How the Irish Became White (Paperback) book cover

How the Irish Became White

By Noel Ignatiev

© 1996 – Routledge

248 pages

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About the Book

Ignatiev traces the tattered history of Irish and African-American relations, revealing how the Irish used labor unions, the Catholic Church and the Democratic party to succeed in American. He uncovers the roots of conflict between Irish-Americans and African-Americans and draws a powerful connection between the embracing of white supremacy and Irish "success" in 19th century American society.

Reviews

"…carefully researched and often-illuminating." -- The New York Times Magazine

"I read Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White yesterday. Amazing! What a work of history! I learned a great deal about Philadelphia history--re: Irish anti-black history. It has its resonance in police-black relations; and one can see May 13th an historical echo of the torching of abolition and Black Masonic buildings a century before and its subsequent (instant and historic) whitewash. Kudos to Ignatiev--a masterful (yet quite short!) piece of work. It provides a powerful historical perspective from which to view the City of Brotherly Love." -- Mumia Abu-Jamal

"Ignatiev writes with conviction. The book makes good use of individual case studies, especially of the Protestant Irish newspaper editor John Binns, and the Philadelphia politician William McMullen, to demonstrate the process by which the immigrant Irish 'faded from Green to white' in their new homeland." -- Journal of American Ethnic History

". . . well-researched, intriguing . . . offers much to think about and an important perspective on the American history of race and class." -- Publishers Weekly

"This book is more a springboard for discussion than a source of answers but it is strongly recommended for that purpose." -- Library Journal

". . . a provocative new social history . . . the author makes his case with a wealth of anecdotal evidence . . ." -- The Boston Herald

"Probably the most interesting history book of 1995 . ." -- Nell Irvin Painter, in The Washington Post

". . . an interesting and important book . . ." -- The Boston Globe

". . . highly readable . . . general readers will welcome Ignatiev's even-handed presentation of a sensitive subject." -- The Christian Science Monitor

". . . a compelling story of tension and often outright war between the lowest classes in 19th-century America. . . . a revealing study . . . it can raise understanding of contemporary issues in both Canada and the United States." -- The Globe and Mail

". . . an interesting document of times, people and relationships that have heretofore gone largely unnoticed." -- Irish Echo

". . . perceptive . . ." -- The Washington Post

"This study breaks new ground in the effort by social historians to explain how it was that Irish immigrants succeeded in overcoming their second-class citizenship standing in their native land, and which followed them to the United States once they reached these shores." -- Virginia Quarterly Review

"This meditation on the sources of racial antipathy is no ordinary work of history, but a sophisticated polemic against traditional conceptions of race . ." -- Boston Globe

"How the Irish Became White contributes noteworthy insights to this growing field [of labor history] while suggesting new directions for studying racial identities, ideologies, and oppression in the United States." -- The Journal of American History

"Ignatiev's book is well written, presents some itneresting material, and poses some interesting questions that historians might well consider." -- American Historical Review

"In the historical literature on "race" relations there is much that safely can be ignored. However 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. Squarely in the intellectual tradition of C.L.R. James, and extending and building upon the work of Alexander Saxton and David Roediger, Noel Ignatiev has produced that rare work of historical scholarship that while firmly grounded in past events, also speaks forcefully to current concerns. Well done Brother Ignatiev." -- Professor John Bracey, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

"How the Irish Became White is a work of mature scholarship which retains passion and even wit as well as a history which engages vital contemporary political questions." -- David R. Roediger, University of Minnesota, author of The Wages of Whiteness

"How the Irish Became White is a major contribution to our understanding of race, ethnicity and class in American history. Impressive in its scope and analytical acuity, it provides valuable insight and consciousness. Ignatiev's book is impeccably researched and written with verve and imagination. Unquestionably, a tour de force."

-- Herbert Hill, Evjue-Bascom Professor of African-American Studies and Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"In the mid nineteenth-century, Irish Catholic immigrants and African-Americans (both slave and free) were exploited and despised by Northern and Southern capitalists. United, this biracial proletariat might have broken the chains of both chattel and wage slavery. However, their fatal division ensured the triumph of plutocracy, as well as racism, in both North and South. Written with insight, passion and sympathy for the Irish and the Blacks alike, Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White is an important and stimulating study of the tragic origins and consequences of white-ethnic, working-class race prejudice in American society."

-- Kerby A. Miller, Professor of History, University of Missouri-Columbia and author of Emigrants & Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America

"This is an important book, innovative both in conceptualization and organization. "Intervening" in several active and heavily populated fields of US history, it contributes in a challenging and controversial way to debates over interpretation and explanation that are now heated and likely to become more so in the next few years."

-- Alexander Saxton, Professor Emeritus, UCLA and the author of The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth Century America

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HIS000000
HISTORY / General