Asked • 06/04/19

How did US anti-Irish sentiment decline?

Anti-Irish sentiment in the United States previously involved depictions of Irish migrants as non-human primates. While historians have debated the prevalence of contemporaneous "No Irish Need Apply" signs, such a sentiment was widely discussed, with Irish Americans referencing it after 1860. Sources such as Ignatiev 1995 argue Irish migrants to the United States were initially perceived as non-white, and that the subsequent classification of Irish Americans as white and the decline in anti-Irish sentiment was largely driven by Irish alignment with anti-black racism, beginning with support for the Democratic Party in the antebellum North. The idea that Irish Americans have only recently been considered white is often cited, at least by non-historians, as an example of how whiteness is a social construct. However, Arnesen 2001 argues such analyses conflate race with economic status and ignore the legal rights provisioned to Irish immigrants c. 1830, and concludes a former classification of Irish people as not white is a product of historical revisionism. Is a changing definition of whiteness part of the explanation for anti-Irish sentiment's decline in the US? Is anti-black racism among Irish Americans part of the explanation for said decline or such a change in definition? What other factors were integral to the decline in anti-Irish sentiment?

Kenneth H.

Anytime one deals with the subject of racism or ethnic discrimination there are multiple underlying factors, and ultimately the answer is subjective based on one's interpretation of the evidence. That being said, I'll offer a few ideas that may be worth considering. 1) Over the 19th Century the number of Roman Catholics in the US grew--Irish and Italian immigrants, 2nd generation Roman Catholics. Did this affect attitudes? Did Italians or other groups divert attention from the Irish? 2) As time went on, the Irish became political leaders, especially in city machines. How did that factor into acceptance? 3) The Irish also climbed up the economic class ladder. That might alter perception of the Irish among Americans as well. 4) The economic argument is a very good one. Competition for jobs among the lower classes caused a lot of anti-immigrant feeling. As other groups came in, did the reaction regarding the Irish change? As the Irish became 2nd generation Americans, did that change perception of the Irish? Did all this have a combined effect?


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