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26 Historically Speaking June 2002 LETTERS To the Editors, I was pleased to see Eric Arnesen s "Whiteness and the Historians' Imagination" (February 2002), most of which deals with the debate as to whether the Irish—or really, Irish Catholics—were regarded by "white America " in the mid-19th century as somehow non-white, as we understand this slippery term today. As someone active in the Northern Ireland civil rights movement, and a Ph.D. student at CUNY in comparative politics focusing on ethnicity/nationalism, I was commissioned, in 1971, to do a short book on anti-Irish discrimination in the U.S. Thus did I begin to learn about Irish immigration in the first one hundred years of American independence, and the reaction thereto, with an emphasis on New York City. In the mid-1990s I was drawn back into the debate on Irish immigration and New York history by the controversy over the "Gaelic Gothic" exhibition at the Museum ofthe City ofNew York, which coincided with the birth of the "Irish were black" movement. I write particularly to report on my encounter with Noel Ignatieff, author ofHowthe Irish Became White. He was speaking to promote his book at the Center for Alternative Education in New York. I took his title to be an amusing way ofmaking an overly exaggerated point. I was surprised to realize that he was dead serious, and seemed to be cross with anyone in the audience who thought he was using this as a metaphor. He fails to realize that "race" was often used in a "poetic" way which was not intended to have hierarchical or exclusive implications. Recently, I was passing the Kossuth monument on Riverside Drive in Manhattan , and saw this inscription, dated 1928: "From a race ofFreedom Loving Americans ofMagyar Descent." (Parse that for scientific orpseudo-scientific meaning.) Here is another example: in 1917 Irish-American nationalists convened the Irish Race Convention. Does that mean they thought ofthemselves as non-white? Ignatieffclaims that Irish Catholic exclusion from whiteness did not begin in America but in 18th-century Ireland. He relies on the usual legal-literalism concerning anti-Catholic penal laws—most ofwhich were never enforced and never intended to be enforced—not realizing that the actual penalties (on Catholic landowners ) had no effect on the mass ofpoor people one way or the other. Further, Catholics in Ireland had the option of converting to Protestantism, which makes a comparison with African-Americans problematic. There were never mass conversions to Protestantism but they did occur. Many American journalists believe they can tell an Ulster person's religion by his family name, but that is highly unreliable. I don't know a family name in Ulster which is not found on both sides of the ethno-sectarian divide. Robert St-Cyr Blackwater Valley Museum To the Editors, Roger Emerson is a valued friend and colleague, who knows far more about Enlightenment in Scotland than I ever shall. The issue between us is whether I can write ofthis subject—especially when using thephrase "The Scottish Enlightenment"—without binding myselfto depict it in all the fullness ofwhich he is capable , so that I may be at fault ifI do not attempt this. I shall try to show that this question is based on a methodological confusion: a reification, based on a widespread misuse of language, which has so far bedeviled his thought that he several times accuses meofsaying things which I specifically said I was not saying. How has this confusion come about? On the cover of the February 2002 Historically Speaking in which Emerson's communication was published , there appeared the words, "What Was The Enlightenment?" They were not Emerson's; he had chosen his own title; but they offer agood starting-point for discussion ofthis question. It is my position that we do better to avoid the term "The Enlightenment;" not because there was no such thing as Enlightenment but because there were too many thingsgoing on to which it is helpful to apply the term, and consequently too many ways in which it is useful to employ the word, to leave it desirable to lump them all together and treat them as a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 26-28
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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