About “Irish Slavery”

This is not a political column. A political column would say:

BLACK LIVES MATTER!

But I am not a liberal. Holding a sign is necessary, but not nearly enough.

This is a radical religion column.

At issue: There is a section of my ancestral group who makes a big deal about Irish people having been slaves in the U.S. This is not literally true. You can find details in history books, or you can talk with your grandparents, or Snopes.

What gets my goat are white liberals who are outraged that any white person should claim having been oppressed, or who are, in their opinion, exaggerating. As though degrees of hatred and suffering are a bickering point. Thereby ignoring the roots of oppression.

You probably know this: In 1847 a movement called “Irish Lives Matter” would have been revolutionary, and more than a little helpful. The British decided that Irish, being poor and Catholic, were not quite human, and so were free to send in military, steal land, create wealth during the famine, and then they, literally, drove carriages to their estates passing corpses and people dying on the roadsides. Irish lives did not matter. Not because they were Irish, but because the structure required our being crushed, as they were crushing black Africans.

One group of people recognized that Irish lives mattered. The Choctaw people of Oklahoma sent relief money to Ireland during the famine, just sixteen years after white people force-marched them on the Trail of Tears. (This year Irish people sent respirators to Native Americans ignored by our white supremacist government.)

Conservatives use the phrase “All lives matter,” as an excuse to ignore blatant systematic racism. Don’t let them usurp the truth of that statement.

With apologies for those of my ancestral group who see solely through the lens of their own experience, think a minute. Are some trying to downplay the oppression of blacks by displaying their own? Illogical, but probably.  Was there a time when the British should have been confronted with an “Irish Lives Matter” uprising? Yes.

When I see the face of an elder black woman who has battled through hardship and hatred, who has come up loving and strong, I see my grandmother’s face. In that moment, I do not care which woman suffered more. My body aches. What I do know is that  Black people are rising up again against injustice and everyone of us must join together to radically change a structure that depends on the crushing of Black people.

The lesson, as BLM has been trying to make clear, is that Black lives matter right now. The system that requires their oppression needs more than defunding. When that happens, no one need fear that they will be next, re: the wisdom of pastor Martin Niemoller.

These are the things I learned from my family, Jesus, Buddha, from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Choctaw nation, innumerable others who embody the universality of living things. The universality  of suffering, unnecessary suffering. Of the sacredness of social justice.

If you are are tempted to comment that Blacks suffered more, or Jews suffered more, or Native Peoples suffered more, or that group is exaggerating, or this group isn’t suffering as much as it did before, you’ve missed the point.

The impossibility of encompassing it all, comparing it all, doesn’t matter. When humans come together and say, “Never again,” we can rest. And tell each other our stories.

But I’m not holding my breath.

“Kindred Spirits” County Cork, Ireland
thanking Choctaw Nation for famine relief in 1847

[A version of this column appears in The Ashfield News , MA, July 2020.]

2 thoughts on “About “Irish Slavery”

  1. Thank you Alice

    THANK YOU

    *dorian*

    On Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 3:43 PM Religion, Sight Unseen wrote:

    > alicebarrett posted: “This is not a political column. A political column > would say: BLACK LIVES MATTER! But I am not a liberal. Holding a sign is > necessary, but not nearly enough. This is a radical religion column. At > issue: There is a section of my ancestral group” >

    Like

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