Cycle of Xenophobia
In 9th grade, we read The Odyssey and discussed it in class, and that was the first time I heard the word xenophobia. I don't remember the context, but I remember that as we continued to read throughout the year, I noticed the theme quite often. A newcomer would happen upon a group of old friends and be shunned, purposefully harmed, and scared. It happened in large and small groups alike, in 8th century and 20th century literature alike. One grand notion I took away from freshman English was that a large amount of strife in the world comes because some groups of people don't like other groups of people.
When we started to learn about the way Irish and Italian immigrants were treated in the US, I was quickly reminded of that recurring, inescapable theme of xenophobia. When people feel threatened others, it's easy to hate just like it's easy to hate when you don't know somebody. This was why the Irish and Italians, regardless of their whiteness, were seen as subhuman. They were "dirty and grimy" because they might take the Protestant's jobs. They were "unfit for civilization" because they knew nothing about the New Country. The xenophobia was glorified by pop culture and science. Every day, Americans were exposed to ugly, vicious depiction of the immigrants, and this divided the nation at an increased speed. Scholars of the pseudoscience named eugenics said that America could never emulsify --- a racial hierarchy did exist, they said, with the white people at the top, the less white and not white far below. The country, supposed to be a melting pot, was crumbling because of a heavy emphasis on racial divisions in so many walks of life.
We can fast forward to present day and still feel the same distress and fear caused by immigrants that was present in the 1800s, even though it's different groups which are being targeted. But it can be traced back to the hate on display back then. A hatred of Catholics led them to start their own school system, one which continued to be prevalent and powerful. There is a precedent that has been upheld for years that we have to despise newcomers, and the nativists who created the Know-Nothing Party weren't the inventors.
I don't believe that people are naturally hateful, so that is not the reason for this pattern. I believe that when people form groups, or factions, we are bound to be competitive. When we begin to feel loyalty towards others, we feel the need to get rid of any other opponents and we turn much of life into a sport. The difference between back then and today, though, is the perspective we no hold. As a human race, we've lived through so much violence caused by xenophobia that we now have the power to not let history repeat itself. We can recognize our flaws and push past them to unlock the compassion and empathy that lie somewhere deep within.
Originally posted by GOLFWOF123 on December 04, 2019 22:34
This country suffers from a major disease called xenophobia. Often considered a melting pot of different cultures the US throughout history has had(and still does) quite negative responses to immigrants that contradict this belief. The Italian and Irish immigrants who came to the US nearly two centuries ago were faced with a lot of discrimination. Not only from regular ordinary citizens but also from the government. In America around that time being of a darker skin tone was not desirable by any stretch of the imagination, however, for these immigrants skin tone was not a main reason as to why they were discriminated against. They were immigrants. People have a fear of new people and when these new people are stereotyped as criminals, drunkards, and rapists it makes it extremely hard for them to overcome these narratives and immediately gain acceptance. They were poor, hungry, and desperate for work and the US politicians exploited those vulnerabilities. Italian and Irish immigrants became “other” because they were viewed as subhuman. Cesare Lombroso, an Italian doctor’s theories was used as a weapon against Italians. He said that they were “natural born criminals” these false sciences and ideas that were pushed to the masses further pushed these immigrants into the “other” category of white. It didn’t help that Italians married and had children with African Americans. According to Brent Staples because of this they were subjected to lynchings and other atrocities that African Americans faced. However, over time they became considered as white and the short term effects of this is Italian and Irish immigrants now being thought of as equal or on the same level as “white americans” often don’t know the history of their peoples beginnings on America and treat other groups of immigrants how they were once treated. There are many parallels between 2019 immigrants and refugees and the beginnings of Irish American and Italian immigrants in this country. Like the Italians and Irish people immigrants from Spanish speaking countries especially Mexico and Muslim refugees are being stereotyped not only by regular people but news outlets and people in power like the president. Radicalbond brought up a great point about how certain groups are labeled by a whole based on the acts of a few individuals. All Muslims are considered terrorists and All Mexicans are considered rapists and criminals. These stereotypes are further enhanced by the president's own vocal support of these beliefs and the blatant disregard of heinous crimes committed by white americans who are never held accountable for their actions. Irish and Italian immigrants faced a lot of discrimination and racism yet they support the barring of refugees and immigrants. This is where the contrast comes in. They are able to be considered fully white now yet Muslims and Mexicans probably will never and rather than support their immigrant they stand against it as if they weren’t in this same position years ago. I feel as if more Italian and Irish immigrants were educated on their history and all the trials and tribulations their ancestors had to face when arriving in this country they would change their energy and put their support behind the immigrants and refugees today.
I see a lot of truth in what you said at the end. This is why we have to learn history. Like the poster says in Ms. Freeman's room, there is a slur for everybody. When we learn about the way our ancestors were treated, it should allow us more of a window into the struggles of others. If we are ignorant, though, how can we empathize with others? We have to learn the facts.
Not White Enough
Despite being Christian and white, like the white people who were already living in the US, both Italian and Irish immigrants to the United States experienced large amounts of discrimination and oppression. One big reason for why they became an “other,” even with being European, was because of anti-Catholic sentiments being stirred up. Many people, especially during the late 19th century, believed, as we discussed in class, that Catholics would rather serve the Pope and their religion rather than their actual country of residence itself. This would then translate into the stereotypes of Catholics, especially Irish and Italian Catholics, being traitors to the US, or being too self centered on their own religion rather than Protestantism or nationalism.
Another reason that they became an “other” was due to the fact that Mediterranean Europeans were different in culture, language, and behavior than those from the Iberian peninsula. The short-term effects of the oppression of Italians and the Irish was that both types of immigrants were forced to find extremely low-paying jobs, as no one else would accept them as workers. This would also frequently result in Italian-Americans, who performed menial labor, as well as Irish-Americans, who were typically domestic workers, to be less supportive of desegregation, and in some cases, emancipation, as they feared that former slaves would take their positions. Not only did oppression stir up infighting among marginalized groups, but also forced the aforementioned groups into lower classes and forced them to consider themselves lesser to anybody else.
Similarly to in the past, the United States has a similar treatment to immigrants, especially black or brown immigrants in the modern era, as to back with Italians and the Irish. One major similarity is that in both cases, the modern Americans believe that the immigrants who are coming in are not only “dirty” or uncivilized, but that they would bring crime and unsavory values to their supposedly pure America. Many efforts have been made to give a bad name to immigrants, to push them into the least favorable jobs, and to try as much as possible to push the immigrants back out. Many of these efforts are synonymous with what was attempted nearly two centuries ago.
How some Europeans were the "other"
Due to anti-catholic and and anti-immigration movements, it was fairly easy to single out certain groups of people and discriminate against them. The country was expected to be ruled by White protestants, because the English had settled first and laid this sort of precedent. The Irish Catholics are always associated with alcohol even to this day, portraying them as barbaric and animalistic. People would try to find whatever reason they could to convince themselves that they were wrong for being there, trying to do the same exact thing as them, which is to make themselves a better living in America. It's human nature for people to get behind a meaningless cause just because everyone else is doing it. Today, things have seemed to change, but there are stereotypes that go around. Italians and Irish have sort of all blended together as just simply white, and cultural differences between most Europeans aren't so widely recognized much anymore. It's interesting how people come to the conclusion that the Irish and Italians should be treated differently because in the grand scheme of things, they were all in the same boat.
History repeats itself
I remember a specific event that had given me a jolt a while back. I was talking with a friend when I overheard someone my age (who I disliked greatly) say something that utterly confused me in the 9th grade. He had said something along the lines of “we should burn those Catholics” and since I had not grown up with any religion put upon me wondered why he had said that since I knew he was a Christian. I had been confused for a long time about how someone could hate someone that much from a religion that had seemed quite similar to me. I now know that that child has a similar view when it comes to any “invaders” of our country.
The anecdote I just retold was something that I had only recently gotten an answer to from this class. Anti-immigration has been present in America for all of its history. People always seem to follow the pattern of demonizing the immigrant for things that a minority of their population does. Fear tactics are used by politicians to gain support against a common enemy to the American people. While America has been known as THE place for immigrants to come and work for a better life, there have always been those who oppose. Just from our classroom talks and the three articles, we have learned that groups that are seen as totally normal American citizens like Catholics, Irish and Italians were once hated by the American people. The Irish had the stigma of terrorists for quite a while, Italians were greasy violent criminal mobsters, and Catholics were spies on the inside for the pope to take over America. These people were seen as subhuman and treated as such. I had not known that the Ku Klux Klan had targeted more than just African American people which surprised me. The Irish could not get jobs as they were also Catholics as Josh Zeitz wrote.
The past treatment of Irish and Italians is eerily similar to the way we see Latin American and Islamic immigrants being treated today. The Agenda of trump’s MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN echos the ideals of the know-nothing party. The ideas that America should only be made up of natural-born Americans is the same as modern-day xenophobia. The only difference I see in how trumps campaigning it is that now instead of being “NO NON-PROTESTANTS” has evolved into a hatred of a people with darker skin color. The view that all Irish people were terrorists because a minority of the population was is a striking likeness on islamophobia and the thought that everyone who is Muslim MUST be a crazy terrorist when that is just not factual. The ideas are the same, it's just that the people they are targeted at look different.
Originally posted by heyyy1234 on December 03, 2019 20:08
Why did the Italians and the Irish, despite being white, become an “other”? First, they were catholic. In the 19th century, the United States thought Catholics were an absolute disgrace because the US was already established by English protestants. Thus, xenophobia carried a much stronger impact than whiteness did. In the 1920s, this religious hatred manifested itself into extremist organizations--specifically the KKK. Josh Zeitz’s “When America Hated Catholics” evaluates the foundation of the KKK: “ Above all, the Klan touted ‘one hundred percent Americanism’ as an antidote to the social and cultural decay that seemed to be rotting away the core of American values.” Anybody who threatened American values, regardless of race, was seen as an “other” and therefore they were shamed and degraded. Second, the Italians and the Irish were subject to the inorganic fear the British felt towards anyone who seems to threaten their superiority. Although they were all European, there was still high esteem placed on being British, because if you were British, you were powerful and wealthy. Being white was simply not enough. By the 19th century, the United States had already been dominated by Northern European protestants.
The effects of the treatment towards Italians and the Irish were that they both still have inaccurate and prevalent stereotypes based solely on the perceptions that the English colonizers had of them. They were immensely discriminated against in all aspects of life: from finding jobs to building stable lives after immigrating. Edward T Donnel’s “When Irish Immigrants Were America’s Most Feared Terrorist Group,” talks about how Irish people were nearly permanently labeled as violent people altogether: “Irish American terrorism added to the long-standing stereotype of the Irish as inherently violent people and the claim the Irish would never make good Americans.” There are so many stereotypes against Irish people--they’re drunks, lack etiquette, and are “unfit for citizenship,”--that still exist today. The same goes for the Italians. Brent Staples’s “How Italians Became White,” writes: “The editors reserved their worst invective for Italian immigrant children, whom they described as “utterly unfit — ragged, filthy, and verminous as they were — to be placed in the public primary schools among the decent children of American mechanics.” Not only adults, but children bore the social repercussions of not being American. Even today, Italians are stereotypically seen as members of the mafia and pizza and spaghetti fanatics.
Today, I feel like white people have all banded together and all still reap the benefits of white privilege. Thus, I think that the tensions between Italy, Britain, and Ireland have relaxed. I don’t really see many white people coming out as victims of racism or blatant discrimination because of their ethnicities. The stereotypes are definitely still embedded into society, but they’re not interpreted as heavily as a stereotype of a person of color is interpreted. It’s confusing how at some point white people hated other white people for being a different type of white. It just goes to show how many rabbit holes there are in discrimination and the need for superiority.
Once I read "white people have all banded together" I started thinking about color all over again. The change has indeed moved from one type of immigrant to another, but so has the color that's associated with it. It seems that in the 21st century as long as you are white, you do not have to worry about being discriminated against or belittled. All the European immigrants that were fighting with each other in the 19th and 20th centuries have now become one unit, one body. There's no longer distinctions among them but among other people of color. That's why if you're any color but white, you're treated as an invader all over again. This time it isn't as hard for them to tell who's not from here and who is, though the lines in between become gray sometimes. The point is this: in the 21st century, it's not "Americans" versus migrating Europeans, it's these two groups combined against the rest of the Americas.
As Americans, we seem to have this major superiority complex that has been evident for hundreds of years. Originally, I thought discrimination and hate in this country stemmed from only skin color. I knew the Irish weren’t treated that well when they first arrived, but I had no idea of the extent of that mistreatment. Same with the Italians. They were viewed the same as how black people were viewed— which was a very negative view. For example, the Irish were often called “n word turned inside out”.
But the Irish were white, and so were the Italians, so what’s the deal?
Like I said before, Americans have a superiority complex. We think we’re the sh*t. If the Irish stereotype was that they were violent drunks, Catholic, and uncivilized, then surely they could not live up to the stellar American. If the Italians were also Catholic, “greasy”, and known to be liars, they couldn’t be a true American either.
But who gets to decide who gets to be “American”? Because obviously just because you’re a citizen doesn’t make you a true American.
But now, Irish and Italian people in this country are respected and do pretty well for themselves. We are finally considered true Americans. But once again we are repeating history. The influx of immigrants today are treated just as disrespectfully as the Irish and Italians previously, but now we try to detain them in camps at the border. Why don’t we want people seeking refuge? People who just want a chance at a better life?
Irish and Italians were discriminated against primarily due to their faith. During an influx of Irish and Italian immigration, anti-Catholicism and anti-immigration movements were at a high, fearing that Catholicism would taint education and politics especially.
Short-term effects of this treatment consisted of
discrimination, leading to stereotypes, and being restricted from employment and other opportunities such as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs. Furthermore, it affected how they raised their children, teaching them to be wary of their surroundings and people who weren’t like them as in those who treated them badly or weren’t in their own communities. Violence was also an issue; the 1891 New Orleans Lynchings of 11 Italians was a troubling event and created a lot of tension throughout their communities.
Today, Irish and Italians are simply considered white. Despite the discrimination against these ethnicities in the past, they are now bunched into one group. They are protected by white privilege and are rarely called out on their frivolous affairs, unlike the minorities of today, black and brown peoples, who are constantly shown in a negative light. This is especially true in cases of immigration, where we see people of color crossing the border mainly for better opportunities for them and their loved ones whereas white people who come for vacation and sometimes stay permanently and even die in this country without their papers sorted out are rarely called out. They have essentially joined those who discriminated against them and now people of color are the scapegoats.
changed or evolved?
Like 99.9999% of socio-cultural discriminatory issues, it began with fear.
Let’s start with the Irish immigrants. Beginning in the 1820s and tapering out in the 20th century, floods of lower class Irish families began to flee the state of economic ruin that the potato famine had left the country of Ireland in. According to the Washington Post article, this time period is where the “image of the Irish terrorist first emerged.” Many Irish nationalists became increasingly politically active, fighting for the independence they wanted for their country mainly through violent acts like “military-style invasion[s]” and countless protests. Americans on the sidelines saw these events as acts of terror, and quickly labeled the Irish in the media as violent, unruly, and most importantly, untrustworthy. Irish immigrants were ostracized, forced into isolated communities, and targeted with racial slurs and violence.
For Italian immigrants, the process was similar. Fleeing political hardship and in search of land to own, families from Italy began to arrive in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. Immediately met with discrimination and disrespect against their culture and ways of living, Italian men had trouble finding work, sometimes having to turn to crime networks in a desperate attempt to support their families.
‘White natives’ were terrified of having their jobs, money, and property taken out from under them, but bottom line they were just afraid. Historically, the ‘white’ party in much of conflict over racial/ethnic tensions is able to construe the story to hide their fears and portray the ‘enemy’ as the one in the wrong, and this is the perfect example. Even when the oppressor and those being oppressed are both ‘white’, there is still someone suffering at the hands of the wealthy and established. Well put by heyyy1234, white people still "reap the benefits of white privilege."
The thing that I think is the most impactful of both the Italian and Irish stereotypes is the way they are portrayed in film and media to this day. There are still characters like Lucky the Leprechaun and songs like “No Irish Need Apply”. The fight scenes in mafia movies are epic, loud and crazy, and these big 'mafiosos' are feared far and wide for the power they are known to possess. Not only is this unrealistic, it is giving the impression that the mafia was full of happy participants, not hard-working fathers who were so far ostracized that they were forced into the business (not to mention the young boys who had no choice from a young age but to be involved in crime against their will).
While, admittedly, the existence of these stereotypes is not nearly as vicious as those aimed towards other groups, the fact that such violent opposition towards immigrants exists is pertinent. People still have trouble getting jobs, political representation, and are ostracized in aspects of their community. The difference is that, gradually, this discrimination is less focused towards newcomers as a whole, but on newcomers with darker skin. How did this happen? I feel like people argue that racism has been ‘dimmed’ or improved over time, but these examples suggest the opposite.
Originally posted by smoothshark on December 04, 2019 22:14
What I find strikingly hypocritical, however, is that Irish and Italian Catholics make up some of the most successful and well-to-do people in our country today. These once targeted immigrants have been incorporated into our society like nothing every happened, yet we are still oppressing and rejecting immigrants predominantly from Spanish speaking countries in 2019.
I really like this point because it raises a lot of questions about immigrants currently facing discrimination. In 50 or 100 or 200 years will everyone just ~forget~ that black and brown immigrants were oppressed? And should we want this? or is that ignoring people's suffering?
As long as you are an incoming minority, you will be discriminated against
No matter where you immigrate, there will always be some sort of judgement made about you. It just so happens that nativist attitudes against newcomers to America was extremely harsh. Immigrants would be labeled with very offensive language and often had difficulty trying to make a living as a result of workplace discrimination. In addition to this, immigrants are known for taking the jobs that nobody wants to take, so it baffles me why Americans would discourage them from taking those jobs.
Unfortunately, similar examples of xenophobic can still be today. Immigration has become a very hot topic in the United States, with it being an expensive process that is said to be accompanied by a 10-20 year period before becoming a citizen. The most frustrating part about the whole thing is that there a people who demand that newcomers should immigrate legally, but at the same time try to make it harder for them to do so. One of the many things that Trump has done while in office is eliminating food stamps for families who depend on them, citing that they would be too much of a financial burden. One of the most horrific demonstrations of anti immigrant behavior is how people react to the detention centers/concentration camps along the border. While they are some who acknowledge that what happens to all the innocent women and children that have been placed there, others have no problem saying that the “illegals” are getting what they deserve. Like how would you feel if you fled with your family to another country for a better life, only to be separated from them and placed in awful living conditions? The US has a very troubled history with gun violence and trafficking among other things, and yet Americans think that they have the right to judge an innocent human being who most likely hadn’t done anything wrong. It is a shame to know that this country hasn’t quite eradicated the xenophobic attitude it has demonstrated back when Irish and Italians first came over, and it will only get worse if we refuse to acknowledge it.
Originally posted by smoothshark on December 04, 2019 22:14
America has always been a country made up of immigrants. Even the first "Americans" came from England, so why do we have a consistent history of excluding and stereotyping the immigrants that come here to help develop our country, and not destroy it? It is safe to say that America doesn't only have an immigration problem, but a race problem. We've subjected the Africans to slavery, and the Catholics to exclusion, so by now these ideas on rejecting "inferior" races and immigrants are ingrained in our country's values. What I find strikingly hypocritical, however, is that Irish and Italian Catholics make up some of the most successful and well-to-do people in our country today. These once targeted immigrants have been incorporated into our society like nothing every happened, yet we are still oppressing and rejecting immigrants predominantly from Spanish speaking countries in 2019. This is an American problem about race and discrimination because Americans are always taught to think that they are the best and anyone else is inferior. Americans also deal with issues of race and immigration so unfairly because they are scared of the unknown, of something that is not "white" or "American". The inconsistencies with modern standards are seen when we read these articles and see that Irish and Italians, who are white, were once persecuted in this country because of their race and background. Therefore, I guess it can be said that in the past the standard in America to be accepted and live a proper life was not that you had to be white, but that you had to be a pure American. This was out of fear. America was a new country and didn't want to be polluted with ideas of other nations. This initial reaction to immigrants was extremely selfish and unreasonable because America owes a lot to the Irish and Italians who did the dirty work to build up our country during the 1850's and later.
An easy solution to America's race and discrimination issue would be to simply open up our eyes and see the good that immigrants have brought to our country instead of look down on them because they are an "other" with different values and beliefs. Well, if we included instead of excluded them we could all share the same values and work alongside immigrants to create a better and more functional country. Once Americans let Irish and Italian immigrants work in their country (even though they exploited them because they agreed to lower wages), Americans pushed past the stereotypes of "lazy," "terrorist," "drunks" until the Irish and Italian immigrants ended up where they are now. I hope this evolution eventually happens with the Spanish speaking immigrants in our country today, but it seems that policies are becoming stricter, and everything is headed towards the polar extremes. I seriously believe everything would be solved if we put immigrants, and minority races in our country in a position to work fairly. This could result in mutual dependence that would only benefit our country, and god forbid subdue discrimination in our judgmental and exclusive country.
It is interesting that in your post you note the idea of repressing the idea of oppression completely through future generations. Therefore, as a modernized society, we have eliminated descretions composed upon Irish and Italian discrimination. Furthermore, as time progresses, while not accouning for lingering stereotypes, will society just plainly "accept'" past mistakes and normalize a specific people's struggles? This is here where the big question lies, that receives a wait and response outcome.