The history of Ireland and the American South has become one of many shared experiences. Their stories are both about continuous oppression of one group towards another and thus a culture that prides itself on those experiences. There is strong Irish Pride as there is Southern Pride. Except what differentiates one from the other is that Irish Pride is a form of resistance after years of oppression from the powerful surrounding areas of Great Britain. Current Southern Pride, however, is a result of years of bigotry and resentment toward modern ideals. Southern Pride, pride in the Confederacy, is a reminder to the African American community in the South of their oppression. But the identities interlock in America in a way that doesn’t in Ireland. Here, there are people who participate in the oppressive nature of “Southern Pride” while defending it by claiming their ancestors come from the oppressed group of people that are the Irish.
In Strange Kin Kieran Quinlan discusses how Irish identity and culture has several similarities to the U.S. South. Another way he puts it is that Ireland is to England as the American South is to the United States. He identifies three main ways that these two areas relate to each other. The first relating to how the population in the south partially originates from Ireland and how that identity can manifest itself. The second point he makes is how similar the history of each region is as it relates to defeat, poverty, and dispossession. Both places have a reputation of having the negative attributes of the area, whether it’s the United States or England. The last point he makes is about the culture in both places and how it was unlikely that such literary achievements could have come out of both places. It is important to point out that the literary achievements in both areas come from the people who were oppressed, which today, would not identify as having Southern Pride, at least not to the extent or significance as Irish Pride. An example of this would be Frederick Douglass. It is very unlikely that Douglass would participate in a Southern Pride that glorifies the history of the Confederacy. Irish people were actually the oppressed in the area and it was nowhere near the same extent as white Southerners in the same context. In fact, Douglass had work in Ireland that connected African American struggles and the struggles of enslaved people with anti-colonialism in Ireland. He knew how to connect to the Irish people considering the time they were living in.
Quinlan touches on this on page 15 when he states that his book further “deal(s) with the actual connections between Ireland and the South in terms of immigrants, their attitudes toward the ‘peculiar institution of slavery,’ their participation in the Civil War, and those subsequent southern writers of immediate Irish background who were conscious of a tragic similarity between both places. (Quinlan, 15)” There is a clear understanding of people who are Irish descendants participating in the very oppressive nature that themselves, or their family, had experienced in Ireland. But he also mentions that because they could blend and avoid these situations, so they did. Later on, he even describes a scene where an Irish priest was shot and killed by a non-Irish white person.
The struggles of Irish people extended to America but now that the country has shifted from mass European migration to Latin American and African migration, blending does not exist for the new immigrants as it did for the Irish. The connection in modern Irish and American South culture was heavily discussed in “North and South Elsewhere,” About South Podcast. It was also discussed how immigration from countries of large non-white populations affects Great Britain in a similar way it affects America. There are extreme anti-immigrant sentiments that plague both countries that shifted from hating the Irish to hating people of color. Even Irish people today believe themselves to be oppressed to the same capacity as brown people living in the United Kingdom, which despite history, that belief does not hold up today. (This can be seen in the featured image.) The parallels about how America sees the South vs. how Great Britain sees Ireland were still there too, but what was not previously mentioned was how, as Lennon describes, the South “is where all the dirty bits live.” This includes its role in racism in America and serving as a center of conservativism. As mentioned earlier, the South does come off as the worst part of America because of the Confederacy and its history with enslavement. Yet, unlike Ireland, some American southerners take pride in being that.
At this point, there is a peculiar obsession that white people have, specifically American white people, of having a role as the oppressor and the oppressed. White southerners taking pride in their role as the oppressor by waving the Confederate flag, yet when called out, some instantly refer to their oppression of having Irish ancestors who faced famine and poverty. Lennon talks about this too, that Irishness is the perfect kind of whiteness. He mentions the rebellious aspect, but a huge part of it is having the best of both worlds.
This has always been one of the most fascinating aspects when studying oppression, race and privilege. Since I, a child of Mexican immigrants, was once confiding in a teacher regarding my experiences only for him to compare his grandparents’ struggle as Irish Americans and continuously using that fact to defend any behavior as if it justifies it. Why is this connection to Irish struggle, a struggle that most do not or will not experience, so vital for white Americans to continue holding onto? It doesn’t lead to more empathy or solidarity between them or people of color. If anything, it excuses acts of violence or discrimination against them.
Quinland, Kieran. Strange Kin: Ireland and the American South. Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
Bend It Like Beckham Dir. Gurinder Chadha. Lionsgate UK, 2002. Film