I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Slaves to a Myth

Slaves to a Myth

Bryan Fanning
The fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th, 2014 led to the setting up of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States. Part of the online backlash to this development was an assertion that millions of Irish had once been slaves, but that unlike black people they never complained about what had happened to their ancestors. As Fox News host Kimberley Guilfoyle put it in March 2016: “The Irish got over it. They don’t run around going ‘Irish Lives matter’.” Such assertions were repeated hundreds of thousands of times and have appeared on millions of Facebook timelines. Assertions that large numbers of Irish migrants were once slaves came to be amplified in mainstream American and Irish media. What Liam Hogan has called the “Irish slaves meme” has been mobilised by the American alt-right, among others, to disavow legacies of racism and present-day racism while simultaneously promoting a white nationalist political agenda based on claims of white victimhood. Hogan has published several online articles aimed at understanding and debunking the “Irish slave” myth and has tirelessly challenged its reproduction in the mainstream media on both sides of the Atlantic. Such was his success that on March 16th, 2017 even the alt-right Breitbart news network published a fact-check article which unambiguously debunked the myth: Reputable historians agree that the social media-driven reports deliberately conflate the extremely different contexts and conditions of African slavery and European indentured servitude. Analysts have noted that the reports gain particular traction among white supremacist sites and commentators seeking to downplay the evils of slavery. The enslavement of Africans involved abductions, human sales at auctions and lifelong forced labour in a system that defined humans as property and trapped the children of those slaves in the same bondage. Indentured servitude, while often accompanied by years of deprivation and exploitation, offered a usually voluntary means for impoverished British and Irish people to resettle in the Americas from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Contracts committed the servant to perform unpaid labour for a benefactor or employer for a fixed number of years in return for passage across the ocean, shelter and sustenance. Breitbart reported that Irish-based historians had “decried the errors repeatedly to the point of exhaustion”. It stated that the myth of Irish slavery had sought to belittle the suffering visited on black slaves and had…

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