Critiques on the Wages of Whiteness

Clare McCullough

I believe that Roediger’s argument that the Irish “became white” is minimizing the advantages that they held in the mid-1800s. The Irish were always more accepted than free Black people because they were still white and got the benefit of the doubt. They got to choose how they acted and most importantly, they could vote and participate in society on a level that was absolutely inaccessible to African Americans. The Irish-Americans were hated because the influx of their immigration drove down the values of wages during this time, they were seen as violent, sexually promiscuous, and heavy drinkers; all qualities that were frowned upon in America at this time.
They viewed African Americans as competitors for jobs even though they were “a small part of the urban labor force.” (147) the fact is that African Americans were easy targets to exercise their frustration of being considered second class citizens. The Irish were discriminated against and often compared to the African American slaves, hence their being called “white niggers” quite frequently and were “used as substitutes for slaves within the South” (146) they cost less than slaves because if a “Paddy” was hurt on the job they wouldn’t have to pay for their bills. They had their own obstacles especially since they were poor and so did not have the opportunities afforded to other whites and in that regard they were like the African Americans. They came off the boat from farmland and were introduced to a completely different world filled with foreign machines and drudgery.
While, Irish folks were heavily discriminated against, denied jobs, respect, and opportunities that were afforded to their white peers, they were still seen as people. Irish people owned themselves. They would not be taken from their homes and sold as slaves or dragged from their houses and lynched. The Irish were on the same position socially and economically however, politically they had as much as a voice as any other white person in this time. They in fact were strong supporters of the Democratic Party in antebellum America. They embraced their whiteness and did everything they could to align themselves with the Anglo-Saxon “race” and to some extent, they were accepted. If you compare the Black experience to the White Irish, you’ll see that you’d delegitimize the real struggles that the African American population suffered through.

Roediger, David R. “The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class.” The Haymarket Series, 1991,

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