How the Irish Became White [NOOK Book]


'…from time to time a study comes along that truly can be called ‘path breaking,’ ‘seminal,’ ‘essential,’ a ‘must read.’ How the Irish Became White is such a study.' John Bracey, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachussetts, Amherst

The Irish came to America in the eighteenth century, fleeing a homeland under foreign occupation and a caste system that regarded them as the ...

See more details below
How the Irish Became White

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$26.95 price


'…from time to time a study comes along that truly can be called ‘path breaking,’ ‘seminal,’ ‘essential,’ a ‘must read.’ How the Irish Became White is such a study.' John Bracey, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachussetts, Amherst

The Irish came to America in the eighteenth century, fleeing a homeland under foreign occupation and a caste system that regarded them as the lowest form of humanity. In the new country – a land of opportunity – they found a very different form of social hierarchy, one that was based on the color of a person’s skin. Noel Ignatiev’s 1995 book – the first published work of one of America’s leading and most controversial historians – tells the story of how the oppressed became the oppressors; how the new Irish immigrants achieved acceptance among an initially hostile population only by proving that they could be more brutal in their oppression of African Americans than the nativists. This is the story of How the Irish Became White.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the first half of the 19th century, some three million Irish emigrated to America, trading a ruling elite of Anglo-Irish Anglicans for one of WASPs. The Irish immigrants were (self-evidently) not Anglo-Saxon; most were not Protestant; and, as far as many of the nativists were concerned, they weren't white, either. Just how, in the years surrounding the Civil War, the Irish evolved from an oppressed, unwelcome social class to become part of a white racial class is the focus of Harvard lecturer Ignatiev's well-researched, intriguing although haphazardly structured book. By mid-century, Irish voting solidarity gave them political power, a power augmented by the brute force of groups descended from the Molly Maguires. With help, the Irish pushed blacks out of the lower-class jobs and neighborhoods they had originally shared. And though many Irish had been oppressed by the Penal Laws, they opposed abolition-even when Daniel O'Connell, ``the Liberator,'' threatened that Irish-Americans who countenanced slavery would be recognized ``as Irishmen no longer.'' The book's structure lacks cohesion: chapters zigzag chronologically and geographically, and Ignatiev's writing is thick with redundancies and overlong digressions. But for the careful reader, he offers much to think about and an important perspective on the American history of race and class. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In a book he admits raises more questions than it answers, Ignatiev, a radical activist and editor of the journal Race Traitor, asserts that the Irish were initially discriminated against in the United States and "became white" by embracing racism, a concept Ignatiev (citing Daniel O'Connell) says they learned in the United States. Ignatiev targets the Irish because they were the largest immigrant group to compete with blacks for manual labor jobs. Does American labor history dismiss racism as an element in the workers' struggles? Did oppression in Ireland under the Penal Laws help to make the Irish oppressors in America, or did they learn racism only after reaching America? While many of the primary sources support Irish racism, fewer support Ignatiev's opinion on where it began. This book is more a springboard for discussion than a source of answers but is strongly recommended for that purpose.Robert C. Moore, DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Co. Information Svcs., N. Billerica, Mass.
From the Publisher
'…from time to time a study comes along that truly can be called ‘path breaking,’ ‘seminal,’ ‘essential,’ a ‘must read.’ How the Irish Became White is such a study.' - John Bracey, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachussetts, Amherst
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781135070694
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 11/12/2012
  • Series: Routledge Classics
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 300,802
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Noel Ignatiev (b. 1940) is best known for his call to abolish the white race. He was a co-founder and co-editor of the journal Race Traitor (an anthology from which won an American Book Award), and a co-founder of the New Abolitionist Society. He teaches history at the Massachusetts College of Art. American History

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction 1
I Something in the Air 6
II White Negroes and Smoked Irish 34
III The Transubstantiation of an Irish Revolutionary 62
IV They Swung their Picks 92
V The Tumultuous Republic 124
VI From Protestant Ascendancy to White Republic 148
Afterword 178
Notes 189
Index 229
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2003

    The Troubling Irish

    Ignatiev¿s stated purpose, in the broadest sense, in writing this work, was an attempt to examine immigrant assimilation and the evolution of an American working class. On a narrower level he sought to divine why the Irish Catholics, an oppressed race in their own land, became part of an oppressor race in the United States. His thesis is that the Irish immigrant made a conscious decision to adopt Anglo-Saxon racism in order to gain a foot up in a competitive society -- to the disadvantage of Afro-Americans and the frustration of the formation of a united working class in America. He failed in his attempt on both accounts. Eric Foner is a Marxist historian. Ignatiev is a wannabe. Foner marshals his evidence, ignores the irrelevant, and analyses the meaningful from a leftist prospective. Ignatiev amasses a great deal of stuff, is unable to cull the meaningless and, without any sense of organization, tries to cram the results into his fevered preconceptions of racial relations in the nineteenth century. The result would be comical if in doing so he had not slandered an oppressed people striving to enter the American working class against all odds. Ignatiev created a racial construct -- the Irish ¿ that fails to account for the substantial differences and interests between the Irish in America and those in Ireland, between Irish-Americans and native-born Irish, and between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants. Much of Ignatiev¿s evidence relates to events prior to the Great Famine and the mass migration of destitute Irish Catholics to America. The net effect of this conglomeration is to obscure and to trivialize the struggle of Irish Catholics to climb out of the depths of poverty while burdening them with the racial and religious bigotry of their former oppressors. He criticizes the Irish for not taking up the abolitionist cause and labels them as racists for their failure to do so.. Ignatiev seems unaware that a substantial number of abolitionists were white supremacists who believed that the superior Anglo-Saxon race abased itself by enslaving the inferior black race. It never occurred to Ignatiev that the apparent indifference of the Irish immigrants to slavery was not motivated by racism but that these people, engaged in a hand to mouth struggle for survival, were trying to avoid the stigma of ¿No Irish Need Apply.¿ Ignatiev¿s publisher makes the claim that the author reveals ¿how the Irish used labor unions, the Catholic Church and the Democratic party to help gain and secure their newly found place in the White Republic.¿ This assertion raises the question of whether or not the publisher ever read this work for there is not one reference to the Catholic Church and its myriad institutions of charity and education which the Irish Catholics both established and exploited in order to raise themselves from poverty to membership in the working class and beyond. It is said that the empty drum resonates the loudest. Ignatiev at every opportunity, in this work and elsewhere, proclaims his abhorrence for racism. Racism, that is, as demonstrated by others. Indeed he is so busy berating others he fails to note the mote in his own eye. Witness Ignatiev¿s stereotyping of the Irish. Huck-Finn must have been Irish because his father was the town drunk. [p. 58.] Witness Ignatiev¿s belittling of the contribution of Irish born volunteers fighting for the Union in the Civil War. ¿ The number of Irish who took part in the [New York draft] riots was not less than the number who wore the blue uniform.¿ [p. 88.] According to official records more than one hundred thousand native born Irish fought for the North in that war, thousands of whom died in combat. According to Iver Bernstein in The New York City Draft Riots, a source favorably cited by Ignatiev, there was far fewer people engaged in those riots, Irish immigrants, German immigrants and native-born Americans combined. In summation the book fails both

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2000

    Fair handling of touchy issue

    Having thoroughly read the book, This reviewer found it to be a fair assesment of how the Catholic Irish, who were oppressed, became the opressors. Not flowing in some sections, however a patient reader will get much out of it. Well documented source list.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2000

    Is One Star the Lowest I Can Give?

    Can anyone write a book? If this made it to the store shelves, I guess the answer is a disappointing YES. The author's premise that immigrant Irish became racists once they stepped on US soil is not only flawed but historically innacurate. While Catholic churches burned in every US city and Irish lived in slums, the author portrays pre- and post-Civil War Irish as robber barons dedicated to the premeditated oppression of blacks. Unbelievably, the author totally glosses over the root effects of something as elementary as the 1845 British genocide (commonly known as the Irish Potato Famine)and attempts to hide his agenda by overwhelming the reader with meaningless footnotes and arcane references. I guess once you GET to Harvard you don't have to do your homework anymore. I suggest the author aidit Economics 101.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)