28 juin 2015

Esclaves blancs?

Voici un débat intéressant à propos des "esclaves blancs". Il s'agit d'un narratif que l'on entend de plus en plus fréquemment dans les médias anglophones. Voici un des articles qui fait la promotion de cette version de l'histoire:


They came as slaves: human cargo transported on British ships bound for the Americas. They were shipped by the hundreds of thousands and included men, women, and even the youngest of children.

Whenever they rebelled or even disobeyed an order, they were punished in the harshest ways. Slave owners would hang their human property by their hands and set their hands or feet on fire as one form of punishment. Some were burned alive and had their heads placed on pikes in the marketplace as a warning to other captives.

We don’t really need to go through all of the gory details, do we? We know all too well the atrocities of the African slave trade.

But are we talking about African slavery? King James VI and Charles I also led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. Britain’s Oliver Cromwell furthered this practice of dehumanizing one’s next door neighbour.

The Irish slave trade began when James VI sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies.

By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.

Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.

From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade.

À première vue, on pourrait croire qu'il s'agit effectivement là d'esclavage, comparable à celui que subirent les ancêtres de la plupart des Américains noirs. Or, ce n'est pas le cas, comme le souligne cette thèse:

Recent years have seen the marked growth of the “Irish slaves” narrative, which is itself a subset of the “white slavery” myth. This myth has been currency in ultranationalist, white supremacist and neo-Nazi circles for decades and their promotion of it frequently occurs on their websites and across social media.

 The myth has recently entered the mainstream, partly due to the decision by national newspapers and popular websites to endorse a spurious “Irish Slave Trade” article that conflates indentured servitude or forced labour with chattel slavery.

 Surprisingly, this claim has gone relatively unchallenged in the public domain, thus this paper will analyse its veracity.


As slavery is such a widely used, all-encompassing term, we need to clarify the relevant nomenclature. This is especially important when it is realised that the “white slavery” myth relies on disinformation, which in turn encourages confusion and the blurring of lines. 

(...) The thesis of this paper is that confusion over the servile status of some of the Irish in the colonies has led, disturbingly, to their condition being conflated with that of the chattel slave. This use of the phrase “white slavery” or “irish slave trade” in the same context as actual chattel slavery or the actual slave trade, is a political act, for it has no historical  justification. This sophism makes the co-option of the legacy and truth of the Atlantic slave trade a logical next step. At its best this conflation is ignorance. At its worst it is an attempt to diminish responsibility for one of the greatest crimes committed in human history.

L'instrumentalisation de l'histoire à des fins politiques ne cessera jamais de me dégoûter...

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