An article by a black writer in an 1860 edition of the Liberator explained how the Irish ultimately attained their objectives: “Fifteen or twenty years ago, a Catholic priest in Philadelphia said to the Irish people in that city, ‘You are all poor, and chiefly laborers, the blacks are poor laborers; many of the native whites are laborers; now, if you wish to succeed, you must do everything that they do, no matter how degrading, and do it for less than they can afford to do it for.’ The Irish adopted this plan; they lived on less than the Americans could live upon, and worked for less, and the result is, that nearly all the menial employments are monopolized by the Irish, who now get as good prices as anybody. There were other avenues open to American white men, and though they have suffered much, the chief support of the Irish has come from the places from which we have been crowded.”
Once the Irish secured themselves in those jobs, they made sure blacks were kept out. They realized that as long as they continued to work alongside blacks, they would be considered no different. Later, as Irish became prominent in the labor movement, African Americans were excluded from participation. In fact, one of the primary themes of How the Irish Became White is the way in which left labor historians, such as the highly acclaimed Herbert Gutman, have not paid sufficient attention to the problem of race in the development of the labor movement.
And so, we have the tragic story of how one oppressed “race,” Irish Catholics, learned how to collaborate in the oppression of another “race,” Africans in America, in order to secure their place in the white republic. Becoming white meant losing their greenness, i.e., their Irish cultural heritage and the legacy of oppression and discrimination back home. Imagine if the Irish had remained green after their arrival and formed an alliance with their fellow oppressed co-workers, the free blacks of the North. Imagine if they had chosen to include their black brothers and sisters in the union movement to wage a class battle against the dominant white culture which ruthlessly pitted them against one another."