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This essays offers a close examination of Mat Johnson's critically acclaimed novel, Loving Day (2015). Johnson, born to an Irish American father and African American mother, is often read under the auspices of African American or mixed-race literature. I argue, however, that Loving Day can also be fruitfully read as an Irish American text. Through the protagonist's evolving understanding of his racial and ethnic affiliations, the novel challenges long-held, tacit assumptions about the linkage of whiteness and Irish American identity. It both underscores the deeply contextualized nature of white ethnic identity in multiracial individuals and suggests how we might more fruitfully engage with current discussions of race and belonging.
I argue that Johnson provides an essential challenge to Irish American studies, which needs a clearer separation between Irish American identity and whiteness as more than a strategy to ignore the ways in which the Irish have benefitted, in America and elsewhere, from white privilege. While the association of whiteness and Irish American ethnicity has generally limited the extent to which Irish American identity has been seen as capable of being integrated into multiracial America, Loving Day expands definitions of Irish American identity by placing it in dialogue with changing notions of racial identification in the United States. Ultimately, the novel functions as a paradigmatic text for thinking about how Irish American identity is reconfigured amid changing models of racial identification in contemporary America.