How The Irish and Jews Became White

How The Irish and Jews Became White

Many people think that Jewish and Irish people were automatically white, but not necessarily so — This blog will show you How  The Irish and Jews Became White.

According to Tamar Fox, History of Jews in Ireland, There were only a handful of Jews living in Ireland, most of whom immigrated due to persecution in other parts of Europe.

Why the Irish Became White

The Irish became white, according to Noel Ignatiev, when they immigrated to America “in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries [because] they were fleeing caste oppression and a system of landlordism that made the material conditions of the Irish peasant comparable to those of an American slave” 1)(Ignatiev 1995, p. 2). When the Irish arrived, they were not seen as equal to White Americans  and were housed into the neighborhoods with African Americans. They had the same status and categorization as African Americans. The Irish quickly discovered the importance of skin color and adopted the ideology of a racial hierarchy that was pervasive in America. The Irish made a conscious choice to enter the white race.

To the Irish, embracing the country’s racial ideologies offered the benefit of a degree of privilege and citizenship that was not provided to African Americans. Becoming white meant that they were not restricted to working and selling their goods in segregated areas. “It meant that they were citizens of a democratic republic and they could vote, live where they wanted to live, and spend without racially imposed restrictions. In becoming white the Irish ceased to be Green” 2)(Ignatiev 1995, p. 3).

The Irish did not just become white because they wanted to be white; Brodkin suggests that they were assisted and supported by Jacksonian Democrats and the white elite. The willingness of the Irish to participate in organized racial violence against African Americans also contributed to their being accepted into the white racial hierarchy3) (Brodkin 1998, p. 65). According to Roediger, the Irish worker embraced white supremacy and thus gained popularity in America: “The success of the Irish in being recognized as white resulted largely from the political power of Irish and other immigrant voters” 4)(Roediger 1991, p. 137).

Whites were collectively so powerful they “…pressure all new immigrants groups, including immigrants of color, to collude in the white racist system by adopting not only general white ways of doing and speaking … but also the white racial frame and its view of the racial hierarchy of U.S. society” 5)(Feagin 2006, p. 292). New immigrants who come into the United States strive to speak, dress, and act white based upon the white racial hierarchy that decides who is white and who is nonwhite. Furthermore, buying into the cultural attributes of whiteness includes internalizing and supporting anti-black sentiment.” ~Joe Feagin

Why Jewish People Became White

The techniques utilized by the Irish to become white resemble the ways in which American Jews became white. For the Jews, becoming white was based on the assistance of the federal government and their willingness to embrace the white racial hierarchy and ideology. According to Brodkin, who is Jewish, all the members of her family had to learn the ways of whiteness through years of socializing with whites. “The myth that Jews pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps ignores the fact that it took federal programs to create the conditions whereby the abilities of Jews and other European immigrants could be recognized and rewarded rather than denigrated and denied” 6)(Brodkin 1998, p. 50).

Jews embraced the country’s racial hierarchy, and they received aid from federal programs set in place after World War II (1939–1945). Many of the programs were designed to discriminate against African Americans who had served in the war. Jews became white and enjoyed the benefits of federal programs such as the GI Bill, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Veterans Administration. These programs overlooked and denied benefits to African Americans. And like other white ethnic groups had done in the past, to prove their commitment to embracing their white status, Jews engaged in racial violence that targeted African-Americans and other people of color.


  • Feagin, Joe. 2006. Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression. New York: Routledge.
  • Feagin, Joe, Hernán Vera, and Pinar Batur. 2001. White Racism: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
  • Ignatiev, Noel. 1995. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge.
  • Roediger, David R. 1991. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso.

References   [ + ]

1. (Ignatiev 1995, p. 2)
2. (Ignatiev 1995, p. 3)
3. (Brodkin 1998, p. 65).
4. (Roediger 1991, p. 137).
5. (Feagin 2006, p. 292)
6. (Brodkin 1998, p. 50)

About Quianna Canada

Quianna Canada is an anti-police brutality activist, author, and opinion writer living in the United States.
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