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Tue Nov 12, 2019, 06:41 PM

Noel Ignatiev, scholar who called for abolishing whiteness, dies at 78

I remember the controversy for a couple of reasons. One is my ancestry is Irish, and popular prejudice at one time said the Irish were no better than apes and could never assimilate. (Yet somehow we did.) But mostly I remembered it because it seemed to confirm my personal experience of growing up in Hawai'i: that race and culture are malleable and fluid.

Interesting man, and an interesting obit.


Noel Ignatiev, scholar who called for abolishing whiteness, dies at 78



Ignatiev’s best-known book, “How the Irish Became White,” was immediately influential and controversial upon its publication in 1995. It touched off a firestorm of debate at the time at academic conferences and in the pages of newspapers. In time his view that whiteness is a social and political construction — and not a phenomenon with a biological basis — has become mainstream. The resurgence of white identity politics and white nationalism in recent years made Ignatiev’s arguments relevant to a new generation of readers who argued the notion that race is more about power and privilege rather than about ancestry, or even identity.

The book detailed how the Irish, who had first come to North America as indentured servants and were reviled by the more settled populations of English and Dutch Americans, became, by the mid-19th century, accepted as white. Sadly, Ignatiev argued, the Irish became incorporated into whiteness just before the Civil War, through support for slavery and violence against free African Americans. To become white, Ignatiev wrote, did not mean to be middle class, much less rich, but rather to be accepted as equal citizens and to have access to the same neighborhoods, schools and jobs as others.

“To Irish laborers, to become white meant at first that they could sell themselves piecemeal instead of being sold for life, and later that they could compete for jobs in all spheres instead of being confined to certain work; to Irish entrepreneurs, it meant that they could function outside of a segregated market,” Ignatiev wrote. “To both of these groups it meant that they were citizens of a democratic republic, with the right to elect and be elected, to be tried by a jury of their peers, to live wherever they could afford, and to spend, without racially imposed restrictions, whatever money they managed to acquire. In becoming white, the Irish ceased to be Green.”

Ignatiev’s argument touched off fierce debates; critics argued that he went too far in conflating racial and class privilege. He went on to found and co-edit a journal, known as Race Traitor, whose motto was “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” His ideas seemed extreme for the time; critics called Ignatiev — who was Jewish — divisive, even self-hating.

At a 1997 conference at UC Berkeley, on “The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness,” Ignatiev argued that “whiteness is not a culture but a privilege and exists for no reason other than to defend it.”


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Reply Noel Ignatiev, scholar who called for abolishing whiteness, dies at 78 (Original post)
Hekate Nov 2019 OP
Dream Girl Nov 2019 #1

Response to Hekate (Original post)

Tue Nov 12, 2019, 06:45 PM

1. This is super interesting...was unaware of this as an ideology,"whiteness is not a culture but a

privilege and exists for no reason other than to defend it"

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