The book, “The Irish Way” by James R. Barrett is a masterpiece written to describe the life of Irish immigrants who went to start new lives in America after conditions at home became un-accommodative. Widespread insecurity, callous English colonizers and the ghost of great famine still lingering on and on in their lives, made this ethnic group be convinced that home was longer a home anymore. They descended in United States of America in large numbers. James R. Barrett in his book notes that these people were the first group of immigrants to settle in America. According to him, there were a number of several ethnic groups that have arrived in America. It was, however, the mass exodus of Irish people during and after the great famine that saw the use of the word “immigrant” being used to refer to them. Irish people descended to America fully loaded with their culture and religious beliefs that according to the writer of this book enabled them to assimilate faster into the American society more than any other group. Phrases and words like, Irish-American policemen, Irish-American teachers, Irish –American politicians were coined in social cultural set up of America. This wave shaped the process of assimilating other immigrants that came after them.
The writer classified this group of Irish people according to their characteristics. This group was highly ferocious and exhibited an alacrity and lust of land that originated from the Northern part of Ireland. This group was comprised of individuals who were conservative Christians who loved living in their own cliché of clans. They were also very cruel and intolerant towards Indians. Because of their characteristics, they were referred to as settlers. Their characteristics made them be assimilated faster in America than their constituent compatriots who originated from the southern part of the county. The other group of Irish people that arrived in America was the native Gaelic Irish people who arrived in New York and other eastern coastal cities in the 19th century. This group was rather timid as compared to the other group of Immigrants. Their personal attributes made them subject to many vicious prejudices and stereotypes. This group had to struggle for their way into acceptance and incorporation into the American society.
James Barrett concentrates more on the life of Irish people in states like Chicago and New York. These states had already reorganized themselves in well-established social divisions. Racism was ripe in these states, and this defined the reception of Irish people in those states. The reception was cold especially towards the Gaelic group of the Irish people. Barrette’s focus was on the third generation of Irish American people after they had settled. He has outlined how these people had an upper hand in assimilation by the fact that they were able to speak English. In this book, James Barrett outlines a number of careers that several Irish people professed in despite the discouraging stereotypes, poverty and widespread unemployment. The culture of Irish people largely influenced and shaped the process of Americanization and modern American culture. In the process of addressing the problems they were facing, they interacted with other ethnic groups and slowly their identity was being shaped and at the same time becoming part of the larger American family with its diverse culture and multiple ethnic groups.
A number of conflicts have been analyzed in this book of James Barrett. During the time of the first group of Northern Ireland settlement in America and the subsequent arrival of Gaelic Irish, they were mainly discriminated upon, and different stereotypes arose against them. The Native America feared immigrants, as they perceived them as a threat to their national cohesion, culture and as competitors on the available resources and opportunities. This, therefore, explained the hostility they faced during their arrival in America. They faced prejudice and hostility and phrases were coined that were meant to demoralize them. A term “paddy Irishman” was part of racial slurs that were hailed on them. Situation was to change later as they etched themselves deeper into the American society.
The more days went by, the more they became Americans through and through. Assimilation was never by design, choice or any predetermined action. It was shaped through day-to-day conflicts and through interaction with other ethnic groups. Having a good advantage in English as their first language, they were able to participate in various activities that later shaped their destiny. Their children were able to attend schools. A number of various professionals were found in various economic sectors of the country. There were numerous policemen and women, preachers and teachers- a sign that clearly indicated that they were coming of age and that they were slowly overcoming the challenges that had bent them downwards. Soon they started making it into elective post. This was partly because of their improved economic status and partly due to their personality. Barrett noted that these people were activist and had embarked on various activities that benefited the community.
Another social conflict underlined in this book was the conflict between the Irish-American citizen and the citizens of Indian origin. Typically, Irish people looked down upon the Indian citizens. The writer notes that the Irish people were slowly forgetting their own fate of how they too were the subject of discrimination and callous victimization in the line of race and under a cold hand of colonialism. These Irish people, especially those from Northern Ireland were very cruel and serial racists. They even discriminated against their very own countrymen who were of Gaelic origin. Racial slurs and violence made life difficult to Indians in the hands of economically stable and socially powerful Irish people.
African Americans too were not spared either by these people. The writer noted that there was animosity that was directed towards the blacks. If there was any group that bore the brunt of animosity from Irish people, it was the black African American population. Irish population exuded hatred towards blacks’ citizens to the extent of forming criminal gangs such as Merry Clouters in a sole aim of causing havoc and sufferings to the black population. These criminal gangs conducted various attacks towards African American people. They wounded them, killed them and did all sorts of dehumanizing acts only because they had a darker skin tone. The writer termed this as shameful practice since they too (Irish people) were at one time subjected to dehumanizing treatments of the colonial era and the subsequent discrimination in the land of America.
Afterwards more immigrants continued to flow in America. Various ethnic groups like Jews, Italians and Slavs trooped into America after the Irish people had long settled. These groups too were met by the same fate that faced Irish people who preceded them. Only that, this time round, it was Irish people who were subjecting them to this treatment.
Advancement in economic prosperity also led to the emergence of new lines of discrimination. Industrialization was taking form and Irish people were at the center of it. Economic prosperity created another line of racism as opportunities were given to the general public in a way that was greatly skewed towards one ethnic group while other ethnic groups that were on the receiving end received a lesser position in terms of opportunities and economic gains. This made ethnic groups such as African Americans and Indians appear at the bottom of social hierarchy that was in place.
According to this book by James Barrett, it is clear that Irish population contributed heavily in shaping the new process of Americanization and a new city culture. They had an advantage in the size of their population and also due to their natural talents of politics. Their election into leadership positions gave them an upper hand in influencing the normal course of life and exercising control on new immigrants. Their action whether positive or negative had a high influence in the lives of other ethnic groups. This therefore explained a high prevalence of racism in America in 18th 19th, early 20th century since Irish people were racist, and they occupied high positions of influence in country’s administration.
Reflection of the influence of Irish American people and its meaning
In this book ‘the Irish way of James Barrett, gradually unfolded the lives of Irish American from the time they arrived in America, through the process of assimilation and their influence on other ethnic group through interactions and conflicts. With time, as evidenced in the book of Barrett, Irish people started coming of age and they occupied various leadership positions together with a number of professional occupations that made them economically progressive. This economic success came along with power and influence. This influence mostly was directed towards racial segregation rather than national cohesion. It was because of their practice that racial profiling got a deeper root in American society in those times and afterwards.
Irish people also contributed greatly to the industrial revolution in the country. Some were skilled while others offered semi-skilled labor that was needed in these industries. Apart from their contribution in industries, they contributed to the growth of trade unions that was out to fight for the rights of employees in all sectors of the economy. Theatre also experienced an exponential growth and development as many of Irish people manifested their presence and interest in it. Irish people were a staunch Christian and ardent believers in their faith. Due to this Christianity spread in the country and became the number one religion.
Remedies to negative influence spread by Irish American people
There were a number of remedies that the then government would have used to avoid racial segregation and violence that came along with racism. The government needed enact policies that discouraged racism by abolishing racial segregation and making human rights applicable to all citizens. The government also needed to put a humanly mechanism of assimilating immigrants. Fair distribution of public resources and availing equal opportunities to all citizens were a thing that required government effort.
In curing racism and other discriminations, a responsible citizen is required to manifest empathy towards one other and to have a heart of helping each other.
Faced with this problem of racism that had a magnitude strong enough to blow out peaceful co-existence and security in the country, I would have formed a lobby group that would fight for the rights of minority groups and champion equal treatment to all ethnic groups. Another thing I would advocate if for various laws to be instituted in regulating immigrants since immigrants have an influence on our social economic and political orientation.