Soap Box Amy

Soap Box Amy
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An opinionated recovering Fundamentalist Protestant, college instructor of psychology for 30 years, M.A. from G. Peabody College, now of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, co-owned and managed a retail food business, worked in social services and professional fund raising, and have two adult daughters.

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DECEMBER 28, 2009 3:03PM

Irish-Americans

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When I was teaching Social Psychology to college students, one of its many sub-topics was the fascinating study of prejudice and discrimination. Prejudices and discriminatory behaviors are almost always learned from parents and other significant adults in a child's life. Very rarely throughout history are progressive and thinking human beings encountered, such as Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who actually learn to think beyond the status quo lived by their parents, their community, and their nation. 

 Despite growing up on a Carolina plantation in the mid-1800s, the daughters of  the "master" whose fine living was at the expense of those brutalized by slavery, Sarah and Angelina became abolitionists and feminists. They used intellect, knowledge and study, and critical thinking to evolve beyond what was "accepted" in American society at that time. 

American slaveowners, on the other hand, used Old Testament  (also the Torah of Judaism) references, often vague and taken out of context, to justify slavery by "Christians". (How interesting to note that whenever "Christians" choose to do something cruel, exploitative, brutal, violent, etc., they leave behind the New Testament on which Christianity is based, and embrace the "eye for an eye" violence, revenge, war, and cruelty of the Old Testament.) American slaveowners twisted and mocked their religion to embrace the evil their greed had created, and the hypocrisy and corruption of "Christian" society at that time, allowed them to do so even to the point of believing they were entitled to do anything they chose to do in their pursuit of wealth, an attitude still part of daily life among the rich worldwide in the 21st century!! We see the evil consequences everywhere in exploitation, corruption, war for profit, on and on......and the worst hypocrisy of all: overwhelming racism in the United States of America in the 21st century!

No racist nation is a great nation. Ever.

But, I digress.....the Irish are one of the many ethnic groups who were treated with contempt, as well as exploited by, English Protestants. Irish jokes prevail to this day in England. When the Irish began immigrating to the United States, as well as Australia, Canada, England, and Europe, they did not escape the prejudice and discrimination they had faced at the hands of their English masters who had controlled Ireland for centuries with the help of the R. C. Church in Ireland. In fact, American employment advertisements in the 1800s openly stated "No Irish Need Apply".

Historians now speculate that the Labor Movement was probably delayed by decades due to the willingness of Irish workers to work for any wage, no matter how low. It's also now recognized that African-Americans and Irish-Americans did the majority of physical labor building this nation's now neglected bridges, tunnels, highways and roads, railroads, etc. 

But what the Irish realized and understood, that in nations where Protestants ruled such as Australia and the United States, they would have to help themselves. So they created Irish cultural socieities and clubs, clubs and groups for women, men, children, old people, got involved in politics (although often in unsavory ways), created networks used by Irish everywhere to find housing and jobs, on and on. 

Irish towns grew up in diverse places such as Iowa and Montana where mostly Gaelic was spoken. In fact, one of the most Irish of cities, at least for awhile, was Butte, Montana after 1881. Marcus Daly, born in Ireland, bought the Anaconda Copper Mine in Butte in 1881, developing it into the largest such operation in the world. Supposedly, he hired mostly Gaelic-speaking workers whom he treated well as he never forgot his own humble roots. He built housing for his workers, provided schools and amusements, and created a lovely town of almost 100% Irish.

By the turn of the 20th century, the Irish had risen from starving immigrants fleeing the Great Hunger in Ireland to those who controlled Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Within another decade or two, most of Hollywood's leading stars were Irish-American including James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Patrick O'Brien, Maureen O'Hara, and later, Grace Kelly,Liam Neeson, etc., to name a few.

The Irish are one of the few groups ever to face severe prejudice and discrimination and overcome it. They prevailed because they helped each other and were always willing to work hard. Do we even notice an Irish name these days? We may comment on a German or Italian or Jewish or Asian name, but do we comment on Gallagher, O'Leary, Finnegan, McLaughlin? Unlikely.

It's heartening to know that prejudice and discrimination can and have been overcome! On a planet filled with religious, ethnic, and racist prejudice and discrimination. not to mention sexism and ageism, at least once, the horrors wrought by prejudice and discrimination have been overcome, and total assimilation has occurred! Hallelujah! 

 

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Comments

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As an an American of Irish descent I'd like to thank you for bringing this to light. There is a general ignorance of this in the U.S. for some reason. My family has both shallow and deep roots in the Americas. From a man who rose to general in the revolution to my own grandfather who came here to escape starvation as a young man indentured to Kentucky coal mines. He escaped his bondage by running to Oklahoma and claiming a stake in the land rush there. He had to face prejudice and discrimination because of his ethnicity and religion. The Irish have much in common with African Americans yet they look at us as though we are no more than white men, descendants of the masters. We are not. Proving that we see people as what we perceive them to be without considering who they really are.
I'm sure you read my St. Patrick's Day post last year. Though I have some Irish ancestry, I never even realized how badly the Irish were discriminated against until I was an adult. Here in the South, the Klan was often made up of the Scotch-Irish (but funded by the wealthy, who may or may not have been of such descent). I remember a college professor reading from an article that quoted Henry David Thoreau and seemed to indicate that he was not especially fond of the Irish.
yes, it is learned
but kids can be very mean, and it can be innate
To bobbot: You are so right when you say that African-Americans and Irish-Americans should realize their mutual suffering and support each other. One problem was sharing the bottom of the American socio-economic ladder which meant they often competed for the meanest, lowest-paying, dirtiest jobs. Life improved for the Irish. They were white, after all. But those who were oppressed such as the Jews, Irish, Armenians, all Indigenous peoples, should make sure NEVER to oppress another. It is demeaning, dehumanizing, and sinking to the level of your oppressors. Unfortunately, the Irish have often been racist toward their kin and cousins. Think of Boston. And Israel.....good Lord!

But here in Philadelphia where we have now lived for a little over a year, my Irish-American husband is finding amidst its large African-American population many with Irish names , relatives, and ancestors. He's amazed at how many have Irish names and claim an Irish grandfather or other relation. But, of course, being on the bottom together inevitably meant eventual mingling of all types.

To Dellia Black: Yes, I don't recall Thoreau making particularly enthusiastic comments about the Irish-Americans he encountered and did not associate with. The Irish were poor and discriminated against at that time, a prejudice even someone as intellectual and intelligent as Thoreau did not overcome.

To Kathy Knechtges: I beg to differ after teaching college level psychology for 30 years. Cruelty is NOT innate. It is learned as is racism. Cruel parents, racist parents and racist, cruel parents, impolite, bullying parents as well as loving, affectionate, polite, parents focused on education, etc. will have children who are the same. It's really that simple. Some children will overcome a traumatic and dysfunctional childhood because of favorable circumstances. A mentor, a teacher or coach or classmate's parent takes an interest in a child and saves her/him by this attention, support, encouragement, and help in general.

But most of us become very much like our parents. It's called learning via "observational learning" in psychology with parents being our primary models in our most sensitive, most vulnerable, and most easily damaged years. Nature really screwed up on that one! To make humans helpless in their most formative years when they are at the mercy of their parents no matter how brutal or depraved or intelligent or financially insecure they might be.

Based on everything I've studied and researched for years now, there is no such thing as "innate" anything. Even when we inherit very specific traits from our parents, circumstances can intervene is some way to erase them, alter them, etc. I cannot agree that children are cruel, other than the damaged ones. I have always found children delightful, honest, sweet, and so on. Of course, the fact that I love chldren, listen to them, take them seriously, etc., probably has something to do with their behavior with me. I always found children very easy to deal with.
"one of the most Irish of cities, at least for awhile, was Butte, Montana after 1881. "

And it still is, especially on St. Patty's Day!! Not as rough as it use to be, Butte was a rough and tough mining town with a mix of a melting pot of folks, including my grandfather and his family which included my pop who still resides in ole Butte!! :)

Thanks for a great read.

Rated.
Tinkerertink69: Thanks for the interesting update on Butte!