The Black Lives Matter, officially the Movement for Black Lives, released its platform of six demands this week. Number two on the list is “reparations for past and continuing harms.”1
The U.S. fight for civil rights has been going on as a result of slavery which began on North America’s soil centuries ago. Progress was realized in the 1960’s with various laws, but racial discrimination has not been eradicated, from both sides.
Obscured in the on-going strife is the fact black Americans have been not the only group poorly treated during our nation’s history. The common misunderstanding is so pervasive to the point that most U.S. citizens would think “race” when the word discrimination is mentioned. Women might be a second response, but most likely a distant second.
(see Footnote 2 for text and credit)
Time for a history refresher. Irish immigrants were very poorly treated for generations after their initial influx as a result of the potato famine in the 1840’s. Examples:
- “They were forced to live in cellars and shanties, partly because of poverty but also because they were considered bad for the neighborhood…they were unfamiliar with plumbing and running water. These living conditions bred sickness and early death. It was estimated that 80% of all infants born to Irish immigrants in New York City died. Their brogue and dress provoked ridicule; their poverty and illiteracy provoked scorn.”4
- “They became chamber maids, cooks, and the caretakers of children. Early Americans disdained this type of work, fit only for servants, the common sentiment being, “Let Negroes be servants, and if not Negroes, let Irishmen fill their place… The Blacks hated the Irish and it appeared to be a mutual feeling. They were the first to call the Irish ‘white nigger.'”4
- “The Know-Nothing Party- a political party in the late 19th century—developed with “native” Americans who hated the immigrant influx particularly the Irish.”5
- “Employers would place signs with NINA scrawled across the front. NINA spelled out is No Irish Need Apply, this would often be seen next to the No Dogs Allowed signs.”5
- “The Irish were ostracized from American society for many things besides just being newcomers. The Irish were ostracized for being Catholic. Many Protestants and ‘native’ Americans were distrustful of a religion that was, as they viewed it, highly irregular with its beads, meditative prayers to Jesus’ mother, oils, saints and statues. The Irish were also categorized as angry, alcoholic beings – (the term ‘don’t get your Irish up’, stemmed from a stereotypical belief in the volatile Irish temper) who drank all the time in saloons and had regular bar brawls and parties filled with revelry and debauchery.”5
- Even though early major league had Irish players, around the turn of the 20th century,” the large numbers of Irish fans misled the public into believing that the Irish dominated the game.” The same book printed this:6
Despite the cruel treatment, the Irish kept moving forward:
“The Irish were unique among immigrants… In New York City, during the Civil War, they rioted against the draft lottery after the first drawing showed most of the names were Irish. For three days the city was terrorized by Irish mobs and only after an appeal for peace by Archbishop Hughes did it end. In Pennsylvania they formed a secret organization called the Molly Maguires to fight mine owners who brutalized the miners and their families. They ambushed mine bosses, beat, and even killed them in their homes. The Irish used brutal methods to fight brutal oppression. They loved America and gladly fought in her wars… The days of ‘No Irish Need Apply’ passed. St.Patrick day paraded [sic] replaced violent confrontations…Through poverty and subhuman living conditions, the Irish tenaciously clung to each other. With their ingenuity for organization, they were able to gain power and acceptance. In 1850 at the crest of the Potato Famine immigration, Orestes Brownson, a celebrated convert to Catholicism, stated: ‘Out of these narrow lanes, dirty streets, damp cellars, and suffocating garrets, will come forth some of the noblest sons of our country, whom she will delight to own and honor.’ In little more than a century his prophecy rang true. Irish-Americans had moved from the position of the despised to the oval office.”4
Our American history has its proud moments, but we also need to remember those groups who were not always treated properly. Let’s not allow the tunnel-vision of political correctness to narrow our sense of fairness.
1 – “Black Lives Matter Releases Policy Agenda,” by Trymaine Lee, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/black-lives-matter-releases-policy-agenda-n620966, 8/1/2016.
2 – “The Iberians are believed to have been originally an African race, who thousands of years ago spread themselves through Spain (undecipherable) Western Europe. Their remains are found in the barrows or burying places in sundry parts of these countries. The skulls are of low prognathous3 type. They came to Ireland and mixed with the natives of the South and West, who themselves are supposed to have been of low type and descendants of savages of the Stone Age, who, in consequence of isolation from the rest of the world, had never been (undecipherable) competed in the healthy struggle of life, and thus made way, according to the laws of nature for superior races.” Credited as coming from Harper’s Weekly, 1899. Artist Unknown, Misusing Darwin’s science theories as a basis, the idea of the Irish as less than fully white persisted. This 1899 cartoon showing the Irish stereotype as less evolved, presented as scientific fact 11 years after Nast’s last cartoon was published by Harper’s. Source: Wikipedia Commons, as published I “Irish As Subhuman,” https://thomasnastcartoons.com/category/irish-americans/, 3/1/2016.
3 – “being or having an upper or lower jaw that projects abnormally forward, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prognathous
4 – “Irish Immigrants in America in the 19th Century,” http://www.kinsella.org/history/histira.htm
5 – “The Irish in America: 1840’s- 1930’s,” http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug03/omara-alwala/irishkennedys.html
6 – From page 88 of “Baseball as America,” by George Plimpton, W.P.Kinsella, Paul Simon, Roger Angell, John Grisham, Jules Tygiel and others, National Geographic, Washington D.C., copyright National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 2002.