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Re: the term "Black Irish."

The story I heard about this term is that it refers to Irish people with strikingly black hair. Where did this come from? The story goes that when the Spanish Armada, aiming at invading England in 1588, was blown apart by terrific Channel storms, some of the vessels made their way north, then east, then south down towards Ireland, where some washed up on the Irish shore,where the survivors were rescued and taken in by the Irish. Subsequent intermarriage is said to have introduced the genes producing dark hair on light skinned people.

A fascinating story, if true. Is it?

On the subject of whose race or ethnic group is morally pure when compared with others, I've got an eye-opener for anyone who cares to look into the matter beyond the pot calling the kettle black.

I've been reading Thomas Sowell's "Conquests and Cultures" now in paperback (Basic Books, of Perseus Books Group, 1998). It's the last of a three volume series. Sowell is one of the more interesting historical analysts and writers I've seen, particularly as he is black. He's an independent thinker, born in 1930, and a scholar at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which means he's a conservative sort. He catches a lot of flak from the school of thinking that seems to predominate when it comes to issues of race in America, the notion that American blacks deserve preferential treatment to equalize past inequities, affirmative action programs, etc. Sowell and others argue that such programs reward the wrong people and penalize the wrong people, and therefore cause more resentment than cures for the results of improper treatment in the past.

Sowell argues that dominating groups come and go. Yesterday's top dog is todays downtrodden, and the wheel turns. When the Romans invaded Britain under Caesar in 55 B.C. they were on top for close to 500 years, then they left. The indigenous Britons were the uncivilized conquered people. Indeed, they were repeatedly conquered by Vikings, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Normans from France, and infused with later migrations of Lombards, Flemings, Jews, and many more that I've forgotten. The end result was a Britain that succeeded in ruling the waves and outshining the French, the Dutch, and the city-state-territories of Italy, the former Roman Empire.

The British Empire, beginning, say, around 1805, after the defeat of Napoleon's navy at Trafalgar, embarked on a process of conquest and development that produced colonies around the world that colored the map red, an empire on which the sun never set, it was said.

In addition to bringing western culture and technology to places all over the world, Britain left a trail of human subjugation until it started breaking up, with the Boers in S. Africa rebelling in 1898, and India in 1945, or thereabouts.

The British went from conquered to conquerors.

The Americans pushed west leaving a "trail of tears," massacring Indians who wouldn't get out of the way fast enough.

Scotch-Irish were among the worst offenders.

We see Jews of Israel committing acts against Palestinians that have drawn the condemnation of Amnesty International.

Sowell examines various cultures, civilizations, and ethnic groups, and their progress from conquered to conqueror, or the reverse, including the Slavs, the Spanish in the Americas, the American experience with the Indians, indigenous Africans, and others.

The seemingly inevitable conclusion is that any of us behaves in predictable ways when given the chance to obtain a place in the sun, and it ain't pretty when we do.

So for one group to condemn another may be politically convenient, but incorrect if one takes a longer view and a wider perspective.

Taking the longer view, and wider perspective, may help temper such arguments.

It seems to me that we would be better off asking how we might get along in the future than how we can get even for the past.

All we have to do is to take a look at WWII and Kosovo for the object lessons if we prefer the shorter, narrower, view.

Incidentally, this is the question (how we might try to get along better) that I ask when my kids show great enthusiasm in Mars missions that cost bundles of treasure. Suppose we spent some of that trying to learn how to get along on Earth rather than seeing how much we can spend to save the human race by putting a chosen few on the Moon or Mars. This argument seems destined not to achieve orbit, but I think it's worth posing as a control on over-spending. Maybe we could spend a moderate amount on both efforts.


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