December 06, 2014

Irish Americans looked and sounded like Orangemen

Cartoon of Bernadette Devlin by Aislin (Terry Mosher)
The words in title are the words of Bernadette Devlin, the youngest person ever to be elected to Westminster, and the figure in the cartoon. You can read her Maiden Speech in the Commons, April 22 1969, here. On her rise to the London parliament and prolific profile her face was seen around the world and she travelled widely, including to America. She was the figurehead of Ireland's discriminated-against and the disposed and had the sympathies of Irish-Americans. A hearing from Irish-America was as natural so as to breath, since animosity based on "England's historic wrongs" were closely and long held. As the Spectator wrote in 1882:
"The hatred of England is cultivated by the American branch of the Irish race “as a sort of religion,” we can well believe. The history of the last two or three years shows it to be so."
In America the same civil rights and emancipatory struggle was underway, as African-Americans and other non-white minorities struggle for full recognition in society.

Yet the same Irish-Americans who sonorously supported the full extension of civil rights in Northern Ireland, obdurately opposed and foreclosed on the same argument to America's minorities. Sickening duplicity, doublespeak and hypocrisy. Agitating for civil rights in Ireland and arguing against civil rights in America, and not seeing the slightest contradiction. Very Orwellian. Bernadette wrote when she was there:
"Irish Americans… looked and sounded to me like Orangemen. They said exactly the same things about blacks that the loyalists said about us [Catholics] at home."

That is the core of her message. This is what she said, in full:
"‘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."
Liam Kennedy said out of suffering, you expect acts of empathy and redemption, yet history has shown that there is no necessary relationship between communal suffering and broadened human sympathies. He said:
"The draft riots [of the American Civil War] were, putting it more bluntly, race riots. In an explosion of communal hatred, thousands of Irish men and Irish women turned on black neighbourhoods, lynching and burning before them. This was New York 1863… little more than a decade after the Irish famine. Most of those rioters would have been recent immigrants; most would have experienced childhood or adolescence during the horrors of the Great Starvation. These were the children of the famine."
Christian Samito said:
"Many Irish loathed the thought of African Americans exercising political and other rights, and feared the consequences."
Daniel Downer wrote:
"Some within the Irish community even went so far as to express open support for its expansion into the Northern States."
On the mistreatment of African-Americans by Irish-Americans, Christopher Hitchens said in the second-person:
"The real enemy of black America is the Irish. They kept us out of the building trades; their police kicked us around in every city in the country for years; they treated us like muck; they thought they'd become white and looked down on us'."
He also said:
"Most people don’t remember how dangerous it used to be to be Jew in Boston on Easter time and be accused of being a Christ killer."
I also take issue with the vanity of Irish nationalists, those who feel they can simultaneously enjoy the ways of the western world and abdicate on the duties and responsibilities it takes to secure such a way of life. Ireland is de facto part of the Anglo-American hegemony, the 51st state in many ways - as Mary Harney wrote - yet throw about shock and revulsion at intervention and foreign wars. I noted via Fintan O'Toole Ireland's national vanity, exceptionalism, and narcissism, exaggerated notions of Irish specialness and the ineradicable belief that they are nicer, holier and more caring; and the associated agonies and troubles that this self-deception can cause.

In my article, "George Orwell on Ireland", I noted that Orwell disliked Ireland because he "thought, they stood not in opposition to the evils of the times, but in a merely Tibetan isolation from them, and Orwell's prejudice was confirmed in him by their neutrality in the war." Orwell wrote:
"Those who ‘abjure’ violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf."
And of course, the venerable (Protestant) Irish man of letters, Samuel Beckett said that he preferred France at war to Ireland at peace.

On this blog I previously noted the hypocrisy and wilful blindness and wilful amnesia of Irish-Americans by wilfully forgetting that the greatest proportion of Irish-Americans are Protestant-Irish. And I wrote a J'Accuse-Emile Zola style epistle to Catholic Irish-America after the controversy of the New York Saint Patrick's Day parade 2014.

 And of course the wilful blindness and amnesia exists on the island of Ireland to this day. Fintan O'Toole wrote about the reverse-imperialism, racism, pro-slavery and anti-Semitism of major figures in the pantheon of the republicanism, including Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein.

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