Kiss Me, I’m 1/16 Irish: African-, Irish-, and the Hyphenated-Americans

Kiss Me, I’m 1/16 Irish: African-, Irish-, and the Hyphenated-Americans

The Huffington Post

Theodore Johnson, Op-Ed Columnist, 2012 White House Fellow

Years ago, I spent Saint Patrick’s Day in an Irish pub singing ditties with a restaurant full of my newest friends—and left feeling a little green with envy. The Irish-American traditions and fare were in full swing and exposed me to a culture I’d never really considered while growing up in a sleepy North Carolina suburb. This year I find myself brewing a homemade dark beer and casually searching the Internet for “Kiss me, I’m 1/16 Irish” buttons. As an African-American, this feels a bit weird.

I’m pretty sure my Irish great-great grandfather would not be thrilled about this. A discreet encounter—either an isolated incident or part of an ongoing relationship, the family lore is unclear—led to the hazel-eyed and blonde-haired African-Americans present at my family cookouts today. It’s in moments like these that I wonder about the utility of what President Theodore Roosevelt once called “hyphenated Americanism.”

The plights of the Irish and blacks in America are extremely different, but share some similarities. In the 19th century, particularly after slavery, both were considered to be the lowest rungs of society. Irish were sometimes thought of as black people “turned inside out,” and blacks as “smoked Irish.” Historians have written that the indigent, chattel state of the two groups led to such a high number of interracial marriages that the term “mulatto’s” first official use was to record this phenomenon in the 1850 Census. In the earliest 20th century, the Irish and blacks all along the eastern seaboard continued to compete for work and live in close proximity, until the race divide became the chasm that even class could not bridge…

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