Ahzoh wrote:Were the Irish people of the past enslaved in the same notion that Africans were enslaved (as opposed being indentured servants or whatever)? Were they treated worse than African slaves?
That depends a lot on how you define those terms, IMO. Playing the "who had it worse" game is a dangerous one that often gets co-opted by racists, unfortunately, so I'd rather not play it... but here I go anyway.
By my definition of enslavement and "worse", the Irish had it pretty darn bad, but still nowhere near as bad as Africans. (which is not to minimize the suffering that many Irish people went through, this is looking at the two groups as a whole) And when people talk about Irish slavery, what they generally mean specifically is Irish people who were indentured servants in the Caribbean, who did in fact undergo very
The major differences between the two groups was basically this:
- Irish slaves were legally still indentured servants; they theoretically would be set free after period of servitude (if they survived that long), and their children were born free. They also technically had some rights and could complain to the authorities about poor treatment, although in the Caribbean these rights were often ignored. By contrast, African slaves in all parts of the Americas were slaves for life, with zero legal recourse. Even if it was just technically, Irish "slaves" were considered at some level free citizens who sold their labor (even if they were sometimes forced into it); African slaves were straight-up considered property.
- while there was some racial/ethnic distinctions made to treat the Irish differently, it's a whole lot easier to demonize people who look dramatically
different from you, as Africans did (well, do) from the white people in charge. Therefore, while there was indeed racism and laws against Irish people, they were never as severe as laws against black slaves (and freemen). And it's a whole lot easier for an Irishman to pass for non-Irish than it is for an African man to pass for white. At any rate, slavery ended up being pretty solidly defined along racial lines by the 1800s at least.
- the scale and geographic scope was quite different. There was a relatively short period of time in which bringing Irish slaves/indentured servants to the Caribbean happened, compared to the much longer period of time in which the African slave trade occurred. There was also a much shorter period of time in which it was acceptable in general, and it basically ended on its own, compared with the enslavement of Africans, which really only ended in the US because of a war. And while Irish indentured servitude was basically restricted to the Caribbean aaaaand parts of the southern coast of the US, I think, African slavery was obviously quite a bit more widespread, in both North and South America.
But when it comes to actual treatment, both Irish and African slaves had it pretty darn bad, in places where both existed side-by-side. A lot of people died from disease, the climate, and very very poor treatment. So again, what do you mean by "worse"? Overall, I think you actually can say that objectively
, African slaves had it worse, because of the much greater scope (both in time and geographically), the fact they were legally slaves/property rather than indentured servitude, etc. However that doesn't mean there couldn't have been individual instances of Irish indentured servants who had it worse than some individual African slaves. Both were terrible institutions, and I'm not sure how profitable it is to play the "but who had it worse