The myth of the "Irish slave"
April 26, 2016 2:10 PM   Subscribe

 
Indentured servitude is one fuck-kitty of a lot different from institutionalized slavery.

And the vast overwhelming majority of the Irish immigrants to this country came here as a result of the Great Famine anyway, nearly 200+ years after any of the indentured servitude. Where most of them were drafted into the Civil War and got killed anyway, but you don't see any of these yutzes campaigning against the military.

buncha wankers, the lot of 'em
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:16 PM on April 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


Wow. I'm Irish and I had never heard of this meme before. Thanks for posting.

(And I'm sure if there was truth to it I would have heard plenty about it from both school and folk history.)
posted by roolya_boolya at 2:21 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


So these folks, arguing that black folks should take a page from Irish folks, have they perhaps heard of this thing called The Troubles?
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:37 PM on April 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


(The debunking article points to Getty's commercial copy, but the photo of children working as oyster shuckers is lifted from the LoC's National Child Labor Committee Collection.)
posted by effbot at 2:40 PM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I thought this was more anti-British than anti-black. It struck me as an exaggeration for rhetorical effect rather than an outright lie.
posted by Emma May Smith at 2:42 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've often said, hey, the Irish in America didn't exactly have it easy, they were often a target of nativist Gangs-of-New-York-style attitudes.

But this is a whole 'nother ball of wax, going from "uncomfortable history" to "Holocaust-denial-level horseshit."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:45 PM on April 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


I love historical myths being carefully dismembered.
posted by jb at 2:49 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. Let's not immediately derail this by linking to a dubious racial history site.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:53 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Huh, I had always heard that the Irish were the ones commonly taking slaves way back when as spoils of war. Now, of course, when I try to search for it, all I'm getting is the myth referenced here.
posted by ODiV at 2:54 PM on April 26, 2016


This actually came up (for some reason, I don't remember why) at the Thanksgiving dinner I went to last year along with the good ol' "Africans also practiced slavery" one. I gritted my teeth and kept eating mashed potatoes because I promised myself ahead of time that I wasn't going to make a ruckus.
posted by mhum at 2:55 PM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Back when I was doing my bachelor's degree, I knew a guy who brought this nonsense up in class once, going to far as to say that the Irish had it worse than the African slaves, because at least the slaves had food and shelter. Idiot.

(This was also the guy who complained about having to hear about "all this church stuff"...in a theatre history course discussing liturgical drama in medieval western Europe. Also the guy who auditioned for Pirates of Penzance without knowing it was a musical. Idiot.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:55 PM on April 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


I've seen this trotted around quite a bit, it's good to have a resource here for debunking.
posted by kafziel at 2:57 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's really "fun" when your Irish-American side of the family comes to St. Patrick's Day dinner and trots out, in quick succession:

"we were slaves too, do you see us asking for reparations?"
"immigrants are ruining this country"
"barbaric that those Religion X and Y people go around bombing each other over faith"
"isn't Kate Middleton just darling???"
posted by sallybrown at 3:06 PM on April 26, 2016 [41 favorites]


Huh, I had always heard that the Irish were the ones commonly taking slaves way back when as spoils of war. Now, of course, when I try to search for it, all I'm getting is the myth referenced here.

This is described in David Graeber's DEBT, previously on MetaFilter.
posted by alasdair at 3:07 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some of my family (immigrants from Ireland in the last 30-40 years) believe this, but not like in a "Why don't those whiners just bootstrap themselves like I did?" Or like "Well actually I have already won the suffering Olympics" But more as a way to show that they empathize with current struggles. It's more like "My people were oppressed too, I could not doubt that you are hurting and need justice." What I mean is although it's not the best, it's coming from a place of kindness. I try to say stuff like "Even if you mean well, this is a thing racists say so you will come off as racist" but they don't seem to get that line of reasoning.
posted by bleep at 3:08 PM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


I heard "We had no part in the slave trade! We had it just as bad! It was all the evil English!" growing up in Scotland. No-one wants to have an identity tainted with evil: it's a natural human longing, to be good. Still wrong though.
posted by alasdair at 3:10 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm conflating two stories, but I could have sworn not too long ago there was a "Student Schools Her Teacher After They Deny Irish Slavery" story that was making the rounds... Google News results aren't giving me anything, and regular results for "student schools teacher slave" have probably put me on a watchlist; does it ring a bell for anyone else?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:12 PM on April 26, 2016


This is great, I love giant, unassailable "debunking" articles and interviews like this - if anyone knows of other ultimate-takedown type articles feel free to share (or PM me if we want to avoid a derail), they're some of my favorite things to read.
posted by windbox at 3:14 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Nobody clings as tightly to a life preserver as a white man clings to an excuse to feel racially put upon.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:17 PM on April 26, 2016 [50 favorites]


"Student Schools Her Teacher After They Deny Irish Slavery" story that was making the rounds... does it ring a bell for anyone else?

It strikes me as one of the click-batin' things one would see in FWD: FWD: FWD: emails or Facebook SHARE THIS IF YOU AGREE! type things, which purport to have REAL STORIES of brave patriots fighting against liberals.

That particular one sounds exactly like the story about the brave marine soldier college student who showed that atheist professor what's what i tell you hwat.
posted by qcubed at 3:25 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


That's ringing a bell actually. Was posted here in the past year or so.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:32 PM on April 26, 2016


Maybe I'm conflating two stories, but I could have sworn not too long ago there was a "Student Schools Her Teacher After They Deny Irish Slavery" story that was making the rounds... Google News results aren't giving me anything, and regular results for "student schools teacher slave" have probably put me on a watchlist; does it ring a bell for anyone else?

You might be thinking of the story about the student who used the internet to find counterexamples refuting a professor who denied that "No Irish Need Apply" signs/advertisements were commonplace.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:34 PM on April 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


That's the one.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:35 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


As an Irish immigrant to the US I was pretty surprised when I first heard this story. It was quite literally news to me, so I clicked with interest to read this fascinating history that I had never heard of, and had that slow realization/sinking feeling that I had clicked on racist propoganda. So I was glad to find the debunking series after seeing it trotted out again and again on facebook (by one individual family member whom I've actually since muted and am probably a lot happier for it!).
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:43 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


So these folks, arguing that black folks should take a page from Irish folks, have they perhaps heard of this thing called The Troubles?

The Troubles are as relevant to the White Irish Slavery myth as the Boston Tea Party is to the Moon Landing.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:44 PM on April 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


Ugh. I got about halfway through and realized that I can't believe we need articles like this. I'm angry because I wasted my time reading it, and because the author obviously spent lots of time researching it. This is The Bullshit Asymmetry Principle in action, aka A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Pants.
posted by joelman at 3:46 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


The reason for the meme: If they don't got lies, they don't got nothing.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:48 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


You might be thinking of the story about the student who used the internet to find counterexamples refuting a professor who denied that "No Irish Need Apply" signs/advertisements were commonplace.

I was, thank you! I knew I had seen it on MeFi, but it seemed odd that the bunkum I was misremembering would have passed muster here.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:48 PM on April 26, 2016


Previously.
posted by Etrigan at 3:59 PM on April 26, 2016


The Troubles are as relevant to the White Irish Slavery myth as the Boston Tea Party is to the Moon Landing.

Probably less--without the Boston Tea Party, it's doubtful that a United States of America founded in 1789 would land a man on the moon in 1969.
posted by qcubed at 4:03 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Huh, I had always heard that the Irish were the ones commonly taking slaves way back when as spoils of war. Now, of course, when I try to search for it, all I'm getting is the myth referenced here.

I cannot speak to certainty on this, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were happening back in, like, Celtic pre-Christianized Ireland, back when EVERYONE was doing that.

But as for whether there EVER were any people of Irish descent who owned slaves....well, I think Shaquille O'Neal and his family might have a bit too much melanin to have come from County Mayo, let's say, so there's only a couple of other ways he could have come by that name. For instance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:05 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Student Schools Her Teacher After They Deny Irish Slavery" story that was making the rounds... does it ring a bell for anyone else?


That student? Alberta Einstein.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:19 PM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


(The debunking article points to Getty's commercial copy, but the photo of children working as oyster shuckers is lifted from the LoC's National Child Labor Committee Collection.)

That image was featured on a site linked here in the last couple months, where a guy tracked down info on the people in old photographs. I can't find that post (anyone?), but I'm pretty sure I recall that those girls were Bohemian (Czech) migrants.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:25 PM on April 26, 2016


So many of these things are spread around by people just because they, too, have Irish surnames. Now, the Mexican side of my family, I have only guesswork about the family tree, and virtually everybody whose names I think I know? Yeah, they're the ones descended from Spaniards. But the white side of my family knows exactly where it's from back to before the Civil War. I'm under the impression that this is in fact true for most white people. And yet you see all these people on Facebook and Twitter going on about Irish slaves and I just want to ask them: okay, which of your great-etc-grandparents went through that? Where were your actual relations and what were they doing at that point? Were they slaves? Because I'm betting they weren't slaves. And you know they weren't slaves.

So even if there were hypothetical Irish slaves being treated like this, it wasn't your family, and you haven't had any disadvantages during your own lifetime as a result of this hypothetical history of poor treatment of the Irish, so even if reparations were called for, nobody would be writing a check for you. It's therefore pretty rich of you to say that you're not asking for money you know full well you wouldn't be entitled to anyway.

Seriously, I don't believe for a second that the people who repeat this nonsense actually think their personal grandparents were enslaved. That's not the kind of thing you have to learn from the internet any more than I needed the internet to know my Yankee family were fishermen in Massachusetts.
posted by Sequence at 4:28 PM on April 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


Indentured servitude is one fuck-kitty of a lot different from institutionalized slavery.

The slant I've read is that the former were not property and therefore were worked harder and in more dangerous jobs, whereas the latter were a capital investment and treated (relatively) better. Also that most indentured servants were British, not Irish, for whatever difference that makes. Some links for the curious.

In the meantime, there's still plenty of crap to deal with in the 21st century.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:31 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I cannot speak to certainty on this, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were happening back in, like, Celtic pre-Christianized Ireland, back when EVERYONE was doing that.

There were multi-generation dynasties of Irish slave traders and plenty of Irish people owned sugar plantations and the slaves to work them in the West Indies. When Westminster emancipated slaves in 1833, among those receiving compensation for the loss was an Irishman who was paid for his 1,586 slaves.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:32 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Liam Hogan deserves some sort of Nobel Prize for combating internet fuckwittery. There's probably no reasoning with the people who came up with this bullshit, but he's worked really hard to keep it from spreading beyond overt white supremacists.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:37 PM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


The slant I've read is that the former were not property and therefore were worked harder and in more dangerous jobs, whereas the latter were a capital investment and treated (relatively) better.

This is not borne out in any of your links or, indeed, in any kind of reputable or honest history that I've read, so I'm curious where you got that "slant" from.
posted by Krom Tatman at 4:38 PM on April 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


The slant I've read is that the former were not property and therefore were worked harder and in more dangerous jobs, whereas the latter were a capital investment and treated (relatively) better.

Where did you read that, John C. Calhoun's diary?
posted by sallybrown at 4:40 PM on April 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


I have also heard that argument -- not from anyone who knew a damn thing about it, just nonsense people in comments sections and at BBQs, but I have heard it.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:40 PM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Where did you read that, John C. Calhoun's diary?

I just Googled him and he looks like a bad guy.
posted by brundlefly at 4:43 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was being facetious but it turns out he pretty much said exactly that:
I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him; or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe-look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind super­intending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the for­lorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poor house.
Source
posted by sallybrown at 4:52 PM on April 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


At best, the property vs. commodity is some correlation of the "inside/outside slave" and justification of "humane" treatment. Someone mentioned the non-white slave owner situation. This is taught but as far as I can see, only as an example of the slave trade propaganda that sought to show non-slave states "Righteousness" is not warranted because, hey work hard enough and anyone can own a slave. A quick survey shows that over a million slaves in the country with about 12,000 being owned by non-white in 1830.
The culture that justified slavery was insidious. For example, slave owners using history and culture to prove thier way of life was just. There is an article done by a historian about faux books and wall paper and how they were the rage at plantations because, cheaper then real books.

That TARDIS thread linked is very good.
posted by clavdivs at 4:59 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


I heard something along these lines from an Irish friend back in 1997. He didn't and doesn't have racist sympathies, it was more like "Here's another time the Irish were totally screwed!" He was talking about how many survivors of the 1649 Siege of Drogheda were sent to the Caribbean (specifically Barbados, according to the Wiki entry). Many indentured Irish people were sent to Jamaica, where they intermarried with the African population. Which means the descendants of those Irish people are generally also black (Bob Marley, for example). So the meme is based on history, sorta, but the conclusions the creators drew from it are some racist bullshit.

The thing is, the relationship between poor-Irish and enslaved-African culture in the 17th and 18th centuries is really interesting, and ultimately heartbreaking, because the upper classes tried very hard to destroy the natural affinity that arose between those two groups. They were pretty successful at this in the US, less so in the Caribbean, but it was very deliberate. And it's obviously still working.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 5:00 PM on April 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


Uuuuugh I had a relative on the paternal line pull this crap over one of the holidays and I had to mention a) we're not Irish Catholic, and haven't been Irish since the 17th century b) we'd be the ones oppressing the Irish for God and crown and c) coming up with biblical justifications for slavery. Being vaguely Celtic does not an Irish marytr make! Sheesh
posted by The Whelk at 5:03 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


this is the article that actually addresses the numbers in detail (irish indentured servants v actual slaves) (posting largely because i found the main link to be light on details).
posted by andrewcooke at 5:03 PM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


It doesn't need saying that the English did treat the Irish shittily for the past 500 years, but on the detailed racial rankings of the British, they were still "white". They may have ranked above or below Ukrainians and Frenchmen and Doukhobors and Ruthenians at various times (and, yes, the British did take care to carefully rank the desirability of all those groups), but they were always better in the British ranking than anyone with brown or black (or "yellow") skin.
posted by clawsoon at 5:07 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Scotland played a massive part in slavery and many people and companies profited from the slave trade and plantation economy. Knowledge of this has been spread from the academic world outwards over about the past ten years through local events, radio programmes, books, history walks, projects like 'The Empire Cafe' and its events etc. My experience is that I never heard anything about it growing up (which is significant in itself, as l was very interested in history). I first encountered historical work on the subject as an adult.

It's a subject that has greatly increased in coverage and prominence in recent years, though there's still a long way to go. I have seen people get confused about indentured servitude and have needed to spell out the difference to them, but indentured servitude is so little known, that l don't come across that often.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:10 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's been quite a while since I read Jim Goad's Redneck Manifesto, but I seem to recall him pushing this narrative, although not in a racist-enabling way.
posted by gngstrMNKY at 5:17 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I grew up in Jamaica and this is what I was taught about the Irish there who were forced into indentured servitude.

In 1641 Ireland's population stood close to 1.5 million. Following a 1648 battle in Ireland known as the "Siege of Drogheda" in which Irish rebels were brutally subdued, Oliver's son, Henry, was named Major General in command of English forces in Ireland. Under his jurisdiction, thousands of Irish men and women were shipped to the West Indies to provide a source of indentured labour. Between 1648 and 1655, over 12,000 political prisoners alone were sent to Barbados. This was the first set to come involuntarily as prior to that the Irish had willingly chosen to subject themselves to terms of indenture for the chance to start a new life in the New World upon completion of their contracts.

amd

The 13-year war from 1641-1654 had left behind large numbers of widows and deserted wives. In addition, many Irish men, their properties confiscated by Cromwell had no means of making a living. By 1655 some 6,400 Irish had been shipped off when in March all orders to capture "all wanderers, men and women and other such Irish in their possession" were revoked (Williams, pp. 12-13).
posted by nickyskye at 5:20 PM on April 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Here's what Hogan has to say about it in the link:
You mentioned you are likely to expand your research into a book. What else do you hope to explore on this topic?

I would like to reclaim the history of Irish servitude in the 17th century Anglo-Caribbean and present it in context for a general audience. The Cromwellian policy of forced transportation to the colonies in the 1650s (which included an estimated 10,000 Irish people) understandably scars our collective memory and it deserves both respect and close attention from anyone interested in the history of the unfree labour systems in the Atlantic world. Prior to the sugar revolution and the massive investment by Europeans in enslaving and dehumanizing African people, the living and working conditions of servants and slaves were similar. As the British colonies transitioned to large-scale sugar plantations both groups were exploited for profit, indentured servants for decades and enslaved Africans for centuries.
I don't think that anyone is denying that there were unfree Irish migrants to British colonies in the 17th century. What they're arguing is that they were not slaves. There was also change over time: over time, hierarchies of freedom and unfreedom got more binary and rigid, and they became more rigidly tied to what we now think of as race.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:31 PM on April 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


It doesn't need saying that the English did treat the Irish shittily for the past 500 years, but on the detailed racial rankings of the British, they were still "white". They may have ranked above or below Ukrainians and Frenchmen and Doukhobors and Ruthenians at various times (and, yes, the British did take care to carefully rank the desirability of all those groups), but they were always better in the British ranking than anyone with brown or black (or "yellow") skin.

Americans in the 1800s were somewhat less charitable in their outlook, by contrast. And yet, a lot of the solve owners in the American South were of Irish descent as well.

...hoping to God that doesn't come across as a "well, actually". Instead, that is the exact realization I had on the topic when I was working on a play that had some really heavy things to say about racial politics - the director and playwright (same guy) did a lot of work with the whole cast and had a lot of discussions about racial politics and the history of race relations, and there a lot of group conversations about our personal relations with race. And at one scene in the play, one character - who is a fugitive - is being described by a newscaster, and the newscaster is using some really animalistic terms to describe him. The director brought in some reference material to show us - he'd taken those exact descriptions from a news piece in the late 1800s describing a black man who was also a fugitive. "They described us black people like we were APES," he pointed out.

And for a second I thought, "now, wait a minute, I've seen some Thomas Nash cartoons where Irish Famine immigrants were described the exact same way." But in the very next second I realized - the director was an African American man with the name O'Hara, and how did I think he got THAT name?

And it just made my heart hurt because - race isn't the issue, it's CLASS, and the upper classes have always turned us against each other for the stupidest of reasons. And yet generations later sometimes the descendants of those people who were set against each other can get past it, and we should never forget that they ALL built the country we walk on, and deserve just as much credit in the founding of this country as Washington and Jefferson and Hamilton did.

Jefferson no doubt sweat as he wrote the Constitution. But my Irish thrice-great grandfather gave his sweat mining tin, and that playwright's ancestor no doubt sweat in his labor too. But they all sweat, is the point, and no one person's sweat is more or less precious - or protected, or hallowed or sacred - than any other. Instead of competing to see who sweat more, can we not focus on who was making us sweat?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


A lot of the time stories of different ethnic and racial groups' suffering are offered up as "Hey, we were all oppressed, maybe we should sympathize with and help eachother??" But of course, sadly there's plenty of people who will turn that to evil purposes. Divide and conquer, same as always.
posted by jonmc at 5:40 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Confederate Heritage Month sure isn't going well for slavery apologists, at least here on MetaFilter.
posted by TedW at 5:45 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Confederate Heritage Month sure isn't going well for slavery apologists, at least here on MetaFilter.

/minor derail-side comment

literally thousands of southerners (as detailed by this book) left the South to fight for the Union. Amd just about all southerners I know, of all racial and poiltical stripes have fierce attachment (at least culturally) to the region, so that's saying something. I guess.
posted by jonmc at 5:51 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


And it just made my heart hurt because - race isn't the issue, it's CLASS...
And also race. Just because different means, expressions, and experiences of oppression have similarities does not make them the same, particularly in the US.
posted by lumensimus at 5:52 PM on April 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


The Troubles are as relevant to the White Irish Slavery myth as the Boston Tea Party is to the Moon Landing.

To be explicitly clear on my point - and I know this is a sensitive issue, there have been a lot more Irish folks who have chosen to respond to discrimination by blowing things up than African Americans. The civil rights movement in the US has been staggeringly, astoundingly civil and peaceful. And yet these racists have the gall to imply that African Americans are savage in their claim that if black folks would just shut up and play nice and get over their mistreatment, like the Irish did, then they would be doing fine.

The thing is not only are they wrong on the mistreatment being as bad as slavery, they are also wrong in saying the "Irish" response was to sit down, shut up, and play nice, when there was a lot more "up with halberd, out with sword," even into the 90's.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


literally thousands of southerners (as detailed by this book) left the South to fight for the Union

well I'm gonna venture they wouldn't be big fans of Confederate Heritage Month either
posted by Krom Tatman at 6:02 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Over at AskHistorians, we're lucky enough to have a PhD student who specializes in the history of slavery in the British Caribbean. Because this is reddit, the "Irish slavery hurf durf" comes up depressingly often, though fortunately that only means he has given some numerous explications on just how fundamentally wrong the myth actually is.

If any of you have some time (and want to continue to see this myth get debunked), I highly recommend reading through this series of comments which not only delves into the origin of the myth, but also takes considerable amount of time to unpack the fundemental differences between Irish indentured servitude and African slavery. Really, it's pretty great.

And as a shameless self-link, I chatted with him about the end of slavery in the British Caribbean on a recent episode of the AskHistorians Podcast, which I host/produce. We only tangentially touch on this topic though.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:12 PM on April 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a lot.

Clearly the premise of the meme is factually incorrect. Irish people weren't treated as badly as black people in US history.

But I'm going to be a bit weird here and say that the Irish experience is important for understanding slavery. So is the Chinese experience (brought here for cheap labor), the Russian experience (many immigrants were serfs), the Jewish experience (many were constantly being killed in their home countries), the Appalachian coal miner experience (working for close to nothing in extraordinarily dangerous conditions). Lots of groups have faced challenges in US history. The fact that racism is so common and pernicious today is evidence that slavery must have been far worse than those experiences, and far longer lasting.
posted by miyabo at 7:17 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Interesting fact: "indentured" refers to the dentition, or sawtoothed edge that separated the halves of contract (for labour or apprenticeship). Terms were written out in duplicate, with a copy for each party and the jagged line of separation proved that the two copies belonged together.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:24 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


race isn't the issue, it's CLASS

Nothing personal against you, but I absolutely loathe this approach to the topic, almost as much as a despise the "I don't see race gambit." Both have at their root an ecumenical approach to the racial strife which is part of the foundation of societies in the Americas, and American society in particular, but that ecumenical offer elides over the disparity between two ostensibly lower class groups separated only by racial lines. Poor Blacks and poor Whites may have much more in common than either do with the monied classes, but the racial caste system(s) of the Americas still meant that the latter was always, by legal edict and/or social custom, below the former.

So yeah, Jefferson and your great^x grandfather sweat, but the fruit of that sweat was theirs to build upon in a way that the sweat of Sally Hemming and your director's great^x was not. The former's sweat literally was more precious to them, because it was theirs. That collected sweat (this metaphor is getting gross) yielded compound interest of the years in such a way that class lines evolved and solidified along racial lines. So, again, I really hate the "class, not race" approach, because race and class are not separate in America, but very cruelly intertwined.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:28 PM on April 26, 2016 [32 favorites]


But I'm going to be a bit weird here and say that the Irish experience is important for understanding slavery. So is the Chinese experience (brought here for cheap labor), the Russian experience (many immigrants were serfs), the Jewish experience (many were constantly being killed in their home countries), the Appalachian coal miner experience (working for close to nothing in extraordinarily dangerous conditions).

Why do you think that understanding the experiences of people who were not slaves is important for understanding slavery?
posted by 23skidoo at 7:29 PM on April 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Because every group has experienced discrimination. The varying aspect is law that enforced slavery/discrimination. Of the groups listed, only the African slaves and the Chinese immigrants were subject to law that denied them rights. Understanding law, like the Chinese curfews and work limitations, helps in comparison to say, drug enforcement zones in primarily African-Amercan communities today. Something worth noting.
posted by clavdivs at 7:37 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because every group has experienced discrimination.

Sure, but not every group has experienced slavery. Learning that many groups have experienced discrimination doesn't really help you understand slavery any better.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:40 PM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Panjandrum - I can only plead to an ignorance borne of my background and swear good intent, but apologize for that ignorance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 PM on April 26, 2016


23skidoo—I think miyabo's point was elucidated in the final line of their comment which you omitted in your quote: "The fact that racism is so common and pernicious today is evidence that slavery must have been far worse than those experiences, and far longer lasting."
posted by Atom Eyes at 7:44 PM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


If the meme is "Irish were treated just as badly as Blacks" then it's false, because Irish were never kept as hereditary chattel slaves, but if the meme is just "Irish were slaves" then it might be a little misleading, but it's not really false. Indentured servitude is considered a form of slavery in a modern context, I don't see why we need to insist that only chattel slavery "counts" as slavery. It's simply the most extreme form. I read The Redneck Manifesto years ago (which is pretty much the origin of this meme as far as I can tell) and I remember Jim Goad being very explicit about the difference between indentured servitude and chattel slavery, so trying to debunk this meme by pointing out the difference is really arguing with a straw man.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:52 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, I understood the final point, but was more interested in the thought process that got to that final point, is all.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:52 PM on April 26, 2016


If the meme is "Irish were treated just as badly as Blacks" then it's false, because Irish were never kept as hereditary chattel slaves

Yes, that's the meme. It's brought out when racism against Blacks is brought up, to point out that Blacks in the US didn't have it any worse than anyone else.
posted by lazuli at 7:56 PM on April 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


Well, law is a thought process, is it not?
posted by clavdivs at 7:58 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


(I should have phrased that better, as ... to falsely imply that Blacks in the US didn't have it any worse than anyone else.)
posted by lazuli at 8:00 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


so trying to debunk this meme by pointing out the difference is really arguing with a straw man.

There's actually quite a lot more to it than that, as TFAs go into, and it is very much meant to be equated with chattel slavery, up to and including taking out-of-context images from violence done in the Triangle Trade and passing them off as "Irish slavery", in order to denigrate people talking about anti-Black racism in the here and now. I really hope Hogan does write more about what Part 5 of the Medium posts focus on and that he expanded upon in the SPLC interview, about how the myth got built up and how it moved from being the province of white supremacists to gradually filtering into "mainstream" channels, because that's fascinating.

It'd be real cool if we could talk about that in this thread instead of everyone taking turns spouting off their ignorant half-baked remembrances from god-knows-where, but we get the thread we deserve.
posted by Krom Tatman at 8:19 PM on April 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


It's like the False Analogy fallacy, come to life!

When dealing with relatives and acquaintances of the unenlightened and vociferous variety, I recommend a Socrat-ish stance.

Manifest ignorance. Oh really? I didn't know about that. You sound like you know what you're talking about.

Ask for more information. Ask for evidence. Always ask for evidence.

Ask questions about logical fallacies. Highlight errors or questions of fact, but leave them aside to be determined later.

That's what I recommend. Or you could do what I do, which is roll my eyes and maybe yell.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:28 PM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


And yet, a lot of the slave owners in the American South were of Irish descent as well.

Including the most famous one of all time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:54 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I really hope Hogan does write more about what Part 5 of the Medium posts focus on and that he expanded upon in the SPLC interview, about how the myth got built up and how it moved from being the province of white supremacists to gradually filtering into "mainstream" channels, because that's fascinating.

What was most interesting to me about his debunking is that he's citing, like, hundred-year old texts to show the differences between the institutional slavery and Irish indentured servitude, but the history of the meme he's debunking only dates back to the early 2000s. It seems it'd be relatively easy for someone to be slightly convinced after encountering one of these memes, but then to un-do that, they have to read a really dense 5-Part takedown of all the ways the meme has been historically altering/exaggerating/conflating true facts.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:16 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Being vaguely Celtic does not an Irish marytr make!

I don't know. As a non-Irish person who's spent the last 30 years playing Irish music, people sure have a bunch of weird ideas about being Irish or Scottish or "Celtic". I bring this up because maybe you're more likely to accept the Irish slavery meme if you've been habouring a bunch of fantasies about your Celtic heritage. Americans seem to be especially prone to this stuff, but I've seen some serious wingnuttery here in Canada as well, although we tend to feel closer to the Scots. I've read that a big chunk of the lucrative Irish tourism industry over the last 30+ years is Americans looking to discover their Irish roots, but it's hard to tell how much of that is a convenient construct.
posted by sneebler at 9:44 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Start with the Celtic Leauge/JFK and read back.
posted by clavdivs at 10:09 PM on April 26, 2016


L.P. Hatecraft, are drafted and impressed members of military forces considered slaves within the modern context you're saying regards indentured servants to have been slaves?
posted by XMLicious at 11:42 PM on April 26, 2016


XMLicious,

Indentured servitude is a form of debt bondage, which is considered a form of modern slavery by the US State Department, and an institution and practice similar to slavery or simply "slavery" by the United Nations. AFAIK military draftees aren't considered slaves.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 12:45 AM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


The State Department page definition of debt bondage specifies when traffickers or recruiters unlawfully exploit an initial debt the worker assumed as part of the terms of employment, emphasis mine, the 1957 treaty's definition is
Debt bondage, that is to say, the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined;
and the United Nations fact sheet says
Although in theory a debt is repayable over a period of time, a situation of bondage arises when in spite of all his efforts, the borrower cannot wipe it out. Normally, the debt is inherited by the bonded labourer's children.
So categorizing all indentured servitude as slavery, particularly indentured servitude with a fixed term lawfully entered into by an adult that doesn't result in their children also becoming indentured servants, as a premise for a syllogism to conclude that "Irish were slaves" in the Americas seems like quite a stretch to me. Especially if military conscripts who might be whipped for insubordination depending on the place and time period or be executed for desertion do not qualify as slaves.

I mean the two UN documents also mention circumstances under which a marriage can be a form of slavery but it would be patently absurd to say that an ethnic group "were slaves" because marriage is common within it, particularly in the context of black and indigenous people having been slaves in the Americas.

So I do think it's quite important to note how thoroughly different the institutions of indentured servitude and colonial and American slavery were, in the face of this myth.
posted by XMLicious at 2:19 AM on April 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


"Back when I was doing my bachelor's degree, I knew a guy who brought this nonsense up in class once, going to far as to say that the Irish had it worse than the African slaves, because at least the slaves had food and shelter. Idiot. "

Ah, takes me back. My "History of American Journalism" prof believed this shit (also a Randian), and I ended up tracking down primary sources to refute him. Luckily, he was the kind of person who encouraged students to argue with him, but it was pretty gratifying to be able to debunk that and the "Confederates didn't fight the Civil War over slavery" nonsense all in one semester. (He was also one of my first protracted experiences with the "Brilliant in one discipline; moron in others" archetype.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:37 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Even if it was true, it's irrelevant. The children and grandchildren of these supposed Irish slaves could disappear into the white society around them and not be at any particular disadvantage other than economic. Slavery in any context is wrong, of course, but it was the combination of slavery and racism that made African slavery in the US so brutal and its consequences so long lasting.
posted by Nothing at 2:42 AM on April 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm Irish. This pops up on various friend's Facebook timelines every so often. This now provides me with a handy centralised location for "we're not the most oppressed people ever" rebuttals.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:34 AM on April 27, 2016


What I mean is although it's not the best, it's coming from a place of kindness. I try to say stuff like "Even if you mean well, this is a thing racists say so you will come off as racist" but they don't seem to get that line of reasoning.

To be fair, oftentimes two sides of an argument can use the same source. This is probably a broad example, but there are Christians who can use the bible to (somehow) say that their race is superior, while there are others that use it to say we should love everyone. If Irish slavery was true I wouldn't expect your family to change their reasoning just because racists use the same idea for their ends.

Even if it was true, it's irrelevant. The children and grandchildren of these supposed Irish slaves could disappear into the white society around them and not be at any particular disadvantage other than economic.

I think this is such a key point. The Irish had a much easier time blending in than Africans.
posted by angryostrich at 7:52 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


AFAIK military draftees aren't considered slaves.

This is drifting off topic a bit, but I'd be careful being definitive about that. They certainly can be, by the UN. Child slaves impressed into various militas are a huge problem in some parts of the world right now: hundreds of thousands of child soldiers kept in slavery. A Russian draftee isn't a slave, but a six-year-old given a gun in the Sudan and told to fight or be killed is.
posted by bonehead at 8:03 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Even if it was true, it's irrelevant. The children and grandchildren of these supposed Irish slaves could disappear into the white society around them and not be at any particular disadvantage other than economic. Slavery in any context is wrong, of course, but it was the combination of slavery and racism that made African slavery in the US so brutal and its consequences so long lasting."

If you follow the links down, you see some commenter on DailyKos making a very similar impassioned argument to state that the Irish were slaves and that African phenotype was the only thing that allowed multigenerational chattel slavery. (Shame there's no way to flag Kos articles as racist, debunked bullshit.)

Though if you really want to blow some white minds: Slave and Slav have the same root. Slavs were common (Roman) slaves.
posted by klangklangston at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am not entirely sure I follow, as I did not find the commenter you referenced in my brief search. It was definitely not my intention to wander into a position used to justify racist attitudes, so if I have done so I would appreciate more details so I can avoid it in the future.
posted by Nothing at 10:00 AM on April 27, 2016


> I don't know. As a non-Irish person who's spent the last 30 years playing Irish music, people sure have a bunch of weird ideas about being Irish or Scottish or "Celtic". I bring this up because maybe you're more likely to accept the Irish slavery meme if you've been habouring a bunch of fantasies about your Celtic heritage.

This this this oh my gods yes. It's staggering what people will swallow uncritically if it adds fuel to their unabashed romanticization of their Celtic heritage.

Like pointing out that William Wallace wouldn't have been in woad, or that the official clan tartan system was invented just 200 years ago and really took off after a Victorian/Edwardian-era fashion craze. It usually gets hand-waved away with "ohhhh, maybe so, but I like this idea so much that I like to imagine that it's historical even though it may or may not be EXACTLY right." (Oh, details aren't that important but you just spent an hour arguing over whether or not the Campbell dress tartan is an authentic variation.)
posted by desuetude at 12:42 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I am not entirely sure I follow, as I did not find the commenter you referenced in my brief search. It was definitely not my intention to wander into a position used to justify racist attitudes, so if I have done so I would appreciate more details so I can avoid it in the future.

I didn't mean that you were being racist, just the unfortunate similarities. The article is here, and the commenter making the argument is (I realized on second read) the author of the piece.
posted by klangklangston at 1:41 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


XMLicious:
The State Department page definition of debt bondage specifies when traffickers or recruiters unlawfully exploit an initial debt the worker assumed as part of the terms of employment, emphasis mine
That's rather a lawyerly reading of it. Firstly, indentured servitude as practiced in the American colonies is certainly illegal according to current American law, and it's not clear (or even very meaningful to ask, since it's about modern slavery, not historical slavery) whether the State Dept's definition is supposed to be relative to past laws as well as present. My original statement was simply that indentured servitude would be considered slavery according to current law and current definitions of slavery (i.e. a "modern context") and I think that's borne out by the links I provided.

Secondly, even according to the law of the time, many aspects of indentured servitude were illegal or quasi-illegal: many migrants to the colonies were straight up kidnapped, misled about what they were getting into, forced to accept inhuman terms because they had no choice after being dispossessed from their land, or sentenced to indentured servitude as a punishment for minor crimes by judges who were getting a cut of profits earned from their servitude, and once in the colonies they could find their term of indenture arbitrarily extended by large periods for minor infractions or even no reason at all. Servants were considered the legal property of their owners, sometimes referred to simply as "slaves", traded between owners, and in many cases prevented from marrying until their period of indenture was completed. A large portion of them died before well before their time was up.

Again, this is not to claim that indentured servitude is equivalent to chattel slavery in all respects, but if you are kidnapped off the streets and find yourself in the colonies being worked to exhaustion or death on a plantation for an owner who is legally entitled to treat you as his property, what do you call that situation? I appreciate that there are some false or exaggerated claims being made about this as documented in the links in the OP, but they seem more like debunkings of particular individual image macros rather than an actual debunking of the "myth of the Irish slave" (more actually just "white slavery" since it wasn't just the Irish).
So categorizing all indentured servitude as slavery, particularly indentured servitude with a fixed term lawfully entered into by an adult that doesn't result in their children also becoming indentured servants, as a premise for a syllogism to conclude that "Irish were slaves" in the Americas seems like quite a stretch to me
It's not necessary to categorize all indentured servitude as slavery to conclude that "Irish were slaves", only to categorize some of it as slavery to conclude that (some) "Irish were slaves".
Especially if military conscripts who might be whipped for insubordination depending on the place and time period or be executed for desertion do not qualify as slaves.
Frankly this argument about the military seems like a "gotcha". I didn't bring up the military and I don't really know much about the legal status of military conscripts but as bonehead mentioned, military conscription can amount to slavery in some cases.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:28 PM on April 27, 2016


I appreciate that there are some false or exaggerated claims being made about this as documented in the links in the OP, but they seem more like debunkings of particular individual image macros rather than an actual debunking of the "myth of the Irish slave" (more actually just "white slavery" since it wasn't just the Irish).

Read the interview (first link) again. Or for the first time.
posted by Krom Tatman at 10:40 PM on April 27, 2016


Read the interview (first link) again. Or for the first time.

I read it yesterday. Frankly I think it's not that well researched, as there are several major sources for this stuff that aren't even mentioned. For example, Jim Goad's book isn't mentioned. On top of that, a lot of the content in Goad's book about indentured servitude is basically lifted from Howard Zinn's People's History of America, which isn't mentioned either. Hogan tries to focus on the most easily-debunked stuff, which is the strawman shooting-fish-in-a-barrel approach. I'm not obliged to regard some Facebook image macro as is the important content here that I should be paying attention to just because you think it is.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:49 PM on April 27, 2016


...they seem more like debunkings of particular individual image macros rather than an actual debunking of the "myth of the Irish slave" (more actually just "white slavery" since it wasn't just the Irish). ... It's not necessary to categorize all indentured servitude as slavery to conclude that "Irish were slaves", only to categorize some of it as slavery to conclude that (some) "Irish were slaves".

So it doesn't even need to have anything to do with indentured servitude; under the analysis of slavery you're advancing really just finding one white person who was treated like a slave, even someone who'd paid their own passage and was simply a conventional workman, is enough to say that discussion of white slavery contemporaneous to the African slave trade is "not really false", but rather is valid.

No need to focus on 20th and 21st-century child soldiers, it's been pretty much standard in history for people to be compelled into compliant military service with executions, whippings, and other punishments, sometimes after being Shanghaied or some other form of kidnapping. Much more standard than with indenture, which had been around for half a millenia or more and was hardly illegal or quasi-legal.

It's a "gotcha" in that it highlights that this analysis of slavery, which you've put forward in at least one previous thread concerning Irish indentured servitude, very very much makes it so that nearly every person is a recent descendant of slaves; but calling it a "gotcha" doesn't change that. Characterizing an article that deals with things like history being rewritten so that the victims of the Zong Massacre were Irish as mostly about image macros sure as hell doesn't make it look any less like you're intent on minimizing the significance of the African slave trade and resulting generational chattel slavery.
posted by XMLicious at 3:41 AM on April 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


Yeah, if you think the debunking is mostly about image macros, read all of the five-part series on medium. (Links are in the OP)
posted by 23skidoo at 6:42 AM on April 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's not necessary to categorize all indentured servitude as slavery to conclude that "Irish were slaves", only to categorize some of it as slavery to conclude that (some) "Irish were slaves".

Panjandrum: Over at AskHistorians, we're lucky enough to have a PhD student who specializes in the history of slavery in the British Caribbean. Because this is reddit, the "Irish slavery hurf durf" comes up depressingly often, though fortunately that only means he has given some numerous explications on just how fundamentally wrong the myth actually is.

The student Panjandrum is referring to, sowser, has done a great deal of sourced work responding to this premise. Since it can be a little difficult to dig through the nested comments, I'll link them directly.

This thread: Was owning slaves in the US limited solely to black people? Could somebody own white slaves? "Well, let me be clear from the outset: the short and simple answer is no, it was not possible in the United States to own a white person as a slave. One of the features that makes slavery in the United States so distinctive and so unique in history is that it was constructed along racial lines; in fact, the very idea of race is so essential to the story of North American slavery that you really can’t separate them out at all."

This comment: "Historians almost universally reject the idea that white indentured servitudes could be considered slaves. The system has a very different theoretical construction, and a different social reality, to slavery. Indentured servants were theoretically free people who entered into a voluntary contract of service in exchange for compensation at the end of that term of service. They had all manner of legal rights to protect them from abuses, they were legally seen as workers for an employer and not as property, their condition was always intended to be temporary and not determined at the whim of their master, and they were not excluded from society in the same way that slaves were. An indentured servant could own and inherit property, represent him or herself in a court of law, was considered to be working in exchange for a (delayed) payment rather than for free and so on. They had an identity outside of their master; a legal and cultural personage that could not be fully denied. A slave, in contrast, is reduced to property not only legally but socially - a slave has no existence outside of his or her owner."

A three-part series responding to this blog post from the British National Archives describing Irish indentured labor: "It's also, for the record, plagiarised content being used to argue something Beckles himself strong disagrees with:
White slavery ended in Europe during the Middle Ages, but the same period saw a growing use of slave labour among Africans in Africa, and this in turn led to the increasing use of enslaved Africans in the Mediterranean and in Europe. This meant that while the white labour used in the European colonization of the East-Atlantic islands and the Americas was not enslaved, even if it was bonded in various ways, the black African labour used was slave labour. (Slave Voyages: The Transatlantic Trade in Africans) [emphasis mine]."
(part 1 | part 2 | part 3, with selected sourcing)
posted by Errant at 10:42 AM on April 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


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