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“Not White, Not Quite”

Irish American Identities in the U.S. Census and in Ann Patchett’s Novel ‘Run’

Sarah Heinz

Pages 79 - 100


In most (post)colonial and intercultural systems, white skin has acquired the role of a normative model that has profoundly shaped hierarchies and identities. This paper will assess the role of white identity as the norm by analyzing the ambivalent position of the Irish in America as both white and non-white. Underpinned by findings from whiteness studies, this article will look at data from the U.S. Censuses of 2010, 2000, and 1990 with respect to the categories race, ethnicity, and ancestry. The analysis will then be related to Ann Patchett’s novel Run (2007), in which an Irish American family that adopted two black boys is faced with internal conflicts. The thesis is that in contemporary America, Irishness has become an attractive identity that is white and, at the same time, ethnically specific, an ambivalence that makes it possible to be different and special and to deal with trauma and guilt while enjoying the safety and privilege of whiteness. Irishness and whiteness are therefore flexible categories or self-identifications that are detached from notions of genetics, biology, and heritage and are free to be appropriated by everyone.


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