A comparative analysis between the downtrodden Irishmen and American Blacks.
Fall Road is deserted. Only a few dirt-caked, barefoot, Irishmen can be seen shivering in the adjacent park. We walk past the Catholic neighborhoods knowing, at any moment, buildings might explode and automatic weapon fire could lacerate the air on every side of us. Belfast is charming, apart from the harsh reality of guerrilla warfare and terrorism being common occurrences. For the first time, throughout my three month tour of seventeen different European countries, I feel truly threatened. The tension carries itself into a nearby pub where an old man asks “Are you jus daft? Or do ya have relatives here?” His words hinted at my grandfather’s blunt, yet kindly, expression concerning his birthplace in N. Ireland, “If you haven’t been there yet, don’t go there.” I can remember the lyrics of a Naughty by Nature song blaring over my car radio, “If you have never been to the ghetto, don’t ever come to the ghetto,” as I put in a tape. My thought stream continues as it takes me to another place where guerrilla warfare and terrorism are a part of daily life. The gunshots and unruly pitbull barking registers over the calm of the wet playground. Trash strings the streets and every dwelling has an eight foot, black, metal fence circuitously about it. Two white faces gape over the hood of a parked Cadillac. Besides the police parked down the block, they are probably the only Caucasians in a five mile square radius. Two companies of drug dealers fire at will scrambling for control of a superior capital making outpost. Even at nine o’clock in the morning the combat tract roars on. I was one of those faces peering over the car hood with horror and revolution in my eyes. N. Richmond is a product of the same type of oppression and violence that hacks deep into the people of N. Ireland. In the logical evolution of an oppressed people a civil rights movement was essential. “It was necessary to bravely confront our most explosive issues as a people: Racial[religious, gender, class…] hierarchy and the maldistribution of wealth and power.” 1If only for a brief moment we achieved this, at least it happened. We must study the past in order to get to the future. If you don’t know where you came from, how can you possibly figure out where you are going and that is why many people stay rooted in the same place. For centuries, England has kept Ireland under its colonial thumb, starving its people and manipulating them as slave labor. England stole much of Ireland’s homeland and gave it to the Protestants allies from Scotland. Earlier this century, England divided Ireland into two, claiming the six northernmost counties as its own. The large number of Protestants, who remain loyal to the Crown of England, have created a system of oppression similar to the Jim Crow laws of the US. Oppression and second-class citizenship have limited the Catholics of N. Irelands opportunities and taken many lives. A Civil Rights movement was the only logical step. But first, we must discuss what lead up to this logical step-the history. In January 1919, the Anglo-Irish War began with the first shots being fired at Solobeghead. Over the next year, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC-British Loyalists) became the target of a Sinn Fein (The beginning roots of the IRA) terror campaign By mid-1919, the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood-Part of Sinn Fein) had infiltrated the leadership of the Volunteers (Irish Militia) and were directing its pace on the violence. In an effort to assert control of the group, Volunteers declared the Army of the Irish Republic. Britain responded with violence. Special forces were sent over to impose curfews and martial law on the Irish. These forces became known as the Black and Tans after a popular Limerick hunt group, and because of their dark green and khaki uniforms. Another force of veterans from the Great War, called the Auxiliaries, joined them. Thus began a pattern of assassination and reprisal. The IRA employed guerrilla tactics, using duck and cover strategies to attack British troops. Their knowledge of the countryside made up for their lack of arms. On 21 November 1920 IRA squad assassinated 14 British officers, effectively destroying the British Secret Service in Ireland. In reprisal, the Black and Tans fired on a crowd watching a football match at Croke Park. Twelve people were killed, including one of the team players. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. After several months of mass bloodshed, a compromise was met and a ‘Treaty of Allegiance to England’ was signed by Ireland. This split the IRA into pro-Treaty or anti-Treaty forces. Treaty loyal troops became the Free State Army, while the anti-Treaty forces became known as the Irregulars. On 6 July 1922, Opponents of the Treaty rallied to the cause. Fighting brakes out in Dublin-the ten-month civil war had begun. The first phase was bloody and brief. The Civil war ends with many of the irregulars still controlling the South. Logically, when the country was split the south was free and the six northern most counties were taken by England and the Northern Protestants. The Catholic minority of the north suffered greatly during the next twenty years of oppression. The IRA was still at work, only it moved more cautiously due to its growing Communist/Marxist nature and some ideological dissension between its members.2 Data exhibits, just as the inner cities of the US, that the rates of poverty, unemployment, serious crime, single-female headed families and welfare dependency in N. Irelands Catholic slums, rose drastically during this time. There was an increase in drugs, alcoholism (in Ireland?!), guns, bombings (from both sides)3 which all created a virtual hell as ravaging as any N. Richmond/E. Oakland-Hunterspoint/if not worse in its own way. Structural discrimination in employment has remained a feature of British government rule in the Six Counties. Discrimination has, in fact, been synonymous with British rule. Unionist loyalty (Northern Protestant)-the rockbed of the British presence – is in part, conditional on the maintenance of the economic privilege, often marginal, which employment discrimination has conferred on unionists.4 In one aspect, unemployment, the situation of Catholics has actually deteriorated. Unemployment in the Six Counties in April 1989 officially stood at 107,623, representing 15.6% of the workforce. Almost half of that figure is Catholic while they only represent less than 20% of the population.5 Discontent with the apartheid system began to emerge in the late `60s and led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (The CRA which was secretly back by the IRA). Its moderate demands were aimed at trying to reform and democratize the state. The issue of partition was not part of its agenda. Unionists, however, interpreted any form of political dissent, however moderate, as a threat to their privileged position and the union with Britain.6 Peaceful civil rights supporters were, due to Protestant paranoia, viciously attacked by the RUC and B-Specials (Both ‘English Suppresser Groups ‘which came out of RIC and the Black and Tans). The violent reaction of the state shocked the world as television cameras relayed scenes of unprovoked attacks on civil rights marches and demonstrations. The British government was not prepared to allow its financial interests to be compromised by widespread political unrest. At 5 p.m. on August 14th, 1969, substantial numbers of British soldiers moved into Belfast and Derry. The British army was injected into the situation under the pagoda cover of being a peace-keeping force deployed “to keep the warring factions apart”. The ‘religious war’ myth was regenerated as justification for the occupation. In reality, it had been introduced as a life-support unit to sustain a state which was under threat of collapse. The bad dream of partition was about to be come the ‘nationalist nightmare’. Within a relatively short period, the British army’s real job became apparent. With the unionist government acting like they still were in control, the actual power behind the throne was the British government’s agent, the British army. Some two decades ago, people in the Six Counties were marching for civil rights, Justice, equality and self-respect. The moderate and just demands of the Civil Rights movement were: One man, one vote (sic); An end to the gerrymandered local government boundaries; An end to discrimination in the allocation of housing; An end to discrimination in employment; and The repeal of the Special Powers Act (SPA). Pursuit of those demands and the North Protestant regime’s reaction to it brought the state to a point of collapse. In one year the civil rights movement had done more to end injustice than fifty years of anti-partion policies had begun to do.7 But, it wasn’t enough and people began to riots; tearing apart the major cities of N. Ireland. Only the life-support system was provided by the British army warded off the collapse, and in the process of attempting to sustain the state they have exacerbated the situation. The protests got rid of the SPA but three equally, if not more, repressive laws have replaced it. Since its birth, the Six-county state has been continuously governed by totalitarian apartheid legislation which continually causes descent among the factions. The provisions and effect of these and other pieces of repressive legislation has meant that: Anyone can be stopped by British forces anywhere, at any time. They must give their name, address, where they are coming from, where they are going to. Anyone can be arrested anywhere, at any time. A detainee can be held for up to seven days for interrogation. More than 60,000 arrests have thus taken place. No further legal action was taken against the overwhelming majority of those arrested. Powers of arrest, therefore, are used largely for purposes of gathering information and intimidation. Some 7,000 people have been charged with politically motivated offenses. A substantial percentage were charged solely on the basis of statements of admission extracted through torture and maltreatment. More than 2,000 people were interned without charge or trial between 1971 and 1975. Extensive powers to search have led to the searching of hundreds of thousands of premises.8 Residences, schools, industrial premises, sports grounds and farmland have been seized for use as military installations due to the British government over extending its powers. Rubber and plastic bullets have been used as a means of intimidating and deterring demonstrations. Since 1973, more than 50 thousand of these lethal projectiles have been fired at the civilian population. Seventeen people, eight of them young children, have been killed, most in circumstances which amount to murder. Hundreds have been seriously injured. Injuries include serious mental and physical disablement. Over 300, mainly unarmed, nationalists have been killed by members of the various security agencies, the British army and the RUC. British forces have been given virtual immunity from conviction. In 20 years, only one British soldier has been convicted for murder while on duty. Despite receiving a life sentence, the soldier was released after serving only two years and three months, and was immediately reinstated in the army.9 As well as the unjust trauma and suffering on the streets, nationalist opponents of British rule in Ireland were selected for very special treatment inside British prisons. The struggle for decent conditions, dignity and recognition as political prisoners has been constant throughout the past 20 years and continues today. Of all the prison campaigns, the most publicized, because of the numbers involved and because of the toll of lives extracted, was the `blanket protest’ which consummated during the hunger-strikes of 1980 and 1981. Deprived of political status in 1975, republican prisoners refused to wear prison uniforms and clad themselves in blankets. Within a short period, the punitive actions of the regime forced them to live in their cells surrounded by their own excrement. Beatings and degradation were used, in an attempt to break the prisoners’ will. For four years, the prisoners persevered in the most awful conditions. On October 27th 1980, a hunger-strike began which was to last 53 Days. It extracted sufficient concessions from the British government to make a settlement possible. Having secured the end of the hunger-strike, the British said they would give in-they lied. A second hunger-strike was initiated on March 1st 1981. It lasted 217 days, ending on October 3rd where the prisoners were given ‘international political status’ and entitled to more rights, which Britain ignores to this day. Civil Rights in Ireland did not accomplish its goals. Since the British government undemocratically and violently created the State of Northern Ireland in 1920, Catholics have been discriminated against in almost every way, particularly in employment. All their many protests failed because the effectiveness of protests depended on the good faith of the British government. That good faith was not there then, it is still not there today. The marching and fasting didn’t work and as of last year- it is back to IRA bombs in London. As W.E.B DuBois put it: “The Irish resist, as they have for hundreds of years, various and exasperating forms of British [colonial] oppression. Their resistance is called crime and under ordinary conditions would be crime; in retaliation not only the ‘guilty’ but the innocent among them are murdered and robbed and public property is burned by English ‘guardians of the Peace’!”10 No one else should be able to understand the history of Ireland better than a black man in the US. It works like this: You kick a man in the head and you have him arrested for assault. You kill a man and hang the corpse for murder. From 1776-1964, 188 years, blacks endured theses conditions all over the United States. It still happens today when the ‘guardians of peace’, the police, abuse their powers and racially biased legislation is passed. Since Irish and African Americans have so much in common, why haven’t they been the best of friends? Commonality often leads to conflict. No people in the world have in the past gone with blither spirits to “kill niggers” from Kingston to Delhi and from Kumassi to Fiji.11 Noel Ignatiev’s “How the Irish Became White” explains the history of how the Irish immigrant rose from racially oppressed to racial oppressor. The oppressed themselves, have continually been used to further domination over others that are oppressed, in the interest of the universal oppressor. This is the only book I know of, to focus not on how the Irish were assimilated but how they assimilated as “whites.” Utilizing newspaper chronicles, memoirs, biographies, and official accounts, Ignatiev traces the history of Irish and African-American relations, revealing how the Irish in America used unions, the Catholic Church and the Democratic party to help gain and secure their newly found place in the ‘White Republic’ and continued to oppress blacks. On their arrival in America, the Irish were thrown together with black people on jobs and in neighborhoods, with predictable results. The Census of 1850 was the first to include a class called “mulattoes”; it enumerated 406,000 nationwide.12 The interaction between Irish and Afro-Americans was not limited to sexual affairs: in New Orleans Irish moved into the black district, and frequented “Black Rookeries”; the Twelfth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was presided over after 1837 by an Afro-American minister and baptismal records for the next twenty years suggest that one-third of the members were Irish.13 But things rapidly changed and “instead of the Irish love of liberty warming America,” the winds of republican slavery blew back to Ireland. The Irish had faded from Green to white, bleached by, as Daniel O’Connell (head of IRA in 1920’s and known throughout Ireland as ‘the Liberator’) put it, something in the “atmosphere” of “America”. Cornel West puts this “atmosphere” into a clear statement: “Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”-they would only be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and others engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity…White poverty could be ignored and whites’ paranoia of each other could be overlooked primarily owing to the distinctive American feature: the basic racial divide of black and white people.”14 This “racial divide” is what caused the evolution of the black Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement was the first mass movement to evolve in the 60’s. But it was not the first time that African Americans had waged struggle against racial oppression. It was the first time that a mass movement emerged under a non-violent ideology. Slave revolts occurred on plantations and even aboard the ships that brought them here from Africa. The Civil War happened to take over the South, not to free the slaves. The northern government didn’t really care about the slave so after the After the Civil War, African Americans lived in a system of neo-apartheid in the South. Whites had developed a system of oppression with total white economic control, exclusion on black people from the political system, racial segregation and the general notion that blacks were inferior to whites. Separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks. “Colored balconies” in movie theaters. Seats in the back of the bus. It may be difficult to believe these were examples of conditions in America less than 40 years ago. The struggle to change these conditions, and to win equal protection under the law for citizens of all races, formed the backdrop of the civil rights movement. What follows is a brief, far from comprehensive timeline of the black civil rights movement in the US. In 1954 the momentous Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court, banned segregation in public schools. The NAACP put this up in court and beat the white supremacist laws down. Then in 1955 the murder of a black youth named Emmett Till, for allegedly whistling at a white woman, triggered black an, for the first time, placed white supremacy in the South in check. Also n 1955 the bus boycott is launched in Montgomery, Alabama after Rosa Parks is arrested on December 1 for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on the bus. She was not the first to do this, but was the first to have received publicity for it because she was the secretary for the local NAACP. In 1956 on December 21 after more than a year of boycotting the buses and a legal fight, the Montgomery buses are desegregate. In 1957, At a previously all-white Central High, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1,000 paratroopers are called by President Eisenhower to restore order and escort “The Little Rock Nine” to attend school. In 1960, the sit-in protest movement begins in February at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and spreads across the nation. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is formed at a meeting organized by Rosa Parks. The SNCC would become a major force throughout the 1960’s. Later, leaders like Stokely Carmichael, would lead blacks into the Black Power Movement which was spawned from Malcom X and the urban ghettos. Then, in 1961 the ‘freedom rides’ begin from Washington, DC, where groups of black and white people ride buses through the South to challenge segregation. Two people are killed, many injured in riots in response to the freedom rides as James Meredith is enrolled as the first black at University of Mississippi. In 1963, police arrest Martin Luther King and many others demonstrating in Birmingham, Alabama, then Bull Connor (police chief) orders fire hoses and police dogs turned on the nonviolent marchers. That same year Medgar Evers, NAACP leader, is murdered June 12 as he enters his home in Jackson, Mississippi. 250,000 people attend the March on Washington, DC urging support for pending civil-rights legislation. The event was highlighted by King’s “I have a dream” speech. On September 15th four girls killed in bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In1964, SNNC and much of the youth of America are unable to agree on which ideology to follow: direct action or revolutionary politics. Three civil-rights workers are murdered that year leading to a more violent opposition by protesters. On July 2, president Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Malcolm X is murdered Feb. 21, 1965. On August 6. President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act, which King and SNCC, registered qualified voters and suspended devices such as literacy tests that aimed to prevent African Americans from voting. During August 11-16 the Watts riots leave 34 dead in Los Angeles. Then in 1968 The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, unleashing violence in more than 100 cities. In order to diversify university enrollment priorities are given to underrepresented minorities. In more resent years, the U.S. Supreme Court outlaws racial quotas in a suit brought by Allan Bakke, a white man who had been turned down by the medical school at University of California, Davis.1989 Douglas Wilder of Virginia becomes the nation’s first African American to be elected state governor. Four years ago, in 1992, the first racially based riots in years erupt in Los Angeles and other cities after a jury acquits LA police officers in the videotape beating of Rodney King, a black man. The Civil Rights Movement made some changes except they all seem to fall short when we look at their results today. The movement was happening in the midst of war over ideology (capitalist vs. socialist) and people felt the need to stick with their country even if it didn’t them serve them and exploited them. The US government continual undermined the movement while it pretended to be helping it. Many of the people involved put their faith in the system and never thought of a revolution to change the system. From the Montgomery bus boycott to the sit-ins to the violent rebellions, black people are still not equal to whites. “Black infants die in America at twice the rate of white infants. (Despite the increased numbers of the middle class blacks, the rates are diverging, with black rates actually rising.) One out of every two black children lives below the poverty line (as compared with one out of every seven white children). Nearly four times as many black families exist below the poverty line as white families. More than 50 percent of African American families have incomes below $25,000 dollars. Among black youth under age twenty, death by murder occurs nearly ten times as often as among whites. Over 60 percent of birth to black mothers occur out of wedlock , more than four time the rate of white mothers. The net worth of the typical white household is ten times that of the typical black household. In many states, five to ten times as many blacks as whites age eighteen to thirty are in prison.”15 Although the US civil rights movement sparked advantageous legislation to be passed, data exhibits that the inner-city, of our country are more hazardous and deplorable residences then ever. The rates of poverty, unemployment, serious crime, single-female headed families, welfare dependency and non-marriage child birth have continued to rise until reaching the combat zones of today. These bullet hole and blood spattered places are growing and are now four to five times bigger than their original sizes in almost all major cities of the United States.16 Death has become an accepted, even expected result of life in the ghetto. In North Richmond and other places like it, children live a life of want, of deeply segregated and ill equipped schools, of gang violence and limited hope. Young men, some as young as 11 and 12, accept with shrugging shoulders that reaching adulthood is not a guarantee. Violent expiration is the swift undercurrent of poverty and hopelessness: it has become an inartistic trait absorbed seamlessly into the weave of culture.17 Killing or being killed are the ultimate signs of status. Those who kill command the most respect. Those who die are revered and memorialized beyond anything they could hope for in life, which isn’t much, considering only a small group of people will treasure their short lives; they truly become ‘just another statistic’. In the slum a pager beacons the message of death: three numbers- 187 those three numbers are self explanatory, their appearance chilling. They represent the penal code designation for murder as well as who is marked for assassination on the street. It is written on the walls. It gives the music its beat. In the ghetto; death is life. Poverty, oppression, and colonization all produce violence and oppression. According to Munoz the only difference between external and internal colonization is the legal status of the colony. A colony can be considered “internal” if the colonized people has the same formal legal status as any other group of citizens, and external if it is placed in a separate legal category.18 According to this definition, African Americans are an internally colonized people while Northern Ireland is an external colony. Both are oppressed people living under exploited conditions maintained by maintained by discriminatory legislation, exclusion from the political system, segregation and violence. Neither has control over the institutions which affect their lives. The result is a community that find itself unhappy, powerless and it people are regarded as second class citizens. From Ireland to America the movements failed to resolve most of the problems they faced. The question is, why? Both movements had the same goal of freedom and equality. Both movements used nonviolent as well as violence to achieve their goals. The nonviolence worked better then the violence in both countries, but the results still fell short of what the people need. Both protesters had internal ideological differences which weakened their sprit and results. Both groups were ‘lead to the far left’ and back again with a group of former participants fighting it all the time. Their communist ideas where not supported by the rest of the populous and this stifled their results. The people of the western world have a very negative view of socialism and without the populations support the movement would die. Both organizations gave up on communism and went back to just plain violence and rioting. All their many protests failed because the effectiveness of protests depended on the good faith of the government. That good faith was not there then, it is still not there today. Laws might of been past to stop the unrest, but laws do not always mean change in a colonial system. To contrast the two movements, besides the obvious religion vs. race, external vs. internal colonization and Britain vs. the United States. The outside views of the movements were probably the main difference that had any affects on the movements. The IRA has always been seen as a terrorist organization rather than a revolutionary one while the most radical Civil Rights organizations in America were always seen as just radical groups. Another important difference to note is the Irish have had very little help from the outside while the American movement had many financial supporters. The cultural differences of both of the oppressing countries also affected the treatment of the people that were incarcerated during the movements. The British government was more open in its outright assassination of movement leader than the US was. The FBI and its CIONTEL program was much more secretive in its sabotage of Civil Right s organizations than the British Army. Both Civil Rights Movements showed that social change could be made by a mass of unskilled, resource-less, people. Even if the changes were small, at least it allowed associations to see that a transformation could be accomplished. You will not find a ‘solution’ in the past; maybe the beginning of a path, but everyone must be willing to walk down it . Only the people of today can change things for the better. History simply shows us how the problem(s) came into being and how the people became what they are. Other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, economics, and even plain common sense may help but in the end human beings in society, as in their private lives, have to work thing out for themselves. We all have a measure choice when it comes to altering their own personal lives. If blame is to be appointed for today’s situation in Ireland as well as America, it should be laid not on the heads of men of today but of history. If a personal villain is sought then perhaps it should be placed on the successive governments of Britain and America who, racked by past events, aborted their responsibilities in Northern Ireland and the ghettos of America. We are all prisoners of history and the views we have learned from it. History is a difficult prison to escape from and the history of America and Ireland are as difficult as any. The Civil Rights Movements were a brief moment of looking past prison walls and coming to the realization of change. But it didn’t last long. As the ‘black rage’ and ‘white backlash’ increased in