Monday, November 18, 2019
Hell is for Theorists
Baltimore's James LaFond has written a lot about white bondage in his "Plantation America" series, a subject that would be deliberately suppressed if there were more than a few brave souls like James talking about it.
So I asked him about the passing of critical race theorist Noel Ignatiev ("How the Irish Became White" and other absurdities) and he was kind enough to respond:
Nov 12, 2019, 12:53 AM (6 days ago)
Noel Ignatiev just died and I realize his whole con—"How the Irish Became White" involved turning something that should temper, to say the least, the culture of shame leveled on white Americans for black slavery (that is, Irish bondage) into something turbocharging that culture. The example of white bondage presents a problem to the whole project, which depends on the notion the African slave trade was unique and motivated primarily by white racism (rather than racially diverse greed)
I don't know if Ignatiev thought this, but the best defense is a good offense. Making of the economic exploitation of the Irish "oh but you see, they weren't actually white" was audacious and inspired.
The real point was always to preserve the myth of the African slave trade as uniquely white. Ironically—I wonder too if this was lost on Noel—the poor historical Irish Americans were brought into it (by someone decidedly not, er, Irish) and seemingly defended really just to dispossess their present-day descendants, along with all the other white people. I wonder if he'll run into any of those Irishmen where he's going.
Dennis, Noel and the rest of us have stumbled long in the dark trying to make sense of the great moral and racial miscegenation clothed in a lie that is America. The chill that went down my spine when I read slave purchase records that made me realize that this giant data-pit I've been floundering around in, which I never intended to explore let alone write about, would completely discredit me as a writer, an American and a human, was frightening. I sat on the bogus externally assigned aspect of "white" identity for a year like a coward—no, not like, but as—and then just blurted it in a lapse of discipline and shot myself in the foot. This premonition came true, and I suppose makes discussing this a little less stressful now.
I have been pondering the Irish question for some time now and do think I have hit upon an unsatisfactory answer. It was karma.
The Irish did not make good slaves. Runaway records record vastly more Irish runaways than African and German combined. Though it seems that the Scottish and Indians were just as likely to cut the English master's throat, the Irish were by far the most numerous runaways. There were as many Irish as Germans sold into Plantation America, with both totals over a million, yet only 1 record of a runaway German has passed before my eyes, while near a thousand of Irish and only a few dozen African have been sifted through this bemused brain. Gaels overall, seemed more likely to run and fight the system than did Germans and Africans, in the British Isles and in America. the most brutal peasant revolt in 1548 was Cornish, with catholic overtones The Africans were used deliberately to replace European slaves and freemen from 1678 in Virginia and points south. Furthermore, the African was generally favored as the house slave to the Irishman in German-dominated Pennsylvania.
It is obvious that the vastly more expensive African slave, who ran away at roughly 10% of the Irish rate and but rarely rose up in violence, and who sided with the master class by a margin of 1800 to 200 in Bacon's Rebellion of 1676, was brought in to Virginia and points south in great numbers beginning in 1680s as a costly security measure against the increasingly restive backwoods types who were beginning to mix with and mimic and even fight against Indian tribes.
Note that Germans called themselves "white," where Irish, Cornish, Welsh and Scottish were loath to do so at earlier dates. Was it because the master class derided them by their authentic ethnicity, refusing to grant them membership in "white" society for being unruly? Or was it a refusal to conform to an explicitly economic racial identity on the part of the ethnic Gaels, or both in varying measures and at varying times and places?
This is not something I can sort out. However, beginning within a few years of two great rebellions by non-elite European Americans [for the evidence that King Phillip's Indians were largely ethnic Europeans is strong] planters went to vast expense to purchase large lots of Africans, partially on the basis that they would have no native free communities to flee to and partially to drive the restive, unruly and willful ethnic European Americans from their lands with a breeding workforce of slaves. Much anger at the Irish, being the most rebellious and felonious of the ethnic European Americans, seems to have remained imbedded in the elite American consciousness to this day, and I suppose, accounted for Irish Americans being denied "white" status on one hand [often jokingly and by me] and denied slave status on the other with academic denials of their condition being tendered as I write.
Indeed, in 1773, an English army under a Scottish general sided with the Shawnees after the Battle of Point Pleasant against an Irish militia force. When I get to where Noel is going, I'll be sure to parse this out with him.
More on the subject from James.