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Happy St. Patrick’s Day? Woman Sparks Online Discussion On Why Irish People Owe African-Americans

Irish Owe Black Americans

Irish immigrants struggled to compete with freed Blacks for wages and labor during the early to mid-1800’s. (Photo by Ailbhe O’Donnell)

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, writer and historian Natasha Varner took to Twitter to school the collective public on the history of Irish immigrants, more specifically how they stepped on the backs of Black Americans to gain identity and stature in the U.S.

Varner shared the lengthy post on Saturday, March 17, while most were out lauding all-things Irish on the notoriously green holiday. She started with the decades leading up to the Civil War, years in which America saw an influx of Irish immigrants arriving between 1820 and 1860. These immigrants would go on to compete with emancipated Blacks for a spot on “the same low rung on the social ladder,” as well as jobs.

Citing historian Noel Ignatiev, Varner explained the Irish worked to achieve whiteness and its privileges by differentiating themselves from equally “inferior” Blacks by forcing them into an even lower social class. They even began offering to work for less pay than Black workers as a means of working their way up the American social ladder and proving themselves worthy of a higher racial class.

Irishmen would go to compare their unfavorable labor to “wage slavery,” arguing that their condition was far worse than actual slaves because they weren’t afforded the “benefits” of material comfort and guaranteed work that Blacks were, Varner explained. She also noted how Irish immigrants were fiercely against the push for abolition, as the end of slavery would mean more competition for jobs and wages.

Varner came ready with her facts to blast what she calls the “bootstrap narrative” that the Irish pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to escape slavery and poverty in the U.S. This false narrative, she argues, is used as “evidence” to push the racist notions of Irish/White superiority as truth.

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