Race in Modern Irish Literature and Culture

Race in Modern Irish Literature and Culture

Race in Modern Irish Literature and Culture

Race in Modern Irish Literature and Culture

Synopsis

John Brannigan radically rereads the cultural history of the Irish state, demonstrating through original historical research and insightful new readings of literary and artistic works that race is central to modern Ireland's definition of itself. Brannigan examines the tropes of racial identity and racist distinction that underpin modern expressions of Irishness and traces a persistent concern with racial ideologies in twentieth-century Irish culture. Ulysses is read against the Irish Race Congress in Paris and the making of the Irish Free State in 1922. The works of Liam O'Flaherty, Samuel Beckett, W. B. Yeats, and Jack Yeats engage critically with anthropological representations of "the Irish face." Brannigan reads a wide range of mid-century fiction against a public discourse on "foreign bodies" and examines critical conversations on figurations of blackness in Irish culture. A provocative revision of modern Irish cultural history.

Excerpt

Quite suddenly, or so it seemed, Ireland became a multi-cultural society. It happened in or around 1996, and caught everyone by surprise. the television comedy series, Father Ted, dramatised this moment in an episode first screened in March 1998. Father Ted, to relieve the boredom of having to clean the house, gives Father Dougal a knowing smile, puts a ‘coolie’ lampshade on his head, pulls back the skin on either side of his eyes to narrow them to a slit, peels his upper lip back over his teeth, and then proceeds to mimic a Chinese pidgin-English accent, saying ‘Oh! Ho! I am Chinese if you please’. the audience laughs, and Father Ted goads Dougal for appearing rather dumbstruck by his ‘Ching Chong Chinaman’ impression, but Ted’s cheeky grin soon disappears when he turns to find three Chinese people looking at him through his window. Ted looks aghast to Dougal for an explanation, and is told that the Chinese people are the Yin family living in ‘that whole Chinatown area’. ‘There’s a Chinatown in Craggy Island?’, gasps Ted, and then admonishes Dougal for not telling him this: ‘Dougal, I wouldn’t have done a Chinaman impression if I’d known there was going to be a Chinaman there to see me doing a Chinaman impression …. They’ll think I’m a racist’.

Ted’s ‘Chinaman’ impression belongs, of course, to an extensive and familiar Western tradition of comic racial stereotypes, which has its origins in the same music hall and theatrical contexts that saw blackface minstrelsy emerge in the 1830s in the United States, and can be traced further back to the ways in which cultural and racial differences had been used within English comedies since Shakespeare’s time. According to Krystyn Moon, ‘yellowface minstrelsy’ developed from the 1850s onwards, and comprised ‘dialect, makeup, posture, and costuming’, which ‘marked the Chinese body as inferior and foreign’, and which emerged as an expression of American anxieties about Chinese migration into California in the 1850s. It has remained since that time as a . . .

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