The Agonist Journal

While watching a Vice journalist engage Trump supporters about race in America, I found myself surprisingly indifferent. Was I unusually enlightened and thus immune to intertribal squabbles?

Soon thereafter I had an epiphany—at of all places my kid’s science fair. A senior discussed the Stereotype Content Model (“SCM”); this lecture was much enjoyed by the parents for its intelligibility (in contrast to impenetrable bioinformatics PowerPoints).

The SCM theorizes “bias” quadrants which measure one’s response to “others” based on either “competence” or “warmth” (see below). The typical example has a white Christian male placing Asians in the bottom right box (smart but hardnosed), old women in the upper left corner (incompetent but harmless), and homeless men in the bottom left (scary and to be avoided). The top right is limited to the Christian male’s conspecifics. Of course, SCM outcomes change depending on who is measuring whom. In East Africa, the bottom right is assigned to Indian shop owners. As with all soft science, there is a great deal of cultural malleability.

My “eureka” moment occurred while half listening to this fast-talking high school girl’s presentation; I realized my unique place as an “Irishman” in America—right square in the middle of the SCM.

Being Irish gives you the power to walk among the tribes, as no one else fears or envies you1. The Irishman is never the smartest guy in the room, but he is usually not the dumbest. While Irish dominated police squads generate racial angst, we are also well represented in firehouses and everyone loves a hunky fireman post 9-11. There are scant Irish in the Ivy League, but the few seats we fill are usually not bought from admissions officers2. In any case, whatever cultural capital our Hibernian acquires won’t vault him into the 1% (he is lucky to land in the top 10%).

The Irish, so woven into the American fabric, suffer NO triggering ethnic slurs (“mick”? “paddy”?)3. Irish jokes are so harmless as to be told primarily among the Irish (here is a limerick: “I’m an Irishman and I’m OK…I drink all night and I drink all day”). The Irishman’s ability to drink is a virtue, a sort of male fitness indicator. What should count as stupidity is repackaged as loyalty and bravery; Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities had every cop, Irish or not, assimilating “dumb donkey” courage4.

As to cultural appropriation, does anyone care when non-Irish pantomime us on St. Patrick’s Day5? Far from it. What is more delightful than seeing stumbling drunk Afro-Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asian beauties, in tight-fitting green? They are always welcome guests at our parade!

Despite our disarming charm, we Irishmen have salient issues to address; my analysis here requires some amateur anthropology. One might assume the Irish man benefits from white male privilege, but I plead that some Irishmen are less privileged than others. Counterintuitively, the whiter the Irishman the less his privilege. This is because women do NOT lust after sickly looking men; red headed boys are particularly low on the dating totem pole.

Rarely does a ragazza couple with a fair skinned Irishman but, as in the film Brooklyn, a Neapolitan poaching a Celtic lass, is common. You may claim to know a chalky Irishman who stumbled into a one-night stand. However, your survivorship bias ignores the role of luck and alcohol fueled persistence (such effort now dangerous in a post Me-Too world). A controlled experiment will prove our too white friend has a sexual success rate 1/10th the typical male.

The carrot-top Irish cannot shave his head as this will only increase the visibility of his milky skull. Any woman expressing a preference for a ginger suffers from a paraphilia. Ed Sheeran, but for his talent, is the ugliest man on Earth. Prince Harry lives under the heel of Meghan Markle. This visceral disgust is asymmetrical as a red-haired girl can be desirable (i.e. Karen Gillian, Amy Adams, young Julianne Moore) but her albinic male equivalent—not so much (see photo comparison). As to the evolutionary basis for this comparative disadvantage, my armchair theory is women have low disgust tolerance, such that pasty men are disqualified outright. A freckly lass, however, is attractive if she has a symmetric face and a good hip to waist ratio. In short, ladies can be good-looking in more ways than lads. Further proof—girls voluntarily dye their hair striking red whereas no sober guy does same6.

In contrast, the “black Irishman” (whose genetic roots are a mystery) has privilege. If he stays in shape, he will find willing sexual partners, particularly on the beach where his alabaster cousin risks melanomic death. Although subject to empirical verification, it is posited the dark Hibernian, thanks to mixed ancestry, does not suffer the “Irish curse” (red nose, short hose).

Another layer to our privilege analysis is whether the Irishman is “shanty” or “lace curtain.” The former is what you see in films set in South Boston (albeit even Southie is now gentrified)7. The shanty Irish are less educated and without assets or social capital.

The lace curtain, however, is the recipient of some intergenerational wealth and social networks. The lace curtains are typically Georgetown-Notre Dame-BC graduates. They are NOT well represented in the sciences, lacking the fluid intelligence, but they do well in finance, law, military and politics.

The lace curtain should NOT be presumed “soft” because of his wealth. On the contrary, he holds his (higher quality) liquor with the best of them. He is also athletic, oft playing lacrosse, a rich boy game yielding the best-looking groupies. If he attends an Ivy, he caucuses with boarding school WASPs.

We may now create an “Irishman privilege” matrix using the four-quadrant approach. In the top right corner is the despicable dark lace curtain, epitomized by a wealthy Kennedy wannabe. In the bottom right is the pasty lace curtain, who will make a dependable beta husband for a lapsed Catholic girl getting off the carousel in her thirties. In the top left corner, you have the dark shanty, oft an unmarried father of children by multiple women (he is likely in law enforcement, but not a leadership position). In the bottom left corner, you have the marshmallow test failing pale shanty, least privileged and likely an Incel (particularly if he can’t get union work).

Our “Irishman privilege” matrix provides more nuance than the Stereotype Content Model; it explains the lack of clannishness among Irishmen as the ghostly shanty has little in common with the tan lace curtain. This rubric also captures a great deal of Irish “in-betweenness.” For instance, where do we place a blonde Assistant District Attorney earning only five figures? Where do we fit Bill Burr?

As a research agenda, I propose modeling other intra-ethnicity matrices. This enterprise could employ thousands of social scientists gathering data from millions of participants on Amazon Mechanical Turk, resulting in a true meta theory of privilege8.


  1. One example is punk godfather John Lydon, hip enough to credibly hang with West Indians. I take note of UK-Irish relations, but the “troubles” are mostly over, and our focus here is on Irish-Americans.

  2. Having attended an Ivy, I can say we are not overrepresented; many students didn’t recognize the manifest ethnicity of my surname. Insofar as I was their first encounter with an Irishman, they seemed no worse for wear.

  3. There is no Irish version of Jersey Shore, where MTV unapologetically laughs at Italo-Americans. There was an SNL dating show skit in which an Irish Bill Hader prefers his female cousins to an unrelated bachelorette.

  4. Methinks there’s a discreet Irish joke in the film A Clockwork Orange, as the drunken tramp sings “Molly Malone” before he is beaten by Alex and his droogs.

  5. I was at a Columbia U pub one St. Paddy’s when I encountered African-American students wearing leprechaun hats. I was flattered they would honor what must seem, to them, an absurd holiday. Although tempted, I didn’t buy a round lest they think I was ironically trolling them.

  6. The teeny bopper show Riverdale has an otherwise good-looking boy dye his hair red, an homage to the comic book character Archie, there being no handsome red headed actors.

  7. Showtime series Shameless claims shanty Irish cred, but I am told there are few Irish left in south side Chicago.

  8. How is “Turk” no less offensive than Oriental?