Who's Your Paddy? Racial Expectations and the Struggle for Irish American Identity

Who's Your Paddy? Racial Expectations and the Struggle for Irish American Identity

Who's Your Paddy? Racial Expectations and the Struggle for Irish American Identity

Who's Your Paddy? Racial Expectations and the Struggle for Irish American Identity

Synopsis

After all the green beer has been poured and the ubiquitous shamrocks fade away, what does it mean to be Irish American besides St. Patrick's Day? Who's Your Paddy traces the evolution of "Irish" as a race-based identity in the U.S. from the 19th century to the present day. Exploring how the Irish have been and continue to be socialized around race, Jennifer Nugent Duffy argues that Irish identity must be understood within the context of generational tensions between different waves of Irish immigrants as well as the Irish community's interaction with other racial minorities. Using historic and ethnographic research, Duffy sifts through the many racial, class, and gendered dimensions of Irish-American identity by examining three distinct Irish cohorts in Greater New York: assimilated descendants of nineteenth-century immigrants; "white flighters" who immigrated to postwar America and fled places like the Bronx for white suburbs like Yonkers in the 1960s and 1970s; and the newer, largely undocumented migrants who began to arrive in the 1990s. What results is a portrait of Irishness as a dynamic, complex force in the history of American racial consciousness, pertinent not only to contemporary immigration debates but also to the larger questions of what it means to belong, what it means to be American.

Excerpt

“I was never racist until I came to this country,” I was told by John, an Irish immigrant newcomer to Yonkers, New York, in the early spring of 1996. This nineteen-square-mile city of 200,000, which shares southern and eastern borders with the Bronx in New York City, gained national notoriety in the 1980s when its home-owning white ethnic majority resisted the desegregation of public schools and housing. Shortly thereafter, young and largely undocumented Irish immigrants began arriving in this racially tense locale in increasing numbers. The parallel movement of Irish bars onto McLean Avenue in southeast Yonkers met resistance from the neighborhood’s homeowners, who claimed that an increased bar presence, like the presence of public housing, would cause property values to plummet. Though they lost their bitter battle against federally integrated neighborhoods, longtime residents were successful in their fight against bars, as the city council ratified a moratorium on future bar construction in 1996. A noticeably heightened police presence was dispatched to quell potential bar-related trouble. Conflicts between Yonkers police officers and Irish bar patrons ensued, prompting allegations of police brutality, which in one case resulted in a federal indictment against two police officers for violating the civil rights of . . .

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