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Chapter 8 - “Ulster’s White Negroes”

Rhetoric of Race at the Start of the Troubles

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2024

Malcolm Sen
Affiliation:
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Julie McCormick Weng
Affiliation:
Texas State University
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Summary

Political activists during the Northern Ireland Troubles employed racialized rhetoric, comparing the plight of Catholics to that of African Americans. This strategy aimed to frame the conflict for global audiences, establish transnational networks, and gain local support by invoking solidarity with the Black struggle. Some radicals within the movement even embraced the ideology of the Black Panthers and advocated for a similar Catholic Power movement. In contrast, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) took a different approach, using racialized language to portray their conflict with Britain as an anti-colonial struggle and aligning themselves with Africa. However, this Third Worldism approach inadvertently reinforced colonial power dynamics through their choice of rhetoric. Loyalists, on the other hand, openly acknowledged their perceived privileges as white individuals. For instance, when soldiers opened fire on Protestant rioters, loyalists reminded officers of their shared racial identity by stating, we are not wogs. This chapter argues that activists on both sides of the conflict employed racialized language in complex, contradictory, and ambiguous ways. They strategically utilized racial rhetoric for political gain, even in situations unrelated to the start of the Troubles.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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