Were there Irish slaves in the Americas?

Over the past few years, I’ve heard claims there were Irish slaves in the Americas. Were there? If by “slaves,” you mean, “not slaves,” then yes. But, if there weren’t Irish slaves, then why are there claims that there were?

As with many things that aren’t true, we have a Holocaust denier to thank for this one. Specifically, Michael A. Hoffman II, who in 1993 decided to take a break from anti-Semitism to write the book, “They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America.” Ah, who am I kidding – he also said Jews were responsible for the Atlantic slave trade. Some men see things as they are and say why; Michael A. Hoffman II dreams things that never were and says, why not make this anti-Semitic? This may be giving you the wrong impression, though. While Hoffman is first and foremost a Holocaust denier, he proved more than capable of denying other parts of history, too. We also have other people to thank for this myth, like Sean O’Callaghan, who helped popularize it with his book, “From Hell to Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland.” This book claimed, among other things, that Irish women were forcibly bred with African slaves – a claim for which there is zero evidence. In fact, if you know anything about the history of racism, you know that white women having sex with black men was long viewed by white society as pretty much the worst thing ever. There were laws all over the English colonies, then the United States, expressly forbidding it (while staying surprisingly silent on white men having sex with black women).

When the British had American colonies, many people from Ireland (and other places) came over. It was expensive to travel across the Atlantic, so many came as indentured servants. This meant that someone else would pay for their travel, then they would be their servant or worker for a set number of years (up to seven). While most of the people did this willingly, some came…not so willingly. And, even those who came willingly were sometimes doing so to escape less-than-ideal social or economic circumstances. As the name implies, indentured servants were servants. Some of them were abused and some were treated harshly. So, if some people were forced to become indentured servants, some were abused, and they were doing forced labor, why WEREN’T they slaves?

When you became an indentured servant, you signed a contract. You had access to the courts. When your time was up, you were supposed to be freed. You were the only one bound by your contract. And, even if every single one of these was abused by the person you were indebted to, at the end of the day…you were white. The laws governing African slaves were much harsher than those governing indentured servants. African slavery was what is known as “chattel slavery,” which means that enslaved people were treated as the private property of owners. They could be bought or sold, and their children would also be slaves. Chattel slaves had no rights. They couldn’t testify in court. They could be executed to deter other slaves from rising up against masters. If your owner didn’t free you or you didn’t somehow escape, you were born a slave and died a slave. As did your children, and their children, and so on. Simply put, an indentured servant was considered a person. A slave was not. The 3/5’s Compromise only applied to African slaves and their descendants, not indentured servants. It’s important to remember the discrimination faced by the Irish in the colonial period and beyond, but they were NOT slaves.

So, if the Irish weren’t slaves, why does this myth persist? First, there is a legitimate history of discrimination against the Irish, going from English-controlled Ireland all the way to the United States. This myth feeds into that history of discrimination. The second reason, and the reason this myth came about in the first place, is racism. As I mentioned before, an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier is the main reason this myth exists. And, where anti-Semitism goes, racism often follows. The Irish slave myth is very popular on racist websites, because it allows racists to minimize African slavery by claiming there were white slaves at the same time. Some also use it to minimize racism in general. There is a history of racism in the United States, but claiming that white people were just as discriminated against as every other race makes everybody sound equally oppressed.

Since the Irish weren’t slaves, there’s no evidence that they were. So, proponents have to either distort history or make it up altogether. Distortions include taking literally when the Irish are called “slaves” figuratively. Or, saying photographs or paintings of other groups of people (like Holocaust victims, child laborers, or ancient Roman slaves) are actually of Irish slaves. Sometimes proponents will even try to claim that a well-documented tragedy about African slaves was actually about Irish slaves. This happened, for example, with the Zong massacre, in which an English slave ship threw African slaves overboard to try to collect insurance on them. Then, there are blatant lies, like the claim that King James I sent thousands of Irish prisoners to the West Indies to work as slaves in 1625. It would have been quite a feat, since James I wasn’t born until 1633.

There’s no need to make up discrimination against the Irish, since history has plenty of real examples. And, while there were certainly abuses of indentured servitude, the rules for indentured servants were never as bad as they were for African slaves. In one you were a person; in the other, you were a product. Also, the myth of Irish slavery was created by an anti-Semite and is actively promoted by racist groups, so there’s that…

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Bashar al-Assad sucks at conspiracy theories

There was recently a sarin gas attack in Syria, perpetrated by the Syrian government against a rebel-controlled area. Over 80 people were killed, including children. In response, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the facility thought to house the country’s chemical weapons. But, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claims the sarin attack didn’t actually happen. How do we know it did? Simple: Bashar al-Assad sucks at conspiracy theories. He may kill me for saying that, but at least everyone will know it was him – dude couldn’t make it look like someone else stole a pencil, much less killed somebody. So, if you’re still alive, give that pencil back to him, because Bashar al-Assad’s about to go to Conspiracy School…

Conspiracy Lesson 1: Make your conspiracy theory sound logical.

The most recent conspiracy theory being pushed by Assad is that the United States somehow staged the recent gas attack as a pretext to attack Syria. The problem here is that Trump spent the entire campaign running against attacking Syria, had previously said Obama shouldn’t attack Syria even if they used chemical weapons, and was even talking about not going into Syria a few days before the attack. Add in the fact that he sometimes makes split-second decisions based on what he just saw on TV, and what’s more likely – that the US staged a big gas attack so they could shoot at buildings, or that the Syrian government killed a bunch of people with gas, Trump saw the terrible aftermath on TV, and he and his advisers decided to attack where more gas was stored?

Conspiracy Lesson 2: Don’t leave fingerprints all over your conspiracy theory.

The gas attack is the most recent example of an Assad conspiracy theory, but it’s not the first. As a brutal dictator, Assad lives in a patented Dictator Echo Chamber (DEC), which means it’s incomprehensible that people could dislike him (because, you know, they all get killed). When the Syrian Civil War started, he claimed all the people fighting against him were either from outside of Syria or were being persuaded not to like him from outside of Syria. At the same time, he was playing all the Syrian rebel groups against each other to weaken them and doing things like releasing terrorists from Syrian prisons to radicalize them. In other words, Assad A) is a terrible guy who most Syrians hate, B) actively tried to make the people who hate him hate each other more, C) tried to radicalize the people who hated him so the international community wouldn’t get involved, and D) tried to blame everything on international conspiracies. Of course, outside countries and groups now support various rebel groups in the country. But, the war started because Syrians hated Assad, not because non-Syrians did.

Conspiracy Lesson 3: Make sure everyone pushing your conspiracy theory is on the same page.

It has to be killing Assad’s biggest ally, Russia, that he’s so bad at conspiracy theories. During the Cold War, Russia perfected conspiracy theories to an art form. Now, they can’t even get a dictator they’re basically propping up on the same page. Worse, Assad’s claim that the whole attack was faked undercuts his own army, which said that “terrorists” carried out the attack. Certainly, there are times when conflicting conspiracies can muddy the waters about what actually happened, but when you’re trying to make it look like you’re not guilty of something, the opposite is true. In this case, Russia’s claim (Syria struck a building that had rebel-controlled gas, releasing it) and the army’s claim (The rebels intentionally released the gas) already don’t match up, so adding a third view may as well be removing the mud altogether.

Conspiracy Lesson 4: If you’re going to deny the facts on the ground, at least have some kind of explanation for discounting them.

If you’re claiming the opposite of everything that actually happened is what actually happened, you have to come up with some alternative explanation. Think, “magic bullet,” or “Jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams” – two classic examples of ridiculous explanations designed to make it look like the facts don’t add up. When Assad claims there was no sarin attack at all, he discounts the dead people, the people who examined the dead people, the injured people, the people who examined the injured people, the video evidence, the satellite evidence, and all the other evidence. He’s also discounting the fact that he’s carried out chemical attacks before, although he claimed those attacks were actually carried out by rebel groups. Which brings us to…

Conspiracy Lesson 5: Be consistent.

Like I said before, it’s important to be on the same page as other people pushing your conspiracy theory. It’s also important to be on the same page AS YOURSELF. See, this isn’t the first time Assad’s used chemical weapons against Syrians. It’s not even the first time he’s tried to come up with a conspiracy theory to claim he didn’t do it. It is, however, the first time he’s claimed a chemical attack was completely fake. In the past, he’s said rebel groups committed attacks to try and frame him, so the international community would get involved on their side (Hey, I told you he sucks at these things.). Now, he’s suddenly saying an attack was fake? Dude, nothing’s going to make you look like a Syrial killer more than changing your story every time you’re obviously the one carrying out an attack. People who think Americans never landed on the moon don’t randomly say the fifth mission there was real but the rest were fake; they stay consistent.

Had Assad followed these simple rules, he might have been able to turn his conspiracy hypothesis into a conspiracy theory. But, I guess when you’re a brutal dictator who always gets his way, you get used to doing things the easy way…