I’m writing my first blog post after feeling continuous angst towards irish and non-irish white folks on-going appropriation of irish experiences as a means to derail conversations around white privilege and racism. Too often, when called out on the perpetuation of white supremacy and the speaking on behalf of people of colour and indigenous folks, it seems that white people are quick to cite the experience of my peeps as a means to halt conversation and ultimately undermine the words and experience of people of colour and those indigenous to turtle island. Just stop it! You are certainly not anti-racist and you are not doing anything for the long and on-going struggles around the decolonization of ireland and irish people. You’re taking history out of context and in my opinion failing to deconstruct whiteness in a way that is actually conducive to anti-colonial and anti white-supremacy resistances. The following is the beginning of a list of how I see this argument as fucked, how it defends white supremacy and colonization and fails resistance to the decolonization of ireland and irish people.
– Yes, irish people do have a history of colonization and racialization that lives on today on the land and the experiences of irish people. But most often when people bring up ireland in these conversations they fail to account for the ways in which people of irish decent benefit from white supremacy and the colonization of land and communities outside of ireland. In doing so a significant relation is missed; an analysis of this relation is necessary for the decolonization of ireland and irish people. I am referring to the fact that the colonization of irish people and the land’s was greatly mediated by their proximity to britian. In this proximity I am including the physical island, the way my ancestors looked, culture (religion-which is another story of colonization for sure but significant nonetheless) etc.
These were mobilized as a tool in the colonization and oppression of people and communities indigenous to elsewhere. The displacement to and ultimate assimilation of irish people on colonial canada, colonial US and colonial australia (among other spaces) enabled a solidification of white supremacy and European colonization based on difference and greatly impacts the ways in which people of irish decent are privileged by systemic racism in these spaces uniquely and globally. As an example, think about what the experience might be of a person of colour who settles on turtle island versus a white person coming from Ireland. Or to push this example further, think about the xenophobia a person of colour might experience whose family has been settled on turtle island for generations compared to my family of which I am first generation irish/Scottish settler.
– These citing of irish experience also negates the reality of xenophobia and racism targeted towards people of colour in ireland. I believe that derailing conversations around anti-racism using irish experience will have profoundly negative effects for racism in ireland as it enables cultures of unaccountability. This unaccountability is equivalent to, and made possible by white supremacy
– To continue with the above points, often when the experiences of the irish are brought up it is done so homogeneously with no regard to the differing experience between irish living outside of ireland and irish people in ireland. More than often, and something that hurts my heart so much, irish settlers take up racist and colonial politics and lifestyles that are closer replica’s of the loyalist than the republicans in the settler-state of northern ireland. Ignoring this in the type of conversations I am discussing enables unaccountability among irish settlers. Obviously this furthers a racist agenda and the continuous colonization of turtle island, it encourages irish settlers participation in the oppression of people of colour and indigenous people and does nothing for irish liberation. It disconnects irish settlers from the struggles at home and presents a false image of irish sovereignty as a xenophobic and ireland as a white nation.
Bernadette Devlin, an irish republic and all-round badass made similar observations of irish settlers when she travelled across the ocean:
“I was not very long there until, like water, I found my own level. ‘My people’—the people who knew about oppression, discrimination, prejudice, poverty and the frustration and despair that they produce– were not Irish Americans. They were black, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos. And those who were supposed to be ‘my people’, the Irish Americans who knew about English misrule and the Famine and supported the civil rights movement at home, and knew that Partition and England were the cause of the problem, looked and sounded to me like Orangemen. They said exactly the same things about blacks that the loyalists said about us at home. In New York I was given the key to the city by the mayor, an honor not to be sneezed at. I gave it to the Black Panthers.” (Bernadette Devlin)
-This dynamic also enables the appropriation of irish struggles by right-wing movements. By removing the obligation of irish people to examine their white supremacy and privilege. It presents the facade that irish people and republican struggles are allies to racist fuckers and nazi scum. Read more about this from 32 CSM http://32csminternational.blogspot.com/2013/01/from-our-darmstradt-support-group.html
– This use of the irish narratives also fails to take into account the division between protestant and catholic that is significant in the story of irelands colonization. Knowing and acknowledging this history would make apparent the complexities around these irish experiences, which reveal the ability of irish people to access white privilege. Mobilizing irish experience to derail conversations around anti-racism invisibilizes these histories that live on in the contemporary occupation of ireland. It also halts significant and necessary conversations and strategies around resisting irish nationalism as necessary catholic. Further, resistance to the contemporary irish state and settler-state of northern ireland must be located in the reality of these histories. How can we really have movements working around access to abortion in ireland without recognizing that the state’s construction as a religious nation was built in the oppression of irish catholics?
-Much of the history of racialization towards people of irish descent is based on the oppression of people of colour, freckles as a signifier of the irish are an example of this as well as other stereotypes around criminalization, work ethic (re: civilized). Too often the mobilization of irish experiences is done so in ways to invisibilizes colonial constructions of race that makes the oppression of the Irish dependent on the colonization and oppression of people of colour and those indigenous to elsewhere, – not the other way around. Instead, understanding that all people are racialized would make spaces to better deconstruct the ways in which hierarchies of whiteness are produced through the oppression of people of colour
– I am sure at least one fucker will compare irish experience to light-skinned privilege. This is not the same, let me say: I can be white and irish, this categorization does not deny my identity but instead reflects the ways in which i am privileged by white supremacy. This is not about being complacent to assimilation, it’s about having an eye to power.
So fuck off with the appropriation of my people’s experience in the name of unaccountability and white supremacy. Maybe these conversations are more appropriately relegated to spaces where white people are discussing the construction of whiteness and white supremacy, confronting nazi appropriation of irish culture or amongst people of colour and indigenous people seeking to build network of decolonization with radical irish folks. If you’re of irish decent and reading this and have found yourself participating in these derailments I encourage you to engage in your own process of decolonization, do some research, talk to other irish folks, listen to your ancestors, learn about where you come from and what brought you to and your relationship with wherever you are today. And seriously, think critically about the ways in which you benefit from white supremacy and the colonization of place, spaces and people outside of ireland.
This list is growing, if you have something to add or a perspective to expand what i’ve written I welcome it. I encourage comments and critiques, they will only help strengthen my argument.