No Irish Need Apply

October 28, 2013

By Bill Duggan

I visited the Tenement Museum in NYC recently. The museum is a National Historic Landmark on the Lower East Side and originally housed 22 apartments and a basement level saloon. The building now stands as a kind of time capsule reflecting 19th and early 20th century living conditions. I went on a tour called “Irish Outsiders.” Irish emigration to the United States was driven by the potato famine in Ireland, 1845-1852. During the famine approximately one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland. New York saw the largest amount of Irish emigration and by 1855, 26% of the population in Manhattan was Irish, putting strains on the labor force and resulting in “No Irish Need Apply” signs. There was rampant anti-Irish racism at that time including the stereotyping of the Irish as alcoholics and newspaper illustrations depicting prehistoric "ape-like images" of Irish faces to bolster claims that the Irish people were an inferior race.

Other groups have followed the Irish as targets of stereotypes and racism. The Italians soon thereafter. African-Americans. Hispanics. Asians. LGBTs.

I visited the Tenement Museum with my teenage daughters and we discussed how their ancestors came to America from Ireland during the potato famine. I’m glad that my kids are growing up in a more diverse and tolerant world than my ancestors did 130 years ago and I did a generation ago.

Of course, America still has issues of stereotypes and racism. But I am proud that the advertising industry is doing such a great job in building positive images of a multicultural America. There are more ads than ever before that feature couples of different races. Kudos to companies/brands such as General Mills/Cheerios. I look forward to the ANA Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference and Multicultural Excellence Awards dinner (November 3-5 in LA) as there will surely be great stories shared on marketing to a multicultural nation.

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