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Irish Defamation (Racism)

Updated on January 24, 2016
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Introduction and History

Anti-Irish racism is called Hibernophobia, which is also associated with fear of Irish diaspora. Animosity towards Irish people has existed in recorded history since the Middle Ages, as early as the 1200s. Hibernophobia is similar in definition to anti-Semitism, although in regard to people of Irish descent (Hibernophobia).

Irish immigrants were a marginalized group of people in early American history. Ireland at the time of seventeenth century was stuck with poverty. Many Irish people wanted to come to America to start new lives, make a fortune, and to avoid religious persecution. Most Irish people could not afford the months of long boat travel to America. They were had no choice but to sell themselves into indentured servitude for the ticket out of Ireland. The Irish indentured servants came to America in the early seventeenth century (Rein, L., 2006). This was during the same time that some warrior Nigerian tribes sold defenseless Africans into slavery to the Portuguese which brought them to America as slaves (Stern, S., 2007). Irish convicts were also brought to America as slaves in the Southern states and the Barbados Islands (Jordan, D., & Walsh, M., 2008). Irish slavery in America was in no way as severe African slavery; most Irish slaves could buy their way out or simply complete their contract like a prison sentence. Although more lenient than African slavery, there was much collusion to their contracts like all human trafficking in history. Indentured servitude was sometimes extended for heinous reasons. Some Irish slaves were abused, tortured, or even raped. There is some debate to the history of Irish slavery in America, and some say it was far less in number than originally recorded (Hogan, 2015). Regardless to the number or correlation to other types of slavery, it happened and it was human trafficking by the modern definition. Eventually, when an Irish servant became free they were left with nothing and in abject poverty much like many freed African slaves hundreds of years later. Their slave class was not forgotten after their service time was over; a stigma was developed with Irish people in Early America. Irish people have seen defamation and have been persecuted against ever since the beginning of European colonization of North America.

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Classical Stereotypes

Irish people are not immune to stereotypes and discrimination. Saint Patrick’s Day is widely accepted as an Irish holiday in America. This holiday is a religious and cultural holiday observing the death of a loved saint. In America it has been diluted to just a day of drinking, much like Cinco De Mayo. No one seems to know what Saint Patrick’s Day is anymore, because most Irish people are never taught anything about their culture in America. The perception of Saint Patrick’s Day as a drinking holiday encourages the existing stereotype of Irish drunkenness.

Not all Irish people are drunks. To believe otherwise is no better than any other racist stereotype. Not all Irish people live in Ireland, but a majority of inhabitants are Irish Natives. Only around 13% of people in Ireland are non-Irish (CSO Quicktables: Population classified by Religion and Nationality, 2011). When ranked with other countries, Ireland is nowhere near the top for alcohol consumption (Witherington, L., 2013). Australia, South Korea and many countries in Eastern Europe have much higher rates of alcohol consumption, but the peoples of these lands do not hold a stigma for drunkenness like the Irish. Historically the Irish were seen as drunks in America because of a warped perception. In the early 19thcentury being caught i public drunk resulted in a fine, if you couldn’t pay the punishment was jail time. Irish were more likely to not be able to pay the fine due to poverty, so it lead to the reality of jails full of Irish drunks even though they drank at the same rate as other peoples. Those that do drink to excess have a cultural history of Catholic self-flagellation. Many Irish drink in mourning and depression. Some drink at funerals, some drink when a job is lost. Historically The Irish have suffered oppression from British colonization and occupation. The Irish have suffered poverty from the great potato famine and adjusting to American life (O'Connor, G., 2012).

It is possible that the Irish developed red hair through evolution and attraction. The color red is the easiest color to spot with the human eye. Red hair color is considered beautiful and attractive in many cultures. Red hair is considered lucky in Japan and some other Asian countries. Red hair is dominant in Irish genetics, but is not exclusive. Red hair is seen in surrounding European countries in a lesser degree. Red hair is observed in countries as far away as China and the Pacific Islands on the other side of the planet. Although Red hair is very common in Irish people, it is a stereotype that all people that have red hair are Irish (Genetic causes, ethnic origins and history of red hair). The same gene that gives a person red hair also creates freckles. The same is true, that not all people that have freckles are Irish.


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Media Defamation

Popular media has become increasingly abrasive towards Irish people and Irish culture. Social Psychologist of the early twentieth century have widely researched and proven the influential power of suggestion of media. Children’s shows are being used to indoctrinate children to ideas through suggestion or even outright instruction. A positive example of this is Sesame Street; negative examples could be the negative behavior of cartoons intended for older audiences. Humorous cartoons began being produced for older and older audiences in the early 1990’s until we have reached a point where almost all cartoons are now focusing on mature content. This leaves parents in coercion as to what their children are watching, because they might assume it is “just a cartoon”. Irish defamation is seen in many cartoons. The popular cartoon South Park has made a villain of all people with red hair. There was an episode with an evil ginger cult, all gingers are considered weird or creepy (Ginger Kids, 2005). In the late night cartoon Archer, there are constant jokes about Irish poverty, drunkenness and the potato famine. (Lo Scandalo, 2012)

The English still have a bitter dislike for the Irish, and it shows in their news media. Since the “Troubles” of the late 20th Century in Northern Ireland, many examples of racism towards Irish can be found. The “Troubles” was a period in Irish history where Irish Nationalist IRA members (Irish Republic Army) terrorized British invaders with car bombings and shooting. In 2002, an English Journalist wrote a racially charged article about how Irish people are all child molesters, Nazi sympathizers and woman beaters. Another English paper called Time Out, wrote about how they “hate Irish people and that they think they are appalling”. Before the Summer Olympics in 2012, British participant Daly Thompson explained on live television his hate for Irish people. To this day, British Nationalists in Northern Ireland use Anti-IRA marches to harass and attack Irish natives. The BBC had a show called The One Show, where a woman was shown with a misspelled tattoo. The host said “The tattooist must have been Irish”. Leaflets passed out by Anti-IRA British organization in England correlate Irish people to freeloading immigrants, no better or worse than immigrants from outside Europe (Ghosh, P., 2012).


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Lack of Cultural Enrichment Programs

Children in America have the opportunity to celebrate a plethora of cultures, except Irish culture is not one of them. There is now nationally accepted Mexican American, African American, Jewish American, Italian American, Asian American and Native American history months. Irish history is possible explained on Saint Patrick’s Day to some, but maybe only for a day at most (Heritage Month Guide).

There are hundreds of large cultural centers in the United States. You will find African, Latino, Native American, Jewish and Asian cultural centers in nearly every major city. These kind of cultural museums and support networks are widely seen across major universities and schools as well. There exists only one major Irish cultural center in America, in Phoenix University (Irish Cultural Center). The hours are short and the events seem few and far between. Upon searching small town news, you may find Irish art galleries, Irish music concerts, Celtic fairs and Irish historical societies that meet once a year. These events pale in comparison to the representation of all other cultures. Irish youth have nowhere to learn about Irish culture. Irish youth do not have the cultural support that other cultures have in America. If Irish children are not taught about their heritage, it will disappear and they will have no identity.

The language of the Irish is Gaelic. This language is complex and pronunciation is much different than English. Gaelic is taught in public schools in Ireland, but nowhere else in the world so prevalently. The language is not popular with Irish in normal situations, and its existence is not even known to most American Irish. Gaelic is not available in American public school, and even most American Colleges do not teach it. The Gaelic language is part of Irish heritage and is dying from declining use (Ihde, T., 1994).



Conclusion

In conclusion, Irish culture has seen defamation since the beginning of American history and it’s very existence is in danger in modern times. Classical stereotypes of Irish people persist through time and no agency, government, movement or community is working to stop these harassments and racism. The media has portrayed Irish people poorly and has propagated hatred against those with Irish ancestry. Irish children in America are likely to know very little about their own heritage, where other cultures have deep and complex networks of cultural support. If nothing is done Irish culture will disappear entirely, following the extinction of the native language of its people.


References

CSO Quicktables: Population classified by Religion and Nationality 2011. (2011). Retrieved
from http://www.cso.ie/multiquicktables/quickTables.aspx?id=cd702

Genetic causes, ethnic origins and history of red hair. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.eupedia.com/genetics/origins_of_red_hair.shtml

Ginger Kids [Television series episode]. (2005, November 9). In South Park. Comedy
Central.

Ghosh, P. (2012, July 24). Anti-Irish Hatred: Yes, Pockets Still Exist In Britain. Retrieved from
http://www.ibtimes.com/anti-irish-hatred-yes-pockets-still-exist-britain-729873

Heritage Month Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.diversitycentral.com/calendar/heritagemonthguide.php

Hibernophobia. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/hibernophobia

Hogan, L. (2015, January 14). ‘Irish Slaves’: The Convenient Myth. Retrieved October 30,
2015, from http://www.academia.edu/9475964/The_Myth_of_Irish_Slaves_in_the_
Colonies

Ihde, T. (1994). The Irish language in the United States: A historical, sociolinguistic, and
applied linguistic survey
(1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. u.a.: Bergin & Garvey.

Irish Cultural Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.azirish.org/

Jordan, D., & Walsh, M. (2008). White cargo: The forgotten history of Britain's White slaves in
America
. Washington Square, N.Y.: New York University Press.

Lo Scandalo [Television series episode]. (2012, February 16). In Archer. Cartoon Network.

O'Connor, G. (2012, March 1). Breaking the Code of Silence: The Irish and Drink. Retrieved
from http://irishamerica.com/2012/01/breaking-the-code-of-silence-the-irish-and-drink/

Defamation of Irish Culture 09 Rein, L. (2006, September 3). Mystery of Va.'s First Slaves Is Unlocked 400 Years Later.
from

Stern, S. (2007, August 13). It's Time to Face the Whole Truth About the Atlantic Slave Trade.
from http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/41431

Witherington, L. (2013, August 22). Which Country Drinks the Most Alcohol? Retrieved from
http://www.wsj.com/articles/alcohol-which-country-drinks-the-most-1408705249

Do you think Hibernophobia exists today?

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    • profile image

      Cathy 

      11 months ago

      It's job we have a sense of humour. A lady teacher from the UK joined me for coffee one day. Asked where I was from. When I said Ireland she said "Oh how do you live there with all the shootings and bombings" this was in the 80s and I did not have to tell her that this was happening in Northern Ireland which was part of Britain and not Ireland. She obviously did not teach history or geography!

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