Outsiders Inside: Whiteness, Place, and Irish Women

Outsiders Inside: Whiteness, Place, and Irish Women

Outsiders Inside: Whiteness, Place, and Irish Women

Outsiders Inside: Whiteness, Place, and Irish Women

Synopsis

Notions of diaspora are central to contemporary debates about 'race', ethnicity, identity and nationalism. Yet the Irish diaspora, one of the oldest and largest, is often excluded on the grounds of 'whiteness'. Outsiders Inside explores the themes of displacement and the meanings of home for these women and their descendants. Juxtaposing the visibility of Irish women in the United States with their marginalization in Britain, Bronwen Walter challenges linear notions of migration and assimilation by demonstrating that two forms of identification can be held simultaneously. In an age when the Northern Ireland peace process is rapidly changing global perceptions of Irishness, Outsiders Inside moves the empirical study of the Irish diaspora out of the 'ghetto' of Irish Studies and into the mainstream, challenging theorists and policy-makers to pay attention to the issue of white diversity.

Excerpt

This is a story of diaspora. It highlights a population of migrants and their descendents, whose lives remain largely hidden although their labour has been strongly in demand. When I tell you that they are women, you will find this situation unexceptional. Working women have never been fully recognised in the West and migrants are even more marginal. But this group of women has also been rendered invisible because of the specific political context in which they have moved. This is the troubled relationship between Britain and Ireland, which continues to have wide-ranging and largely unacknowledged ramifications within the two countries and well beyond them. One way in which this history has been submerged, and separated from the broader histories of colonialism, has been through the homogenising notion of 'whiteness'.

Over seventy million people world-wide, more than half of them women, claim an Irish identity, but of these only five million live on the island of Ireland. The scattering of Irish people has been on an extraordinary scale in the wake of the catastrophe of the Famine in the 1840s. They and their descendents have become embedded in two of the largest industrial economies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, those of Britain and the United States, in ways that have hardly begun to be recognised.

The roles of women are especially invisible, yet women have been the most mobile part of this population. Their economic ties to the land in Ireland were shaken loose by the Famine and they became available to fill the massive gaps in rapidly-industrialising labour forces elsewhere. They were especially in demand for the most menial work of servants, a role which indigenous women left behind as soon as higher status employment became available.

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