By Robert "Bobby" LaBarr
October 7, 2017
I am in Irish American man who takes pride in my culture. I am currently incarcerated and a member of the LCU Steering Committee. I recently attended a workshop on the topic of race. Speaking on this topic could be intimidating being white in prison. The participants were a diverse bunch of people ranging in age and race, but the majority were minorities.
I went into the workshop expecting the conversation to be the same as what I have experienced in the past, about how the white man is the root cause of every bad thing that occurred in others' lives. To my surprise he dialogue was open, respectful, accepting and fruitful.
I felt empowered in one of the exercises when I was able to express the history of oppression the Irish faced when they came to the United States. I spoke of the labels the Irish faced when trying to find employment to support their families, such as drunks and being lazy. I brought up how employers had signs on the front of their businesses that said "NO IRISH NEEDED." I made people aware of the only two jobs Irish were hired to do as longshoremen and coal miners. As coal miners they were paid with coalmine "money" and forced to buy food and cosmetics from coalmine stores at exaggerated prices.
I also was able to tell people about the Molly McGuiers, about how they were labeled as a rebel group because they stood up against the big money coalmine owners to unionize. After one particular clash, coalmine higher-ups were killed and nine Molly McGuiers were arrested. They were in front of a court that was corrupted by the influence of the coalmine owners and sentenced to death. All nine were hanged in Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania.
After sharing these stories with fellow participants I could see the change of perspective shift from being different to having a lot in common. That commonality made the Irish not an enemy, but a fellow sufferer of the history of oppression, slavery, and genocide of the United States.