“irish slaves” were not a thing, stop the madness

May 18, 2017

Just this morning, I found myself fighting the all-too-common and sickening feeling that arises after coming across gruesome images of Black death. It is an inescapable reality of being Black in America: If we are not ourselves dying–and white supremacy ensures we always are–we are watching looped spectacles of ourselves being killed–on TV, on the internet and even in our own art.

You would think the constant presence of Black death would make indisputable the seriousness of the shit we go through, but then you’d just be wrong. White people are geniuses at trivializing our experiences, both historical and present. And one of the most persistent ways they do this is by downplaying the magnitude of chattel slavery. If it isn’t the lie that slave owners treated their slaves well, it’s arguing that other communities of people had it worst–and look at them not complaining!

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

When exploiting the Holocaust isn’t enough, the play is usually the Irish slave card. Irish people, they claim, had it just as bad as Black folks, and experienced slavery as well. This is a claim that has been debunked numerous times (even by Irish scholars themselves), but persists nonetheless. According to the New York Times, “Historians say the idea of Irish slaves is based on a misreading of history and that the distortion is often politically motivated. Far-right memes have taken off online and are used as racist barbs against African-Americans. ‘The Irish were slaves, too,’ the memes often say. ‘We got over it, so why can’t you?’”

Obviously, there is a difference between chattel slavery (that Black folks experienced in the Americas), other forms of slavery, and the indentured servitude that the Irish experienced. As the New York Times reports: “Life was bad for indentured servants. [But] unlike slaves, servants were considered legally human. Their servitude was based on a contract that limited their service to a finite period of time, usually about seven years, in exchange for passage to the colonies. They did not pass their unfree status on to descendants”

But “Irish slaves got over it” isn’t an argument based on intellectual honesty. It’s a wide-scale gas-lighting tactic used to force Black people to feel the need to re-prove–over and over again–their own victimhood when it is self-evident. At some point, you engage an argument so much so that you end up legitimizing it. It’s well past time we put an end to the bullshit, and stop arguing with folks whose only agenda is to, by whatever means necessary, avoid facing a history that needs to be faced.

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.