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Old 04 March 2016, 02:40 AM
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Icon07 ‘Irish slaves’: the convenient myth

It was with a heavy heart and no small amount of anger that I decided it was necessary to write a public refutation of the insidious myth that the Irish were once chattel slaves in the British colonies. The subject of this myth is not an issue in academic circles, for there is unanimous agreement, based on overwhelming evidence, that the Irish were never subjected to perpetual, hereditary slavery in the colonies, based on notions of ‘race’. Unfortunately this is not the case in the public domain and the ‘Irish slaves’ myth has been shared so frequently online that it has gone viral.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyond...onvenient-myth
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Old 04 March 2016, 07:55 AM
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Great article. Thanks for sharing it.
Quote:
The subject of this myth is not an issue in academic circles, for there is unanimous agreement, based on overwhelming evidence, that the Irish were never subjected to perpetual, hereditary slavery in the colonies, based on notions of ‘race’.

{ snip }

The tale of the Irish slaves is rooted in a false conflation of indentured servitude and chattel slavery. These are not the same.
Boy oh boy is that ever true. I got my degree in American History during the '80s and no professor and no serious work would ever conflate the two. I do remember a few students who were, initially, a bit confused on the subject. For example, they would share a story about an ancestor who was an indentured servant and then describe him or her as a slave. However, all a professor had to do was to ask if the children of that indentured servant were in bondage and the answer was always no.

And I really admire the author's detective work on finding the origins of this myth.
Quote:
The most influential book to claim that there was ‘white slavery’ in Colonial America was Michael Hoffman’s They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America. Self-published in 1993, Hoffman, a Holocaust denier, unsurprisingly blames the Atlantic slave trade on the Jews. By blurring the lines between the different forms of unfree labour, these white supremacists seek to conceal the incontestable fact that these slavocracies were controlled by—and operated for the benefit of—white Europeans.
My first exposure to this myth was on Usenet in the mid '90s, particularly on white supremacist and survivalist groups like misc.militia, alt.flame.n*ggers, and alt.politics.white-power. So, the timeframe sounds right to me.

Finally, I see the author, Liam Hogan, is working on a longer version planned for June 2016. I followed him on Twitter so I can get updates.

Brian
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  #3  
Old 04 March 2016, 12:42 PM
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I am not sure the argument that 'a person's children did not automatically become slaves, therefore that person was not a slave' holds water. Many cultures have had forms of slavery in which the servitude did not extend to the children of slaves. As I understand it, Roman slavery was like that. I am not so sure about ancient Greek slavery. Anyway, there is nothing inherent in the notion of slavery that it should extend to descendants.

Speaking of 'what is the inherent meaning of slavery', it has seemed to me that a number of references to someone having to become a slave actually involve selling their services to others for wages, such that the other person retains the product. I.e., what we would call, 'having a job.' In an age where most production was done by the extended family/tribe who together owned the land/flock/looms/whatever, the notion of doing work for the benefit of others, even if for pay, could seem as a form of slavery. And it is very likely that the worst chores were assigned, very slavelike, to those who needed the pay so much that they would do those things to get by. Anyone have any insight into whether there is a substantial strain of treating working for wages as a type of slavery?
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Old 04 March 2016, 12:46 PM
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There is a difference between indentured servitude and chattel slavery. That's an indisputable fact.

ETA: How Roman or Greek (or ancient Israeli, FTM) slavery worked is irrelevant to the OP topic.
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Old 04 March 2016, 02:05 PM
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I thought this was going to be an article refuting the claim that the ancient Irish enslaved the Brits (like St. Patrick).

Seaboe
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Old 04 March 2016, 02:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lainie View Post
There is a difference between indentured servitude and chattel slavery. That's an indisputable fact.

ETA: How Roman or Greek (or ancient Israeli, FTM) slavery worked is irrelevant to the OP topic.
I think ATNM might have been referring to BrianB's post:

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianB View Post
I do remember a few students who were, initially, a bit confused on the subject. For example, they would share a story about an ancestor who was an indentured servant and then describe him or her as a slave. However, all a professor had to do was to ask if the children of that indentured servant were in bondage and the answer was always no.
This seems to imply that indentured servitude is not slavery, or that the word "slave" only applies if the status is hereditary. I guess it is a matter of semantics, but to me at least, indentured servitude is a kind of debt slavery, which is still slavery, even if it is not race-based or not inherently hereditary.

For that matter, debts can be inherited. A common feature of debt slavery is that the debt accrues faster than the person can pay it off. If the person dies without paying it off, the children inherit the debt and the servitude that goes along with it. Debts can be bought and sold without the consent of the person who owes the debt, effectively transferring that person from one "owner" to another. That's how it worked in Nepal when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1990's. It was illegal, but still common in the Far-Western lowlands where I lived.

There are different kinds of slavery. Chattel slavery is one, debt slavery is another.
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Old 04 March 2016, 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by crescent View Post
There are different kinds of slavery. Chattel slavery is one, debt slavery is another.
In this case the OP's article is talking about chattel slavery because that's what black people in America were subjected to. The reason is that there is a whole revisionist history thing taking root about how the Irish in America just as bad. Just recently I saw one making the rounds on facebook about how the Irish in the US came here as slaves but today we don't look for a handout" or some such thing.

Here it is.

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Old 04 March 2016, 02:45 PM
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I guess I've missed all those historical accounts when an Irish slave was lynched for merely looking at a white, non-Irish woman.

Also, aren't Irish stereotypically infamous for complaining?

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Rolling Stones song, "Ginger Sugar" is coming on the radio and I want to listen to it.
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Old 04 March 2016, 02:56 PM
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I was well aware of indentured servitude, and of poor treatment of Irish and others, but never even heard the idea that it was somehow similar to the slavery imposed on Africans and their decedents. Explained by the fact that this treatise was written in 1993.

In any case, for the sake of discussion, say we accept- or just make up- the most favorable data to support that there were Irish slaves. Say for example that some who became indentured servant/ debt slaves were tricked into doing so- promised one thing at home and something else when they got here. Say some were in it, and when the term was supposed to end were not released, or had no choice but to re-up as it were. Say even some children had no real choice but to enter the agreement also because it was that or starve.

Even if we found cases of those things happening, how is that the same as what happened to black people into the 1860's, and then for another hundred years, and then more?
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Old 04 March 2016, 02:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fitz1980 View Post
In this case the OP's article is talking about chattel slavery because that's what black people in America were subjected to. The reason is that there is a whole revisionist history thing taking root about how the Irish in America just as bad. Just recently I saw one making the rounds on facebook about how the Irish in the US came here as slaves but today we don't look for a handout" or some such thing.
I get that - but the article goes too far in rebutting the myth. There were Irish slaves in the Americas in the 1600's.

It was debt slavery, not chattel slavery - but it was still slavery. Some of the comments on the article go into detail on the capture and deportation of Irish people under the Cromwell regime. Some acquired the debt voluntarily in return to passage, but some were rounded up against their will, shipped to the Americas against their will, were then charged for it and forced to work off the involuntarily acquired debt with the risk of beatings or imprisonment if they refused - hard agricultural work, not as domestic servants. This happened on a far smaller scale and for a shorter time period than the chattel slavery of Africans and their decedents, but it still happened.

I get that it is less insidious than chattel slavery, but as I stated, there have been many different kinds of slavery throughout history, and it is an over-simplification to say otherwise.

None of that excuses those who want to fully equate Irish debt slavery with African chattel slavery, that's just a bunch of racist revisionism. However, it does not do to rebut one kind of inaccurate revisionism with a different kind of revisionism. Both are misleading.

I guess I have an emotional investment in the concept that debt slavery is still slavery due to my experiences in Nepal. Some of the families I knew had slaves, one of the wealthiest people in the region founded an NGO to raise money to buy out the debts and to provide loans to poor people so they would not need to risk debt slavery (kamaya). Nearly all of the slaves were from the indigenous Rana Tharu ethnic group, while those who owned the debt (those who were owed money) where mostly from the ethnic groups that originated in the northern foothills, such as the Dotelli and Baitadelli.
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Old 04 March 2016, 03:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Dave View Post
Even if we found cases of those things happening, how is that the same as what happened to black people into the 1860's, and then for another hundred years, and then more?
It is not the same, I am not implying otherwise.
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Old 04 March 2016, 03:04 PM
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It is akin to the "balance fallacy". It doesn't matter the numbers (or logic, or facts, etc) on each side, as long as there is something or someone on each side, then the correct answer is in the exact middle.

If millions of black people suffered slavery and one or more white person suffered slavery, then the lingering affects of slavery equally oppose all races and it is only the (pick failing of your choice) that has caused black people to be much less successful in the US.

ETA: This covers the after affects of racism and bias too. For example, the "Irish Need Not Apply" signs are the exact equal of the systematic racism that made black children go to separate (and very unequal) schools and denied voting rights to black adults for generations.

Last edited by GenYus234; 04 March 2016 at 03:10 PM. Reason: clarification
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Old 04 March 2016, 03:07 PM
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I appreciate what you wrote, and the concern for debt slavery, moreover in the modern world. There have been reported cases where this situation even makes it to the U.S. when a person in the situation you describe is brought here by their debtee/"owner".

But the OP is about using that from 300 years ago and saying "so zip it black people." (Not you saying anything at all like that though.)
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Old 04 March 2016, 04:24 PM
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The article seems to me to be saying two things:

One, that the experience of Irish people during the history of the British colonies in the Americas, and through the history of the countries that developed from those colonies, was significantly different from the experience of Africans and African-Americans in those colonies and those countries; and that the two should not be treated as comparable.

Two, that the only thing that can legitimately be called "slavery" is inherited chattel slavery based on perceived race.

The first seems to me to be obviously true. The second one I don't agree with.

Indentured servitude, entered into voluntarily and with legally-required recompense of food, housing, and training, with or without additional legally-required compensation in the form of payment for travel and/or other payments, is/was not slavery. That's a contract exchanging a certain term of work, under specified conditions, for expected benefits.

Servitude that is entered into by capturing the "servant" and forcing that person into submission by beatings and/or the threat of beatings is slavery.
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Old 04 March 2016, 04:49 PM
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On the second point, I think you are misreading the intent of the article. The article is saying that since the general connotation of "slavery" is chattel slavery where the slave was legally property with no legal rights, using "slavery" to describe what Irish people experienced is creating a false equivalency (either accidentally or deliberately) between what Irish people experienced and what black people experienced.

IOW, it isn't that it was not in any way slavery, but that it was so many degrees less worse that it would be better to use some other term to describe it so as to not conflate the two.
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Old 04 March 2016, 07:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
since the general connotation of "slavery" is chattel slavery where the slave was legally property with no legal rights.
I don't know that that's so.

For one thing, the article doesn't seem even to restrict itself that far, but to want to restrict the word so that it only applies to slavery defined as

Quote:
"Chattel slavery was perpetual, a slave was only free once they they were no longer alive; it was hereditary, the children of slaves were the property of their owner; the status of chattel slave was designated by ‘race’, there was no escaping your bloodline"
According to that definition, there was no slavery in ancient Greece or Rome, for instance, because slaves in those societies could be freed and were often the same 'race' as their owners.

And for another, according to that definition, there's no slavery now, because I don't think it's currently officially legal anywhere (unless, possibly, one considers territory under control of Daesh to be part of a legal state.) If, on top of all the other difficulties involved, those trying to stop modern instances of slavery are to be required to come up with a brand new word for the practice, it seems to me that that's going to make it a whole lot harder to get it stopped. ETA: and I think modern instances are indeed part of the "general connotation" of the word; I see it used that way fairly frequently.
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Old 04 March 2016, 07:27 PM
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Even Daesh does not keep the children of it's slaves as slaves. They have captured Yazidi women, sold them and passed them around, forcing them to do work, but the children would not be slaves.

Under the OP's definition, those Yazidi women are not slaves, and slavery no longer exists. Having met a few slaves myself, I have difficulty with that definition.
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Old 04 March 2016, 07:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thorny locust View Post
According to that definition, there was no slavery in ancient Greece or Rome, for instance, because slaves in those societies could be freed and were often the same 'race' as their owners.
If that is so, then chattel slavery did not exist in ancient Greece or Rome.

Quote:
And for another, according to that definition, there's no slavery now, because I don't think it's currently officially legal anywhere (unless, possibly, one considers territory under control of Daesh to be part of a legal state.)
The article and my post were about how the term slavery is inappropriate to what the Irish people experienced in the US. Neither one is attempting to address the use of the term in any way other than as it applies to the experiences of black people or Irish people in the US or the western hemisphere in the early days. That quote is not the definitive quote for all conditions that are allowed to be called "slavery", it is a direct contrast to how Irish indentured servants were treated in the paragraph above.
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Old 04 March 2016, 09:12 PM
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Note: All references are to colonial/US history, and not to current events or systems in other countries.

Importantly, the system of indentured servitude was not equivalent to slavery, even if, in practice, some small percentage of indentured servants may (illegally) have been de facto slaves. An enormous number of immigrants came to the colonies/the US as indentured servants (according to sources cited on Wikipedia, 1/2 to 2/3 of white immigrants between the 1630s and the American Revolution, e.g.). There were important legal distinctions between indentured servitude and slavery, and while some of those distinctions were flouted at some times, for some people, that doesn't make indentured servitude as an institution even remotely comparable to slavery as an institution.

In evaluating or comparing the systems of indentured servitude and slavery, the fact that some fraction of people who were supposed to be indentured servants were de facto slaves because some people broke the laws concerning indentures, should carry about as much weight as the fact that some slave owners allowed their slaves to earn their freedom and treated them well. If someone pointed to an ancestor in indentured servitude and they knew the person had been kidnapped and transported against their will, forced to sign a contract which was then enforced only against them, never released even though their term of servitude was up, and was otherwise completely subject to the wishes of the person holding the debt, I would probably not quibble with that person being called a slave under the circumstances. But just pointing to a person, who, like hundreds of thousands of other immigrants financed their journey through an indenture of service, and declaring that that person was, by virtue of that fact, a slave, holds no water at all to me.
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Old 04 March 2016, 09:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crescent View Post
Under the OP's definition, those Yazidi women are not slaves, and slavery no longer exists. Having met a few slaves myself, I have difficulty with that definition.
I have not (to the best of my knowledge) met any slaves myself; but that is indeed a large part of the difficulty I'm having with the article's definition.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
The article and my post were about how the term slavery is inappropriate to what the Irish people experienced in the US. Neither one is attempting to address the use of the term in any way other than as it applies to the experiences of black people or Irish people in the US or the western hemisphere in the early days. That quote is not the definitive quote for all conditions that are allowed to be called "slavery"
We may be reading the article differently. But I don't think that's so.

The article says:

Quote:
The conflation present in both narratives has been abetted by the deliberate use of a limited vocabulary. The inclination to describe these different forms of servitude using the umbrella term “slavery” is a wilful misuse of language. It serves to diminish the reality of the chattel slave system that existed in the New World for over three centuries. It is also a reminder that the popular use of such a simplistic term as ‘modern-day slavery’ can reduce clarity and hinder our collective understanding of both the present and the past.
Hogan seems to me to be pretty clearly objecting to the use of the term "slavery" for anything other than "the chattel slave system that existed in the New World for over three centuries" (and possibly any other system that met every detail of Hogan's definition.) Not the use of the term "chattel slavery"; but the use of the term "slavery" itself.

And while indentured servants who entered their contracts willingly were certainly not slaves, again, those of the Irish (and those of the non-Irish, for that matter) who were kidnapped and forced into what were called indenture contracts were enslaved. The term seems to me entirely appropriate to describe what those particular people endured; just as it seems to me entirely appropriate to describe what people kidnapped and enslaved by Daesh endure; just as it seems to me entirely appropriate to describe what people endure who are kidnapped or tricked into forms of prostitution in which they are locked up, beaten, and raped; just as it seems to me entirely appropriate to describe what happens to children who are bought, sold, and chained to their workpieces. To point out that most of those called indentured servants really were indentured servants, and that this was not slavery, doesn't change that; any more than it changes that to point out that many child laborers work along with their families doing amounts and types of work appropriate to their ages, or that many people take up sex work voluntarily.

None of that means that the experience of the Irish in colonial and nineteenth-century America was in general comparable to the experience of enslaved Africans and their descendents. But I think it's perfectly possible to say that without saying that no Irish person was ever enslaved.
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