"White, with a Class-Based Blight: Drawing Irish Americans." Éire-Ireland, 2009.

Sharrona Pearl

Based on research of images depicting Irish Americans throughout the 19th century, Dr. Pearl builds a case supporting the argument that whiteness as an identity is not free of discrimination and repression. Irish immigrants were often depicted with specific images that defined them as Irish – dress, facial features, habits, morals, and language, to name a few.  

Article Introduction: Let me make one thing clear at the outset: Irish Americans were not black. Despite similar economic conditions, they were not treated as blacks legally, politically, or culturally. That is not to say that they escaped discrimination, nor does it minimize their suffering in the Great Famine of the 1840s as they fled from death and disease. Rather, this essay points out that the respective sufferings—and triumphs—of nineteenth-century Irish Americans and African Americans were different. From their arrival in the United States, Irish Americans suffered various forms of cultural prejudices that were expressed in caricature representations, but they were protected from the legal discrimination facing African Americans. Whiteness did not automatically confer freedom from repression and discrimination, nor did repression and discrimination automatically confer a designation of nonwhiteness or blackness.

Published in Volume 44, Issue 3&4, pages 171-199