Undoing the Knots: Five Generations of American Catholic Anti-Blackness

Beacon Jan. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780807016657. $28.95. REL
The premise of this book is that Irish Catholic immigrants and their descendants absorbed anti-Black attitudes and practices in an effort to be accepted by the WASP establishment and prove that they were real Americans since they too were considered outsiders. O’Connell (Christian ethics, Lasalle Univ.; If These Walls Could Talk) identifies the “knots” of the title as ignorance, false innocence, isolation, guilt, shame, and fear. Using history, theology and critical race theory, she demonstrates the role of white Catholic identity in creating and maintaining economic and social structures inimical to Black Americans. O’Connell personalizes her account by discussing five generations of her own white Irish Catholic family in greater Philadelphia in connection with local and national events. She examines the options her family had and shows their choices’ impacts on themselves and Black Philadelphians. A key concept that O’Connell discusses is “racial mercy,” the willingness to enter into the “chaos of racism” in one’s own life, in the lives of others who are people of color, in one’s neighborhood, and in Catholicism.
VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in assimilation issues faced by Irish Catholic immigrants as well as the varied aspects of racism in the United States.
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