White Slavery Unchained

Controversial tweets in the mouth of an election? It can only be Gerry Adams. After his Django tweets, our Political Editor Tyler McNally explains why we shouldn’t let this off the hook.

Sinn Féin have been fairly quiet throughout this election. With less than four days left, I was worried we would hear nothing at all after a near policy-less manifesto and no real slogan or message.

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Enter Gerry Adams, infamous tweeter, and the Quentin Tarrantino film, ‘Django Unchained’. Gerry decided at some point during the film, which is set in the time of slavery in Southern America, that the experience of Django – the film’s protagonist and former slave – closely resembled the experiences of those who lived in Belfast estate, Ballymurphy, during the Troubles. He polished this logic pretzel by calling Django a “Ballymurphy N*gger”, which has naturally caused outrage.

Clearly, Gerry didn’t receive the “we’re fighting an election, don’t fuck this up” memo. After tweeting the controversial remarks, he tweeted about going to bed, only to issue a statement three hours later as well as a new tweet. This last message claimed his use of “the N word” was ‘ironic’, and was meant to draw a comparison between the oppression of nationalists in Northern Ireland with the struggles of the black community in America.

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If you’re going to claim that what you said isn’t racist, you probably shouldn’t lead with comparing centuries of racial oppression and brutal servitude to a housing estate in Belfast. Coming on the back of his ‘back of the bus‘ comment – an outburst made after a lengthy wait in the queue to enter the White House (yes, the White House) – it’s clear that Gerry has a tendency for the kind of stupid gaffes which would get anyone else sacked. If Billy Hutchinson said “Ballymurphy N*gger” there would be protests on the streets, but “‘auld Gerry” is just a bitta craic isn’t he?

At the core of this commentary that Gerry gifted us with in the late hours of last night is the idea of ‘white slavery‘, the latest culmination in a long tradition of pseudo-historical racism, which can rear its head when it is glibly linked with Ireland, by calling the Irish “the Blacks of Europe”.

Gerry may see nothing wrong in referring to white slavery arguments in order to make a connection between Northern Ireland and the suffering of Blacks, but the reality is that these arguments have been used to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement and even defend police brutality. As BLM activists strive to overcome the oppression they face today, conservative America is telling them: “the Irish were the first slaves, why can’t you be more like them.”

Around 10,000 Irish people were forcibly removed and relocated to the West Indies in the 1650s, Charles II pardoned them all by 1660. So, what happened in 10 years for these Irish people – who in servitude, were still treated differently than Black slaves – took centuries for Black slaves, who were enslaved, brutalised and forcefully removed from their homes over centuries, and who still lack full equality today.

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There is no doubting that there are connections between America and Northern Ireland (for instance, the Northern Irish civil rights movement and key activists within it were deeply inspired by the heroic struggles of Black people for equality and rights in the US). But to compare the experience of waiting to enter the White House with the courage Rosa Parks displayed, or to boil down centuries of brutal oppression to the experiences of one housing estate in Ireland, is foolish and disrespectful. And given that the white slavery argument depends on mythology, and is largely supported by the far right as a tool to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement, maybe Gerry should drop this line – or be prepared to understand why some people see his comments as racist.

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