How Stereotypes of the Irish Evolved From ‘Criminals’ to Cops

How Stereotypes of the Irish Evolved From ‘Criminals’ to Cops

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New York’s longest-serving police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, is an Irish-American. So is the department’s current commissioner, James O’Neill. Municipal police departments across the country celebrate the role of Irish-American cops with Emerald Societies—and there’s historic reason for all of this. Through the 20th century, Irish-Americans dominated many urban police departments. To some extent, they still do today.

The flood of Irish into law enforcement in the second half of the 19th century was particularly striking because, just a couple of decades earlier, city authorities had viewed Irish immigrants as the source of a serious crime problem. In fact, to a large extent, northern U.S. cities invented their police departments as a way to control the Irish “problem.”

In the mid-19th century—and particularly after the Great Famine that ravaged Ireland in the late 1840s—families fled to America with no money to buy land, ending up in the growing shantytowns and slums of cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston. They took the jobs they could get—as unskilled laborers or domestic servants, making very little money. Like other struggling groups before them, some turned to petty theft or sex work to make ends meet.

But it wasn’t just crime that worried the authorities. Historian James Barrett, author of The Irish Way, says anti-Catholic prejudice, combined with cultural differences, made the influx of Irish families seem particularly threatening. Irish immigrants of the era mainly came from the countryside, where a rougher way of life, including drinking and clashes between rival clans, was common. In the tightly packed urban neighborhoods of a country gripped by temperance fever, it created a powder keg.

“Most historians would agree that there was very strong prejudice” against the Irish, Barrett explains. “That translates into a lot of different things, like problems getting jobs.”

One early, violent clash came in 1837 in Boston, when an Irish funeral procession blocked a volunteer firefighting company—made up of American-born Protestants—returning from a fire. As history blogger Patrick Browne writes, the riot that followed involved 15,000 people, about a fifth of the city’s population. “Yankees” ransacked and virtually destroyed the city’s Broad Street Irish neighborhood, though the only people convicted in the wake of the riot were Irish-Americans.

Police did nothing to stop the Broad Street Riot because formal police squads didn’t yet exist. According to Marilynn S. Johnson, a history professor at Boston College, by the 1830s, southern communities had already created the forerunners of modern police departments in the form of slave patrols. But northern cities still relied on a volunteer watch system, in which male citizens served a few hours a week. That wasn’t sufficient to handle changing urban dynamics.

“New immigrant groups were moving into the cities, labor conflict was developing, and gang activity was developing, pitting groups from different ethnicities and neighborhoods against each other,” says Johnson. “So you start seeing the formation of urban police departments.”

READ MORE: When Irish-Americans Attacked Canada—With the White House's Blessing

The year after the Broad Street Riot, Boston created the nation’s first full-time police department, followed by New York in 1845. But there was barely a pretense of professional training or discipline among these early police forces. “There was a lot of just random beating up of people to ‘keep order,’” Johnson says.

The new police departments shifted the role of law enforcement from apprehending criminals to preventing crime by proactively controlling the “dangerous classes,” writes Garry Potter, professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. That often meant arresting poor city dwellers for disorderly conduct or public drunkenness.

In many cities, Irish-Americans were considered a prime example of a “dangerous class,” which meant no one was going to hire them to work in the nascent police departments.

“By the 1840s there’s all this anti-Catholic, anti-Irish fervor in urban areas, so it made sense to a lot of nativists that ‘of course we’re not going to hire Irish cops,’” says Meaghan Dwyer-Ryan, a historian at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Historians generally agree that the country’s first Irish policeman was Barney McGinniskin, a Boston laborer hired to the police department in 1851. But McGinniskin’s career was a short, troubled one. According to Peter F. Stevens, author of Hidden History of the Boston Irish, one alderman objected to his appointment on the grounds that hiring an Irish cop would create a “dangerous precedent,” since “Irishmen commit most of the city’s crime and would receive special consideration from one of their own wearing the blue.”

McGinniskin lost his job after just three years, when the fiercely nationalist, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party took control of the Massachusetts legislature.

Mass hiring of Irish police officers would have to wait until Irish voters gained political power in the cities, which they did over the next few decades. Given the large and growing Irish populations in many urban areas, Democratic Party leaders quickly found that it was a good idea to seek their votes. “How do you get votes?” Dwyer-Ryan says. “You do favors. You get them jobs.”

Eventually, the hiring of a few Irish policemen led to many more, as cops helped their friends get jobs. Barrett notes that the structure of Irish-American life lent itself particularly well to this kind of networking. Close-knit Catholic parishes and county organizations—based on where Irish members’ families came from—functioned as employment networks.

Many decades after the major wave of Irish migration, remnants of that system remained in place, says Barrett, whose father was a police officer. “My father says that it was common within police departments for people to ask what county you were from,” he said. “People identified that way well into the 20th century.”

Eventually, many party machines were not just supported by the Irish but led by them. When Tammany Hall’s infamous Boss Tweed was thrown out in 1872, his successor was “Honest John” Kelly, an Irish Catholic who created a more systematic spoils system to distribute work to party supporters in New York.

But even as the Irish came to play an outsize role at city halls and police departments, they were also major forces in street gangs and organized crime all the way into the early 20th century. “There are some really extreme cases where you even find [gangsters and cops] in the same family,” says Barrett.

At the same time, more Southern and Eastern European immigrants, and African-Americans from southern states, were arriving in northern cities, creating new tensions for Irish cops. “They still beat up Irish people—Irish suspects—but they’re also dealing in a more hostile way with newcomers,” Johnson says. During riots, she notes, it was common for Irish police to join forces with Irish mobs against less politically powerful Italians, Jews or African-Americans.

Over time, these groups—and others that came after them—did their own political organizing to gain power in city government and police departments. Meanwhile, Americans with Irish heritage spread far beyond the cities and now number more than seven times higher than the population of Ireland itself. But Irish-Americans, who began their rise to power at the very birth of modern policing, still maintain an important presence in many police departments to this day.

Irish Immigrant Stereotypes and American Racism

In this essay, Kevin Kenny examines a British political cartoon to raise questions about the transatlantic nature of anti-Irish prejudice and its relationship to the history of racism in America.

The Most Recently Discovered Wild Beast
Source: Judy, or The London Serio-Comic Journal, August 3, 1881

“The Most Recently Discovered Wild Beast” (1881) is one of a series of nineteenth-century images portraying the Irish as violent and subhuman. In the U.S. survey I use images of this sort when examining the history of anti-immigrant prejudice and its relationship to American racism.

Native-born Americans criticized Irish immigrants for their poverty and manners, their supposed laziness and lack of discipline, their public drinking style, their catholic religion, and their capacity for criminality and collective violence. in both words and pictures, critics of the Irish measured character by perceived physical appearance.

Political cartoons such as the “Wild Beast” offered an exaggerated version of these complaints. The Irish-American “Dynamite Skunk,” clad in patriotic stars and stripes, has diabolical ears and feet and he sports an extraordinary tail. around his waist he is wearing an “infernal machine,” a terrorist bomb that was usually disguised as a harmless everyday object, in this case a book. in the cage next to him, sketched in outline, is a second beast.

The Wild Beast image is especially interesting because it places American history in a transatlantic framework. the cartoon comes from a British satirical magazine called Judy and is part of a transatlantic discourse of anti-Irish prejudice. It captures a significant moment in Irish and Irish-American history known as the “New Departure,” which briefly united the main elements of Irish social and political protest in a powerful transatlantic coalition.
The United States was home to some of the leading Irish nationalists and social reformers, including Patrick Ford, the editor of the Irish World, a radical New York newspaper subtitled “An American Advocate of Indiscriminate Murder” in this image. Irish extremism, as the British saw it, was “Bred in the United States.”

Although the Wild Beast is an Irish-American, he is being held captive in Britain, as indicated by the figure of the policeman. The central action involves a girl held aloft to present the beast with a “Concession to Violence.” she represents the “Irish Land Bill,” a reform measure designed to defuse social tensions in Ireland. The nursemaid holding her aloft turns out to be Prime Minister William Gladstone, the chief supporter of the bill.

Gladstone’s appeasement of violence, the cartoon suggests, will only intensify Irish extremism. two figures in the image embody the loyal and moderate Irish – the woman in the background who addresses the beast in a typically Irish idiom (“Bad luck to ye! You murderin’ thief”) and the man to her left, brandishing a shillelagh. But Gladstone, his face set in stolid determination, is oblivious to his surroundings. And the policeman is so self-enamored that he has closed his eyes. British officialdom remains blissfully unaware of the consequences of making concessions to violence. Meanwhile, the Irishman to the right adds a sinister dimension to the proceedings.

This man is tearing up a copy of Patrick Ford’s Irish World, a significant source of inspiration and financial support for the Wild Beast. Yet his demeanor is more menacing than pacific his action is violent, not moderate and he moves furtively, with his back turned to Gladstone and the main action. He has the air of someone who has achieved just the outcome he wanted. In both posture and self-awareness, he neatly inverts the figure of the policeman, whom he otherwise resembles. Is he an Irish-American lurking within the crowd? Or an Irish resident of Britain newly inspired by American extremism? Either way he remains dangerously unobserved – except by the Wild Beast.

Beyond this Irish nationalist context, the Wild Beast image also needs to be interpreted with reference to the larger history of racism in American history. The form of prejudice on display here flourished from about 1845 to 1880, the period when Irish global migration reached its peak and Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species (1859). Ff gorillas were to be man’s closest relatives, then some breeds of men – especially the Irish – might at least be closer to the apes than others.

Crude versions of Darwinism offered a ready-made explanation for Irish violence in the United States. The New York City draft riots of 1863, the Molly Maguire case in Pennsylvania in the 1870s, and the exploits of Irish nationalists who, like the Wild Beast were prepared to use physical force to liberate Ireland from British rule – these events and many others called forth an explanation of Irish immigrants’ depravity that cast them as inherently violent, savage by nature. But was this really a discourse about race?

Some historians detect in anti-Irish prejudice a full-fledged racism of the kind endured by African-Americans. the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic were subject to vicious caricatures and stereotypes, to be sure. yet in neither Britain nor America did this prejudice translate into a system of racial subordination enshrined in law. Unlike African-Americans, the Irish could become citizens, vote, take legal suits, and move freely from place to place. In the end, then, images such as “The Wild Beast” tell us more about the middle-class creators and consumers of political cartoons than about how the Irish actually lived their lives.

When the Irish Weren’t White

“[T]hey steal, they are cruel and bloody, full of revenge, and delighting in deadly execution, licentious, swearers and blasphemers, common ravishers of women, and murderers of children.” Edmund Spencer

“The emigrants who land at New York, whether they remain in that city or come on in the interior, are not merely ignorant and poor—which might be their misfortune rather than their fault—but they are drunken, dirty, indolent, and riotous, so as to be the objects of dislike and fear to all in whose neighbourhood they congregate in large numbers.” James Silk Buckingham

These are not quotes from a Trump rally or an “alt-right” message board. These are historical statements from yesteryear describing a despised race of people in America. They are indicative of the sentiment of white people throughout this country who thought a subhuman species good for nothing but work and servitude might ruin America with their crime, poverty and interbreeding with white women. They were not referring to Africans, Mexicans or Muslims.

They were talking about the Irish.

First, we should get this out of the way: One of the favorite recurring themes of racists in America is the idea that the Irish came to America as slaves and had it as bad as, or worse than, Africans. According to these “racialists,” the European blood in the Irish made them pull themselves up by their bootstraps and integrate themselves into the opening arms of American liberty. They never bitched and moaned about their situation, so .

All of this is wrong. In fact, it is too stupid to give space, credence or words, so read where it is debunked here and here .

But as we celebrate the first St. Patrick’s Day of the Trumpian era, we should remember when America passed laws against another group of immigrants. We should recall when this country tried to ban another group of people based on their religion. We should never forget that both “American” and whiteness are sociopolitical constructs that have evolved over a long period of time, always seeking exclusion and supremacy, and it was not so long ago that Irish Americans were on the outside looking in.

In his book The Renegade History of the United States , Thaddeus Russell explains that the first large wave of Irish immigrants worked low-paying jobs—mostly building the canals along the Canadian border—that other Americans wouldn’t do. Like finding out a song you thought was new is actually a 100-year-old remake, the Irish were simultaneously accused of stealing all the good jobs and branded as “lazy” and “shiftless.” They were also thought to be the nonwhite “missing link” between the superior European and the savage African based on stereotypes from the early American media, according to the Boston Globe :

In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunken brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.

In 1798, Congress passed three “ Alien Acts ” based mainly on fears of Irish-Catholic, anti-immigrant sentiment. These new laws gave the president the power to stop immigration from any country at war with the U.S. and the right to deport any immigrant, and made it harder for immigrants to vote. Then, again in the late 1840s, a nationalist political group called the Know-Nothings sprang from a populist movement of poor whites who were dissatisfied with the two-party system and started the American Party, intent on preserving America’s culture by restricting immigration, especially from Catholic countries —including by Irish Catholics. They managed to get candidates elected into the highest political offices in America, including a president .

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

So how did the Irish become white?

Russell suggests they did it by coalescing their political power while simultaneously assimilating into the American mainstream, specifically with jobs in civil service (which is why most cities’ St. Patrick Day parades are ostensibly celebrations of police and fire departments):

In 1840, at the beginning of the great wave of Irish immigration, there was only a handful of Irish police officers on the force. . By the end of the year, Irish made up more than one-quarter of the New York City police, and by the end of the century, more than half the city’s police and more than 75 percent of its firefighters were Irish Americans. In addition, Irish were disproportionately represented among prosecutors, judges and prison guards. Soon, the Irish cop was a stock figure in American culture. Once known as apelike barbarians, the Irish were now able to show themselves as the most selfless and patriotic civil servants.

In his book How the Irish Became White , author Noel Ignatiev notes, “While the white skin made the Irish eligible for membership in the white race, it did not guarantee their admission they had to earn it.” Ignatiev and other scholars argue that the sons of Ireland gained their white status by joining the fight against abolition and uniting in the suppression of blacks—embracing the oldest American tradition of them all: racism.

“While Irish American repealers maintained a pride and love for their homeland, they acted unabashedly American in the way they dealt with the slavery controversy.”—Angela F. Murphy in American Slavery, Irish Freedom: Abolition, Immigrant Citizenship, and the Transatlantic Movement for Irish Repeal

But there is a simpler, less complex explanation for how this country eventually came to view the Irish as regular, good, American white people:

“Whiteness” isn’t real. Ultimately, race is a social construct, and “white” is just some dumb shit that people made up a long time ago to build a fence around their idea of self-supremacy. The Irish didn’t suddenly calm down, put down the Guinness, put their noses to the grindstone and work their way into an exclusive club. They had the same historical trajectory in America as the Polish, Italians and Jewish people. Their melanin-less skin just afforded them an opportunity to blend in that black people will never get.

The “great white race” is as real as a mermaid riding a unicorn on the back of a dragon while listening to dope lyrics from Lil Uzi, and that’s why white supremacy is so stupid. People who perpetuate that bullshit should be paid the same attention as alt-right advocates, Hoteps, flat-earthers and anyone who owns an Iggy Azalea album.

So later tonight, as you’re kneeling by the toilet blowing chunks of corned beef and green beer, if you start thinking about how poorly we treat immigrants and how we live in a new era of intolerance and hate, just remember how the Irish became white. Because just like St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, whiteness and racism itself—it’s an American tradition that has existed for a long time.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

Katz and Braly (1933) – Racial Stereotyping

Katz and Braly (1933) – Racial Stereotyping

Aim : To investigate the stereotypical attitudes of Americans towards different races.

Method: Questionnaire method was used to investigate stereotypes. American university students were given a list of nationalities and ethnic groups (e.g. Irish, Germans etc.), and a list of 84 personality traits. They were asked to pick out five or six traits which they thought were typical of each group.

Results: There was considerable agreement in the traits selected. White Americans, for example, were seen as industrious, progressive and ambitious. African Americans were seen as lazy, ignorant and musical. Participants were quite ready to rate ethnic groups with whom they had no personal contact.

Conclusion: Ethnic stereotypes are widespread, and shared by members of a particular social group.

What Are Some Common Stereotypes About Irish People That Are Largely Untrue?

This question originally appeared on Quora. By Domhnall O'Huigin, 96% human

Unfortunately, as regards the most common stereotypes, I must challenge the premise of the question that any of these are 'largely untrue.'.

1. Common stereotype: The Irish are all drunks!

"But Ireland has the highest proportion of non-drinkers per capita!"

Find me a single recent study to support this oft-quoted contention. Please, I'm begging you: I want to shove it down peoples' throats too. But if it was once true, it isn't any longer. Possibly fueling the longevity of this urban legend is the fact that the Catholic alcohol abstinence movement, The Pioneers (not to be confused with various youth organisations in former Communist countries, well, not much at any rate), was formed in Ireland [2].

Furthermore, anecdotal evidence conducted through the lens of the bottom of my pint glass tells me that even when other, larger countries (e.g. France) drank more than us (in 2000 for example), their pattern of drinking was completely different. To continue with France as an example, French adults would typically drink alcohol every day, but this is a glass of wine with lunch, another with dinner and so on. Irish people may not, as a rule, drink every day, but we 'save up' and go mental at the weekend or special occasions. This accounts for the 'paradox' of how some countries can approach our level of consumption without our reputation for excess - they drink as a civilised, adult pleasure, to be enjoyed in moderation we drink like it was going out of fashion.

Don't believe me? Want more citations? Here are some public Dublin webcams [3]. Log on to any of them, any of them at, say, 03:00 on a Friday night/Saturday morning and watch the mayhem and madness.

2. Common stereotype: The Fighting (" foightin' ") Irish.

The reality: Ireland is a remarkably violent country.

For example, the U.S. has a violent crime rate of 429.4 per capita [4].

Ireland has an assault rate of 347.9 for the same period [5].

"But that's great! Almost ten points less violent than the U.S.! Well done, the Irish!"

Yeah. Until you consider the following two facts:

i. No guns (or very, very few) in private ownership in Ireland.

ii. The Irish figure above is for assault only , whereas the U.S. figure is for all violent crime (e.g. including homicides, excluded from the Irish figure) - the two countries simply do not record crimes in the same way, due to different legislation in each jurisdiction.

Anecdotal supporting evidence:

The [old fashioned] U.S. slang for a brawl is called a "Donnybrook" [6], after the location in Dublin [7] where faction fights took place in the 19th century.

Donnybrook was once the location of Donnybrook Fair , a fair held from the time of King John onwards, which became notorious for drunkenness and violent disorder.

Spotting a theme here perhaps?

Anecdotal supporting evidence II: This Time It's Serious.

The common theme is of course alcoholic excess+violence. The inter-relationship here is well established, especially in Ireland, somewhat the "patient zero" for researchers in this field [8].

  • 76% of all rape defendants had been drinking at the time of the alleged offence.
  • Alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 97% of public order offenses as recorded under the Garda PULSE system.
  • One in eleven, or approximately 318,000 of the full adult population, said that they or a family member were assaulted by someone under the influence of alcohol in the past year.
  • Almost half of the perpetrators of homicide were intoxicated when the crime was committed.

So the question remains, are we violent when we aren't pissed? This is more difficult to answer, and not only because I don't remember (because I was pissed). Well .. .we've been fighting for our nationhood for 800+ years, although that was hardly our fault.

It is remarkable to note however that when we ran out of foreign invaders to fight we had a civil war [9]. If we'd run out of Irish people to fight, I firmly believe we would have started fights with rocks, the ocean, the sun, and anything else that was looking at us funny.

3. Common stereotype: The Irish all have red hair.

The reality: Ok, obviously we don't all have red hair, I answered on another Irish phenotype here:Domhnall O'Huigin's answer to Who are the Black Irish?

But an estimated 10% of the population [10] have some variety of the hair that is called 'red,' way above the average. And the highest is Scotland at 13%, and while Scotland is absolutely it's own nation with a proud and unique heritage, the fact is there isn't a lick of difference between the Scots and the Irish not in culture, ethnicity, etc.

So in short, yes: noticeably more red-heads than lesser countries. So come over, bring your anti-redhead prejudices too, so we can practice stereotype #2 on them, which is to say you.

4. Common stereotype: Irish people are all fabulously articulate, skilled wordsmiths and poets just generally wonderful with language basically.

"Oh Oscar , how witty and wonderful with words you are!".

The reality: out of all of the stereotypes in this answer, this is probably the most ambiguous as regards its truth.

On the one hand: Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett, Edmund Burke, George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, Seamus Deane, James Joyce, R.B. Sheridan, Flann O'Brien, Sean O'Casey, Oliver Goldsmith, Jonathan Swift etc. etc. etc. etc. [11], [12].

It is also a fact that as the underdog, and/or new immigrant to a new land, and/or being denied by law our language and education [13], we took a bardic tradition of fluency and story telling and gave it even more importance in our society, one that survives to this day. Fluency, verbal dexterity, and wit are premium qualities in Irish society in the 21st Century as much perhaps as they were in the 1st.

1 in 4 Irish adults has difficulty with reading, writing, and maths. [14].

That is a pretty damning (and damn scary), not to say shaming, national statistic. Fine, so they are including numeracy there but still.

So don't expect the red-haired, drunken Irish yob who attacks you to always be able to delight you with his lyrical language gymnastics while doing so, as you have a 25% chance of getting the other kind.

Well all the Irish people you have heard of are pretty good with words, true but it isn't part of our DNA or anything - you can be Irish and be rubbish with language - you don't have your citizenship revoked.

In summary, I started answering this question fully intending to debunk all these ridiculous and offensive or lazy stereotypes, and I found out while researching the answer that they were mostly true, so I changed my mind and my answer and decided to challenge the premise instead (admittedly this assumes my common stereotypes are the ones the questioner had in mind - always a dangerous assumption but one I am willing to volunteer you for).

Don't let them put you off us or our country though, please. We really aren't drunk all the time (I'm only half-cut right now, for example), and we usually fight with each other instead of strangers - we pride ourselves on our hospitality (another cliché that is true: the Irish really are welcoming). Just leave your prejudice against red-heads at home when doing so and indulge us in our ways.

Sure we're harmless really:

The whole race is war-mad, says Strabo, high-spirited and quick to fight, but otherwise straightforward and not at all of evil character.

"For the Great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry

And all their songs are sad."

The idea that there is some primordial Irish 'authenticity' is a fallacy – Dr Harvey O'Brien

"While remembering it's not fair to judge a film on its trailer, the accents are all over the place," admonishes Gerry Grennell, performance and dialogue coach at Dublin's Bow Street Academy for Screen Acting. "Things aren't helped by the writing, which is the same 'faith and begorrah, top o' the mornin', may the road rise to meet you' rubbish that was old hat in the 1940s. It's pretty dismal." However Grennell, who has helped Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp polish their respective brogues, still maintains the Irish are too thin-skinned when it comes to non-Irish actors attempting an Irish accent. "We have to get over ourselves, and I include myself in that. Global audiences are not looking at films made in or about Ireland for a perfect rendition of a native accent or an accurate reflection of the country. They're looking for connections in the story that mirror their own lives, wherever they might be watching from." They'll be watching from the US in the first instance, with the Bleeker Street production being released in selected cinemas and on streaming platforms there today – and many of the reviews so far have doubled-down on the advance ridicule. Indiewire's David Ehrlich says this "soda farl of banter and blarney couldn't be a broader caricature of Irish culture if it were written by the Keebler elves and directed by a pint of Guinness" while The A.V. Club critic Katie Rife notes that "the characterisations, motivations, dialogue, and acting in this film are all so clumsy and baffling that a bad regional inflection is just one sin among many."

What is 'Irishness'?

When depicting ethnicity and nationality on screen, there is a fine line between useful shorthands and reductive stereotypes. The French like wine, cheese and adultery, movies tell us, while Italians go in for tiny coffees and big hand gestures. It's all too easy to use broad cultural signifiers as sticks to trounce subtlety and nuance and Hollywood likes easy. All the clichés we have come to expect from American films set in Ireland are present and correct in the Wild Mountain Thyme trailer: wince-inducing accents that turn the simplest sentence into a lilting song, lashings of rain, astroturfed landscapes, slow-witted boyos and love-lorn girleens.

"Most stories told about Ireland are not for the Irish who live in Ireland, so 'Irishness' in Hollywood only serves the needs of those who will pay to see it. You're not obliged to. Unless you're teaching Irish cinema…" says Dr Harvey O'Brien, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at University College Dublin, who questions the idea that film-makers can faithfully portray some nebulous concept of 'Irishness' in the first place. "There are many varieties and shadings in what Ireland and the Irish stand for, and that’s often to do with context and setting, particularly in history. The idea that there is some primordial Irish 'authenticity' is a fallacy."

But our general sensitivities around how Irish characters are portrayed on screen, often by non-Irish actors, begs the question, in cinematic terms then, who are we? "It's the oldest question in the book. Several books, actually," O’Brien says. "Fundamentally, Irishness in Hollywood is still code for a certain kind of ancestral rural whiteness from which more advanced societies have evolved, but which is still perfectly preserved somewhere in the psychic museum."

John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, is Hollywood's quintessential Irish fantasy (Credit: Alamy)

How Stereotypes of the Irish Evolved From ‘Criminals’ to Cops - HISTORY

In the last few hundred years, dark-skinned peoples have been likened to apes in an effort to dehumanize them and justify their oppression and exploitation. This is familiar to most Americans as something that is done peculiarly to Black people (as examples, see here, here, and here). The history of U.S. discrimination against the Irish, however, offers an interesting comparative data point. The Irish, too, have been compared to apes, suggesting that this comparison is a generalizable tactic of oppression, not one inspired by the color of the skin of Africans.

Irish woman, “Bridget McBruiser,” contrasted with Florence Nightengale:

A similar contrasting of the English woman (left) and the Irish woman (right):

Cartoon facing off “the British Lion” and “the Irish monkey”:

An Irishman, looking decidedly simian, in the left of this cartoon:

The Irish and the Black are compared as equally problematic to the North and the South respectively. Notice how both are drawn to look less human:

A depiction of an Irish riot (1867):

An Irishman, depicted as drunk, sits atop a powderkeg threatening to destroy the U.S.:

Two similar cartoons from the same source:

About this cartoon, Michael O’Malley at George Mason University writes:

In this cartoon, captioned “A King of -Shanty,” the comparison becomes explicit. The “Ashantee” were a well known African tribe “shanty” was the Irish word for a shack or poor man’s house. The cartoon mocks Irish poverty, caricatures irish people as ape like and primitive, and suggests they are little different from Africans, who the cartoonists seems to see the same way. This cartroon irishman has, again, the outhrust mouth, sloping forehead, and flat wide nose of the standard Irish caricature.

So, there you have it. Being compared to apes is tactic of oppression totally unrelated to skin color — that is, it has nothing to do with Black people and everything to do with the effort to exert control and power.

For more on anti-Irish discrimination, see our post on Gingerism. And see our earlier post on anti-Irish caricaturein which we touched on this before.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture a textbook about gender and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Comments 141

Jfruh &mdash January 28, 2011

One thing I find interesting is the (possible?) connection between use of apes as a stand-in for "subhumans" and the theory of evolution. Do any of the cartoons here predate the publishing of the Origin of the Species in 1859? Despite the theory's controversy then and today, the idea that there might be a continuum between humans and apes (and that people or groups we don't like fall on the ape-ish end of the scale) seems to have been taken up with gusto fairly quickly. (Please note that I'm well aware that evolutionary theory says no such thing about different human groups I'm just talking about the pseudoscientific bases of racism.)

Meg &mdash January 28, 2011

Huh, I hadn't put that together before, but leprechauns are usually drawn just like that.

I know that occassionally in minstrel shows there were Irish acts, which were performed in the same black face. They fell out of favor earlier than those mocking Blacks, though, and were never as prevalent in the first place. As with other minstrel shows, dressing up in "Irish" mask was a way for privileged people, especially young people, to have an excuse to behave badly without social censure.

Hmm, just like St. Patrick's day today.

T &mdash January 28, 2011

When it comes to the American immigrant narrative, the ebb and flow of which groups were considered acceptable and the 'hierarchy' is fascinating to me. In the early part of the last century, my own grandfather came to America via Ellis Island from Lithuania. Even though he couldn't speak a word of English, he chose to modify his family name to "sound Irish." He learned on the boat that the Irish were getting jobs and the "Russians" weren't. BUT because he couldn't speak the language, he could pull of the pretense of being English or even German. The Irish were a group that was "high" enough that he could get a job, but "low" enough that he could get away with pretending to be Irish -- i.e., the men hiring the Irish weren't exactly interested in chatting with them over tea.

Molly W. &mdash January 28, 2011

Those interested in how the racial identification of the Irish changed might want to read "How the Irish Became White," by Noel Ignatiev.

Leigh &mdash January 28, 2011

I think Sander Gilman said something along the lines that the short, upturned "Irish" nose was lumped in with the characteristics of the syphilitic nose during this time period. (Later in the 1960's it (the ski jump) would become very popular.)

Laughingrat &mdash January 28, 2011

This is a very cool article, and it's illuminating to see how pervasive it was to mock Irish people by comparing them with other apes. That said, it's also pretty disingenuous of you to claim that the comparison of black persons with apes has nothing to do with their skin color or continent of origin. That particular trope has gone on too long, and too aggressively, for your statement to be really believable.

LdeG &mdash January 28, 2011

“[April 1748] Monday 4th. This morning Mr. Fairfax left us with Intent to go down to the Mouth of the Branch. We did two Lots & was attended by a great Company of People Men Women & Children that attended us through the Woods as we went shewing there Antick tricks. I really think they seem to be as Ignorant a Set of People as the Indians. They would never speak English but when spoken to they speak all Dutch.”

George Washington on the German settlers on the Allegheny frontier - the ones who gave us the log cabin, the covered wagon, and the Pennsylvania long rifle, icons of the American pioneer spirit.

Theora23 &mdash January 28, 2011

So, there you have it. Being compared to apes is tactic of oppression totally unrelated to skin color — that is, it has nothing to do with Black people and everything to do with the effort to exert control and power.

What an oddly triumphant tone. Is this part of that larger argument that since some Irish were once oppressed and in some cases enslaved, there's no such thing as racism because it's all really just class-ism?

Frowner &mdash January 28, 2011

So, there you have it. Being compared to apes is tactic of oppression totally unrelated to skin color — that is, it has nothing to do with Black people and everything to do with the effort to exert control and power.

The British were heavily involved in the slave trade. Slavery wasn't abolished on most British colonies until 1833/1834. As far as I can tell, all these cartoons post-date the various pro-slavery cartoons in the UK press (late 18th century) which use this comparison. It would astonish me if there were no interdependence between the description of the Irish and the description of Africans/Afro-british people/slaves--if the comparison to apes were sui generis and not rooted in the colonization of Africa and the slave trade.

In other ways, in fact, Africans, slaves and Afro-British people were sometimes equated with white Britons. All men in the UK--particularly working class men--were subject to the press-gang and could be seized and impressed into the (violent, death-ridden) navy regardless of age or condition. In <a href=" The Chains, Adam Hochschild argues that the experience of press-ganging gave traction to the abolition movement in the UK, because there were some parallels between the experience of slavery and the experience of the pressed men.

Especially when I look at the "Shanty" cartoon above, it seems more plausible to me that the comparison of Irish people to apes is intended to recall the comparison of Africans and Afro-British people to apes, and thus to use the more-accepted oppression of one people to justify the oppression of another.

I'm not even sure how this could be unpicked--are there a wealth of comparisons of Irish people to apes which predate African slavery? I'm also confused about why it's helpful to show that this rhetorical tactic is independent of race. Surely slavery, racism and colonialism are so deeply entwined that they create and reinforce each other?

Azizi &mdash January 28, 2011

The Irish, too, have been compared to apes, suggesting that this comparison is a generalizable tactic of oppression, not one inspired by the color of the skin of Africans.
-Lisa Wade

I'm cosigning Frowner question "are there a wealth of comparisons of Irish people to apes which predate African slavery?"

However, I would slightly rephrase that commenter's next sentence to read "I’m also confused about why it’s helpful to show that this rhetorical tactic is sometimes directly independent of race."

I'd then cosign Frowner's next sentence "Surely slavery, racism and colonialism are so deeply entwined that they create and reinforce each other?"

If this negative imagery of comparing people to apes and monkeys was first used to represent Black people, and then used for the Irish (who were then not considered to be White), then that imagery was still connected to race.

Umlud &mdash January 28, 2011

What is interesting to me is that a lot of the caricatures of the Irish presented above seem to be the inspiration of the design of the goblins and orcs of the British tabletop wargame, Warhammer. Perhaps, there was something that was evoked during the initial character designs several decades ago.

(Of course, the Warhammer goblins and orcs have fangs/tusks and are generally painted as green.)

Lola &mdash January 28, 2011

Being Irish and damn proud of it (boy did we beat that rap!), I recall my mother telling me that "they" used to say, "An Irish person is just an [insert defamatory nickname for black people here] turned inside out."

But we could always hide our "irish-ness" if need be.

Contrabalance &mdash January 28, 2011

Congratulations on your first interesting post, Lisa!

LdeG &mdash January 28, 2011

It is indeed complicated, and needs to be looked at in cultural and historical perspective. In the 17th century, the Spanish speculated as to whether American natives were apes or closely related, and as late as 1700 there was serious discussion from the other direction, complete with dissection and point-by-point comparisons of anatomy, of whether orangutans were human.

There was very much discussion through the 18th century about the continuum from apes to human, and continued throughout the 19th century as the idea of various groups of humans being at different places on that continuum.

On top of that was an old tradition of mocking various groups of others as animals of one sort or another, including Englishmen referring to Frenchmen as apes, for example.

Yes, "slavery, racism and colonialism are so deeply entwined that they create and reinforce each other" but there is a much larger picture. And it is not necessarily limited to how Europeans saw other groups of people, although that has had the largest impact on the modern world. Many tribal cultures' names for themselves mean "The People" with the implication that other groups aren't really people.

KarenM &mdash January 28, 2011

I think it's called Siminanisation. It goes back to the era of 'discovery' and was a way of effectively dehumanising 'natives' i.e. anyone the English and other aristocrats wanted to colonise. Not saying the experience of colonisation was totally alike for Ireland and Africa, but there were certain parallels. Ostensibly colonists could claim the moral high ground and say they were civilising the savages, when really they were claiming/stealing land and resources.

Interesting aside - most of the Irish men in these images are dressed in tops and tails etc. As impoverished (often landless) labourers they would have recieved hand me downs from aristocrats (their landlords) as a form of charity. Notice how well dressed and groomed the English are beside them. In contrast, the Irish have wild hair and wrinkled/ill-fitting clothes. In posture too, the English are civilised, the Irish animalistic, possibly drunk. The message is that these animals don't know their place, they don't know they ought to be grateful for being allowed their (suitably lower) place in civilised society. It's classicm, combined with racism.

Comparing people to monkeys isn't limited to blacks and irish though. Similar imagery was used to depict the Germans before and during the first world war (think the destroy this mad brute poster). It's a form of otherising.

Just before I finish, white Americans aren't immune to being compared to chimps either

Makenzie &mdash January 28, 2011

Check out the postures on the two women in the second image. The scene that's playing out puts one of them bending over slightly with her hands clasped together, and the other with her feet spread apart, one hand on her hip, and one arm raised in a threatening manner. The Irish woman also isn't wearing "dainty" shoes, and she has muscles and is just generally larger. Guess which one we're meant to like?

Man, there's so much going on in that picture.

John Hensley &mdash January 30, 2011
Chestnut Chicks = Pigs, Trolls, and Apes? « The Dumpling Cart &mdash January 31, 2011

[. ] then, via Sociological Images, I see this via a discussion of the ways in which Irish were portrayed by the [. ]

Emily Catherine Dot Com | &mdash March 6, 2011

[. ] be the group we accept tomorrow. Irish immigrants used to be compared with apes instead of humans (here is a great collection of political cartoons that make the comparison), but now they’re just regular old white people. Today, we talk about our country’s [. ]

Paddy &mdash April 14, 2011

Ohhhhhh. These people don't know about Irish Catholic Slavery in America yet??

Well by all means - TELL THEM about it. A little research into it would do a world of good for the subject - of course it might be racially unifying, so maybe some wouldn't support your effort. >o)

They were NOT just indentured servants or immigrants.

With the LARGEST denomination in America & 2nd largest nationality - one would think people would know more about the Irish Catholic American. Just don't piss us off too much with your folly. You'll find some of the cartoons might be a matter of fact. What a riot! LOL

Another racist TEA Birther! - Page 7 - Christian Forums &mdash April 20, 2011

[. ] "Irish Apes" well, the go-to caricature for the Irish was quite simian for a long time. Here's a page with some examples, including one that explicitly puts up an "Irish monkey." As [. ]

Magically Delicious! | Food and Visual Media &mdash September 28, 2011

[. ] historically the stereotyping of the Irish was just as ugly as, and was bizarrely similar to, the visual stereotyping of African-Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Characterized as apes, as sub-human, as [. ]

Fionnuala &mdash January 12, 2012

"I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don't believe they are our fault. I believe that there are not only many more of them than of old, but that they are happier, better and more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours." Historian Charles Kingsley on visiting Ireland during the great famine, taken from intro to How the Irish saved civilisation by Thomas Cahill.

Aren’t we all just members of the human race? | Erin V Echols &mdash February 27, 2012

[. ] across time as evidenced by changes in census categories and the movement of certain groups, who once experienced discrimination, into the white racial [. ]

Anonymous &mdash March 17, 2012

Si where's the English James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde, GB Shaw?

US American Irish Stereotypes | I blame it on cultural capital &mdash April 7, 2012

[. ] How can you use pictures and drawings for political propaganda? Well, how about portraying your opponents (or a group you want to oppress) as monkey-like creatures behaving irrationally and being unruly? The website Sociological Images has a fascinating collection of anti-Irish propaganda pictures, mostly from the 19th century. If you find contemporary cases of racial stereotyping crass, how about this? Find it here. [. ]

MJArmstrong &mdash November 16, 2012

It's quite an overstatement to conclude "Being compared to apes is tactic of oppression totally unrelated to skin
color — that is, it has nothing to do with Black people and everything
to do with the effort to exert control and power."
The Irish were not seen as "white people" at the time, and the use of simian imagery against Blacks continued long after the it was no longer used against Blacks.

Dr. GS Hurd &mdash January 25, 2013
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Captive Pursuit (Review) | the m0vie blog &mdash September 5, 2013

[. ] a rigid class system that would probably be offensive to O’Brien’s cultural identity. Given the historical portrayal in British cultural of the Irish as inherently sub-human, O’Brien’s response to Tosk’s plight feels in some way driven by his own [. ]

Redheads = Pigs, Trolls, and Apes? | The Dumpling Cart &mdash January 6, 2014

[…] find anything else. So I set it all aside, figuring that I was over-reacting. But then today, via Sociological Images, I see this cartoon in the context of a discussion of the ways in which Irish were portrayed by the […]

That Line in Human Nature « Professor Norton's Class Space &mdash February 11, 2014
IRISH | Life Is Color &mdash March 17, 2014


Representation and “Irish Apes”: Tactics of De-Humanization | Society Pages | ΡΟ Π ΤΡ Ο Ν &mdash March 17, 2014

[…] Irish Apes: Tactics of De-Humanization. […]

Culturally Inappropriate Team Names and Mascots: What about Notre Dame? | seandalai &mdash April 8, 2014

[…] Irish Catholics and those unwilling to assimilate is clear in his and many other cartoonist’s portrayals of them as apes, slovenly, drunken, lazy, brawling brutes. […]

"Banana Envy": Notes on a Global Obsession « Americas Studies Americas Studies &mdash May 2, 2014
Herb Suhl &mdash July 14, 2014

You guys screwed up. You never should have let us in.

Christian Wright &mdash March 10, 2015

The parallels with this and the Scottish experience pre and post indref are chilling. It seems history is repeating itself.

Opinion: Disheartening stereotypes cloud great Irish history | Montreal Gazette &mdash March 20, 2015

[…] lowest-paid jobs and earned the derogatory labels that come with doing them. At worst, they were considered sub-human at best, alcoholic and […]

Why is Europe the only place that gets criticized for its immigration policies - Historum - History Forums &mdash January 9, 2016

[…] In the article linked above, Alan J. Levine also points out that historically racism was used first and foremost against Europeans. For example (apart from well-known Anti-Ashkenazi racism and Anti-Slavic racism): Irish Apes: Tactics of De-Humanization - Sociological Images […]

Ireland 1916 1: Towards the Easter Rising | First World War Hidden History &mdash January 27, 2016

[…] [5] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 32. [6] Gollin, Proconsul, p. 179. [7] [8] Micheal Foy and Brian Barton, The Easter Rising, p. 2. [9] A J P Taylor, Essays in English […]

Blake Dim Mak Fitzgerald &mdash September 9, 2016

Can anyone confirm or deny that this was used on the Irish peoples first?

[email protected] &mdash November 8, 2016 - hidden pearls of alternative news! &mdash January 1, 2017

[…] white Irish immigrants were also compared to apes and baboons in political cartoons of the period, as you can see here. So while this kind of treatment isn’t right no matter which ethnic group is targeted, you should […]

Same cereal company that doesn’t want GMOs listed on the label also doesn’t want positive ID required for voters | News Flash U.S. &mdash January 7, 2017

[…] white Irish immigrants were also compared to apes and baboons in political cartoons of the period, as you can see here. So while this kind of treatment isn’t right no matter which ethnic group is targeted, you […]

Paddy Works on the Blog Post | Jeffrey K. Walker &mdash March 15, 2017

[…] Not Exactly White. (And if you think the English had a better opinion, check out the standard apelike depictions of the Irish in the cartoons of London magazines in that […]

[email protected] &mdash July 7, 2017

Ohhh it has everything to do with black people, when is the last time you have seen the Irish or any other European white depicted as an ape, Whilst the Irish were originally sharing some oppression, it is quitwe a different story in modern day White Nationalism. Hence most White nationalist and white supremacists group will accept membership, including the KKK, from the Irish

Davidfabos &mdash August 8, 2017

Pseudoscience cant think. yes, on online wikapedia

The Cost of Addiction to U.K. Society &mdash August 18, 2017

[…] group (rich, white men again I’m afraid). Historically the press has dehumanised black people, the Irish, women more recently it has turned its freezing gaze on immigrants and single […]

The Past That Forever Haunts Us – Global Modernisms in a Digital Age &mdash September 17, 2017

[…] 2: A political cartoon illustrating the “Irish Monkey” and the “British Lion” facing off, which represents both […]

Flassbeck economics international - Economics and politics - comment and analysis &mdash January 12, 2018

[…] even considered fully human. Nineteenth Century drawings depict them as Quasimodo-like simians (see here). The question of their true ‘complexion’ arose when the Irish – for the most part extremely […]

David Fabos &mdash June 11, 2018

Medicine smell nothing. Everything again. Still real.

Jonathan Christophers &mdash September 2, 2018

Irish DNA is nearly identical to English. They are so identical that there is more genetic distance between the English and Danes than there is between the Irish and English. You couldn't even organize a random group of Irish and English into their respective ethnic classes by looking at them.

Thomas Nast was the only one publishing political cartoons during the period in question. We know this because he's the "father of political cartoons" and before him they didn't exist. Nast was brought up a German Catholic and for some reason couldn't recall any other parts of his childhood except for when he was getting bullied by Irish kids. He converted to Protestantism later in life and dedicated is sterling career as a cartoonist to living out his revenge fantasy. He depicted the Irish that way because, as a victim of constant bullying, an ape was just the right kind of brute he saw them for. It wasn't uncommon for him to depict others as apes, though, and it wasn't done for the reasons you'd suspect. Nast depicted Lincoln as an ape in one of his cartoons.

Catholic immigrants faced hostility in the mid-19th Century: this no one disputes. But what is conveniently ignored in these "anti-Irish" histories is the fact that the most stridently anti-"Irish" (more like anti-Catholic) in the US at the time were none other than the Irish Protestants. They played a big role in the Know-Nothing movement and participated in violent riots that nearly burned down entire sections of cities. Their descendants also happen to be the largest component of the Irish diaspora in America these days.

The attempts to exaggerate Irish-American history are not without consequences. First, the contributions of countless Irish Protestants in the early days of the republic are completely ignored. Second, by the late antebellum, no less than 300,000 enslaved African Americans were owned by Southerners of Irish descent. There are millions of black descendants of these slaves who now walk around with Irish names because their ancestors were once owned by these pseudo-victims.

And if you want to talk about prejudice, the most persistent and reoccurring theme of out-group prejudice in American history (other than the obvious enslavement of black Africans) was, in actual fact, Anglophobia, which continued to occur as late as the second world war. In this respect, the Irish had found a home in this country, whether they were fighting the British during the Revolution (more than half of Washington's army was from or had roots in Ulster), or boycotting British exports. There was one tiny blip of time when famine refugees faced hostility from nativist groups that were populated in large part by Irish Protestants, and that was it.

So why all the obsession for this little blip of Irish-American history? I think we all know the answer to that. The pseudo-historians that are promoting this new brand of fake-victimization are almost entirely far-left political activists who are trying to call the concept of race into question. Occasionally you will see a right-wing activist using the same Irish-American myths to make a supremacist argument.

Edward ODonnell &mdash April 15, 2019

Jonathan Christophers is missing a key point. The negative virws described about the Irish are actually about the old order Irish/ Irish Catholics with names beginning usually with O' or Mc. those who the English tried to exterminate. not the plantation "Irish" of protestant Scotland and England with names like Porter or Cunningham, or Adams or any of the other names of the majority of those newer invading Ulstermen. Do your research.

Angle Stop &mdash June 19, 2019

In this piece, I describe the experience of an Arab woman living in Israel who became "the subject of the apartheid state":

I was born at Rosh HaShanah. It was Jewish holiday season, so I spent most of my childhood with my family. My father, who works in a clothing factory, and his sister lived with their parents in a makeshift camp next door to their hometown, Kiryat Gat. There were a few other families living here as well. My father and I were raised surrounded by people who looked like our family. People called me Kike, Tzach and Shush. I'd never been much interested in Jewish holidays before I was born, other than enjoying them and knowing that I was a Kike—like, kind of like a member of the kadom—a type of Jew. "I never want to miss an Arab day!" one mother told me during our childhood. When I was seven, I decided to go back home to Tzach, who would continue to live with his mother until he turned fourteen he's fifteen now. I wasn't going to miss any Arab days at all.


13This research examined whether French female students’ stereotypes towards police officers have changed in content, consensus and favorableness between 1986 and 2010. The results of the adjective checklist task revealed that respondents did not choose the same traits in 1986 and 2010 suggesting that stereotype content underwent some changes over the last 24 years. However, they also showed that the negative valence of the stereotype did not change radically. In 1986, all six stereotypical traits were negatively connoted and in 2010, 75% of the traits were still negative. Finally, the measurement of the evolution of the stereotype with the percentage estimates task revealed both the stability of some traits and the change of others: police officers were considered as equally suspicious, nationalist, aggressive and rigid, and to a lesser extent as equally calculating, careful and dynamic in 2010 as in 1986. However, in 2010 they appeared less obedient and submissive, and more intelligent, competent and responsible than in 1986.

14This tendency, which suggests an evolution of the police stereotype, can be discussed within the framework of the Stereotype Content Model (SCM Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002). According to the SCM, the evolution of the stereotype content does not exclude that its organization remains stable. In a nutshell, stereotype content is organized in two dimensions, warmth and competence. The first dimension refers to the benevolent or malicious intentions attributed to the members of an outgroup while the second dimension refers to the evaluation of the outgroup’s capacity to pursue them. Furthermore, the SCM postulates that stereotype content can be positive or negative on both dimensions, but can also be mixed, i.e., positive on one dimension and negative on the other. Our results suggest a possible evolution of a negative stereotype of police officers towards a mixed stereotype. Indeed, the positive traits (i.e., intelligent, competent, responsible) and negative traits (i.e., submissive and obedient) related to the dimension of competence become respectively more and less characteristic of the police officers in 2010. However, the negative traits related to dimension of warmth (suspicious, aggressive, nationalist, and rigid) persisted. Although still disliked by female students, police officers seem to have gained some competence in their eyes. We are aware that the scope of these results is limited. Their impact could have been increased by taking into account other groups of young people, as well as by a detailed analysis of the sociopolitical or economic events capable of modifying the social status of police officers (i.e., their competence) and/or the nature of the relation with them (i.e., their warmth).

15Our research raises also some important methodological considerations related to the joint use of the adjective checklist procedure and the percentage estimates task. First, even though different traits were spontaneously selected by the respondents of the two samples as descriptive of police officers suggesting a stereotype change, the same traits were viewed as typical for police officers when using the percentage estimates task, suggesting the stability of the stereotype content over time. However, forcing participants to estimate the probability that police officers possess a given “old” trait (perceived as typical in 1986) can lead to an underestimation of stereotype change (Madon et al., 2001). Moreover, the communicability of a trait, that is, the degree with which it is used in the social discourse, has been shown to affect stereotype persistence and change over time (Schaller, Conway, & Tanchuk, 2002). In other words, the more a trait is used in daily communication, the more it tends to persist over time. Thus, the elimination of rarely used traits in our pilot study may have increased the probability to over-estimate their stability.

16The weaker mean frequencies of trait attributions in 2010 compared to 1986 indicated that the 2010 sample held a less consensual stereotype about police officers. This decrease in stereotype consensus can be explained by an increased sensitivity to the items, by a greater control of stereotype expression in participants of 2010 (resulting in a weaker standard deviation in 2010 compared to 1986 16.22 versus 21.14, respectively), or by the presence of stronger social norms protecting police officers against prejudice in 2010 than in 1986. The results of a study by Crandall, Eshleman and O’ Brian (2002) concerning the acceptability of prejudice towards 105 social groups showed a relatively low acceptability of prejudice with regard to police officers. Therefore, the use of implicit methods to measure individuals’ stereotypes seems more appropriate, even if it is not always easy to ensure their validity (De Houwer, 2006). In spite of these limitations, our results suggest that it is possible to examine the evolution of stereotypical beliefs shared by a group with regard to another group by situating them in a social temporality. Conducting this kind of studies in a more systematic way, by varying the type of social categories, the periods of data collection and the respondents’ characteristics could contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics of intergroup relations.

One thought on &ldquo Racial Stereotypes in Film/TV in Media &rdquo

Hey Adeline, thanks for the read!

I was wondering what your opinion is regarding the technical use of stereotypes in TV/film. While I agree that there’s definitely been proof of oversimplification of people when it comes to their portrayal in cinema (after all, you’ve presented an impressive amount yourselves), I personally don’t find it inherently inappropriate to use stereotypes as a shorthand for characterization, at least initially.

-For example, I think it’s okay to introduce a character in a stereotypical context, as long as the character is later on more rounded out as a person.

I feel like this approach is used a lot in sit-coms other weekly shows, as the characters that start off seemingly unlikable, later become more complex and easier to swallow, while the less savory characters tend to be unlikable *because* they remain simple and don’t stray away from their stereotypes.

-I like to be optimistic and interpret that as writers spotlighting how stereotypes are bad and comically simple, but I could also see how it could be interpreted as “you like this character because they’re different, one of ‘the good ones'”.

I guess the short version is do you think it’s cool to utilize stereotypes as long as the characterization doesn’t stop there?

-and by extension Do you think there is an actual appropriate functional use for stereotypes?

Thank you!

In cities, increasing urbanization rendered the night-watch system completely useless as communities got too big. The first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838. Boston was a large shipping commercial center, and businesses had been hiring people to protect their property and safeguard the transport of goods from the port of Boston to other places, says Potter. These merchants came up with a way to save money by transferring to the cost of maintaining a police force to citizens by arguing that it was for the “collective good.”

In the South, however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system. Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts, Potter says the first formal slave patrol had been created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South, but during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.

In general, throughout the 19th century and beyond, the definition of public order &mdash that which the police officer was charged with maintaining &mdash depended whom was asked.

For example, businessmen in the late 19th century had both connections to politicians and an image of the kinds of people most likely to go on strike and disrupt their workforce. So it’s no coincidence that by the late 1880s, all major U.S. cities had police forces. Fears of labor-union organizers and of large waves of Catholic, Irish, Italian, German, and Eastern European immigrants, who looked and acted differently from the people who had dominated cities before, drove the call for the preservation of law and order, or at least the version of it promoted by dominant interests. For example, people who drank at taverns rather than at home were seen as “dangerous” people by others, but they might have pointed out other factors such as how living in a smaller home makes drinking in a tavern more appealing. (The irony of this logic, Potter points out, is that the businessmen who maintained this belief were often the ones who profited off of the commercial sale of alcohol in public places.)

At the same time, the late 19th century was the era of political machines, so police captains and sergeants for each precinct were often picked by the local political party ward leader, who often owned taverns or ran street gangs that intimidated voters. They then were able to use police to harass opponents of that particular political party, or provide payoffs for officers to turn a blind eye to allow illegal drinking, gambling and prostitution.

This situation was exacerbated during Prohibition, leading President Hoover to appoint the Wickersham Commission in 1929 to investigate the ineffectiveness of law enforcement nationwide. To make police independent from political party ward leaders, the map of police precincts was changed so that they would not correspond with political wards.

The drive to professionalize the police followed, which means that the concept of a career cop as we’d recognize it today is less than a century old.

Further campaigns for police professionalism were promoted as the 20th century progressed, but crime historian Samuel Walker’s The Police in America: An Introduction argues that the move toward professionalism wasn’t all good: that movement, he argues, promoted the creation of police departments that were “inward-looking” and “isolated from the public,” and crime-control tactics that ended up exacerbating tensions between police and the communities they watch over. And so, more than a half-century after Kennedy’s 1963 proclamation, the improvement and modernization of America’s surprisingly young police force continues to this day.

A version of this article also appears in the May 29 issue of TIME.

Watch the video: Things Not To Say To Irish People


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