The White Slave

History is a strange thing, it repeats itself but it can manifest, so sometimes we miss the similarities. Some parts of history is basic knowledge now, thanks to modern education and globalization, we learn more about other’s cultures or foreign countries’ history. It’s important to know how unions and alliances were formed, and sometimes devastatingly broken. The marks of war and wreckage still echo out out even throughout the centuries. A certain sinister thread has been woven throughout history, the common thread being slavery.

There is the famous story of Moses, who freed the Jewish slaves from the Pharos of Egypt, and then centuries pass for the million of Jewish slaves to be enslaved and killed in concentration camps during the dark monstrous period of the Holocaust. It might be cynical to say, as they are deemed ”The Chosen” ones but they can be called the unlucky ones as well, being made the scape goat and prejudiced throughout history. Most know about this horrendous part of history.


It’s safe to say that the general population know about the African slaves that were forcefully and wrongfully stolen from their homeland and sent to Western countries between 1525-to 1866, and 4.86 million were sent to South America, mostly Brazil and the Caribbean, while 450,000 were sent to the United States (slavery was also present in Canada.) The British had a large part of transporting, since we know in the past the British empire loved taking land as their own and making the locals as slaves, just ask the Native Americans. The cruel treatment given to the Native Americans by European settlers has been taught readily in high school (slaughters, disease riddled blankets, assimilation schools) and mistreatment is unfortunately still present.

There are more examples of slavery that I could still bring up, sadly there are countless, but while I was taught about many types of slave trades, it was only until last October, when I was in Dublin with my *very* Irish father, that he told me there were, at times, as many Irish slaves as African slaves. Wait, what? I never before heard even a whisper about the slave trade of ”my people.” By my people, I mean the Irish. I’m a first generation Canadian, born to two Irish parents, I’ve lived in Ireland, visit at least once a year if not more, and even don a red passport with the clàrsach on it. Apart from not being born in Ireland, I consider myself pretty Irish. While Canada is my Mother, Ireland is my cool Step Mom.

Considering that there is huge populations of ”Children of Erin” in North America, and everyone claims to be at least a little Irish on St. Patricks day (I guess the Irish got around when we came during the potato famine) how has this whole white cargo issue never really been discussed? While in todays’ society, there is more racial profiling and bigotry against people of African descent, and the horrors and the beastly treatment suffered by African slaves can never be discounted, it’s a bit surprising that there is little to no education on Irish slavery when it was happening side by side with African slavery. Why was that part of history basically omitted out?

                           Irish Slave and ”Negro” Slave compared to common British Man 

In the eyes of the British, African slaves and Irish slaves were interchangeable, ”An Irish Man is a Negro turned inside out and a Negro is a smoked Irish Man.”  One was deemed subhuman because of the dark shade of their skin, the other for their Catholic religion. During the 1600s, Ireland’s population went from 1,466,000 to 616,00 in almost one decade (1641-1652). During this same time period, African slaves were deemed more valuable and thus more expensive to buy, 50 shilling for an African slave, 5 shilling for an Irish one.  Because both races were seen as slaves, Irish and African people started to reproduce, sometimes forcefully, to give birth to ”mulatto” slaves. This was done to fetch a better price on the slave trade.

Slavery (both Irish and African) was stopped by the British in 1839, sadly The United States was not a part of the British empire and thus this did not put an end to their slavery until 1865. While Irish gained freedom, they fared far better socially in the long run than their darker brethren, to this day there is still racism targeted at those who are African descent. While Irish have been accepted as white and accept the privileges of being so, we have seemed to all but forgotten about this part of dark history. Why though, that question still lays unanswered.



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