walker Memorial on the MIT campus named in his memory. Pretty eugenic, that.

    – Jan


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