Open letter to Irish Central, Irish Examiner and Scientific American about their “Irish slaves” disinformation

Irish Central used a painting of the HMS Glendower to accompany their article about “forgotten white slaves” from 2012 to 2016. It states that this ship was used to bring “human cargo to South American[sic] and the Indies.” But the HMS Glendower was not a slave ship. In fact it was used from 1821 to 1824 to suppress the slave trade.

To whom it may concern,

As you are aware, the Irish Central, Irish Examiner (since removed) and Scientific American (since revised) websites currently host articles about the allegedly “forgotten white Irish slaves.”

The Irish Central and Irish Examiner articles quoted extensively from an op-ed article published on the “Global Research” website based in Canada. This website supports the 9/11 Truther movement and its “Irish slaves” article, apparently authored by John Martin for opednews.com, is an exercise in racist ahistorical propaganda. The Scientific American blog used an older and equally ahistorical article from a Kavanagh family genealogy site. This blog post entitled “Irish slaves in Caribbean” was evidently an important source for the “Global Research” article.

It is imperative that newspapers and scientific journals aim for truth and accuracy in everything they publish. It is thus our duty, as historians, scholars and interested parties, to inform your shareholders and your customers that you have failed to carry out any semblance of fact-checking on this particular article. More damaging still is that your promotion of it, for a number of years, has added a veneer of credibility to what is a well known white nationalist conspiracy theory more commonly found on Neo-Nazi and Neo-Confederate forums.

Journalism and scholarly historical research differ in various ways but they share one thing in common. If they are not based on reliable sources, they are worthless. Readers who may not be privy to the source of the information will likely take it at face value. Sometimes, the result is merely misinformation, but more dangerously, it can be used disingenuously to propagate a political myth. Scholarly articles undergo a process of peer review to make sure that they are evidence based and accurate. We do not expect newspapers to exercise the same level of rigour but a degree of common sense is called for since lifting material from such websites, which have no sources and are written by an unknown author, is poor journalistic practice.

Furthermore we are deeply disturbed to find that the Irish Central article (shared on social media over 150,000 times) asserts in its headline that this “Irish slaves” disinformation comes from an “expert” source. What underlines this baseless claim is the fact that every single line of the quoted article is a distortion, or a fabrication or an egregious exaggeration. We will not go through the inaccuracy of each line here, that is your responsibility, but we will ask you two questions. Do you, the editors of Irish Central and the Irish Examiner (update: now withdrawn) stand over the claim that an “Irish Slave Trade” was abolished in 1839? Or that “Irish slaves”, not enslaved Africans, were the victims of the Zong Massacre?

The intent of the article is thus patently clear; to insidiously equate indentured servitude or penal servitude with racialised perpetual hereditary chattel slavery. This is an obscene rhetorical move which decontextualises and dehistoricises the exploitation of both groups. There have been many different forms of slavery, across space and time. That is not the issue here. We are addressing the mainstream endorsement of a growing white nationalist campaign built on the reductionist fallacy of “slavery is slavery” which is inevitably used to justify racism in the present. For example, the spurious “we went through the same thing, but we don’t complain” sentiment which is now frequently deployed to silence debate and to mock demands for justice and truth-telling.

This has little to do with remembering the brutality of indentured servitude and all to do with the minimisation of the scale, duration and legacy of the transatlantic and intercolonial slave trade. The racist contemporary application of such bad history can be observed spreading like a virus across social media on an hourly basis.

Thus your mainstream endorsement of this distorted version of history has consequences. We therefore call on you to revise these articles, to correct the errors and to remove the false claims.

Signed

Susan Dwyer Amussen, Professor of History, University of California, Merced

Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History, Howard University

Catherine Barry, Historian and Philosopher, Kildare

Stephanie Boland, PhD candidate and editor, London

Rodney Breen, Archivist, Dublin

Dr. Margaret Brehony, President of Society for Irish Latin American Studies (SILAS)

Dr Conrad Brunstrom, Maynooth University

Emma Burns, Doctoral Researcher, CDLP, NUI Galway

Dean Buckley, Poet, Tipperary

Susan Campbell, retired prof. of Caribbean History, Vancouver, Canada

Dr Brian Carey, Researcher, University of Limerick

Jasmine Chorley, MGA Candidate, University of Toronto

Alexis Coe, Author, New York

Zoe Coleman, BA Hist (UCD), MLitt Art Hist (Glas), Dublin

Aidan Connolly, Engineer, Cork

Patrick Corbett BA, Galway

Laurence Cox, Lecturer, Maynooth University

Gerard Cunningham, Freelance journalist, Kildare

Patrick Denny, Adjunct Prof. of Electronic Engineering, NUI Galway

Dr Seán Patrick Donlan, University of the South Pacific

Dr Timothy R. Dougherty, Assistant Professor of English, West Chester University of PA

Paul Duane, Producer/Director, Screenworks, Dublin

Dr Katherine Ebury, Lecturer in Modern Literature, University of Sheffield.

Professor Bryan Fanning, University College Dublin

Ciarán Ferrie MRIAI, Rathmines, Dublin

Luke Field, PhD candidate and Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin

Dr Graham Finlay, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin

Stephanie Fleming B.Sc, Dublin

Tom Gallagher, History Postgraduate, University College Cork

Ultan Gannon, International Politics and Philosophy, UCD

David T. Gleeson, Professor of American History, Northumbria University.

Peter Gray, Professor of Modern Irish History, Queen’s University Belfast

Michael Guasco, Associate Professor of History, Davidson College, North Carolina

Johanna Haban, MA student in Gaelic Literature, University College Cork

Dr Brendan Halpin, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Limerick

Dr Brian Hanley, Historian, Dublin

Felicity Hayes-McCoy, Writer, Dingle, Co. Kerry

Domhnall Hegarty, MA Irish History, Saint Louis University

Liam Hogan, Independent Scholar and Librarian, Limerick

Matt Horton, Graduate student, UC Berkeley

Professor Liam Irwin, Head of History (Rtd), Mary Immaculate College, Limerick

Evan Jones, Goldsmiths, University of London

Karst de Jong, PhD candidate, Queen’s University Belfast

Liz Loveland, Independent Researcher, Boston, Massachusetts

Dr Neil Kennedy, Associate Professor of Atlantic History, Memorial University, Newfoundland

Dr Sharon L Krossa, Scottish Medieval Historian, California

Naomi McArdle, Adare, Co. Limerick

Dr Laura McAtackney, Associate Professor in Sustainable Heritage Management (Archaeology), Århus University, Denmark

Kate McCabe, Director of Éist, Brooklyn, New York

Sarah McCrann, London

Dr Ken McDonagh, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University

Simon McGarr, Solicitor, Dublin

Maria McGarrity, Ph.D, Professor of English, Long Island University

Thérèse McIntyre, Independent Oral Historian, NUI Galway

Patricia McIsaac, Teacher, Boston Massachusetts

Conor McLoughlin, BA Sci (TCD)BA English Phil (UCD), Dublin

Carly McNamara, MSc Medieval History, University of Edinburgh

Dr Damian Mac Con Uladh, Historian and journalist, Corinth, Greece

Erin MacLeod, PhD, Vanier College, Montréal, QC, Canada

Adrian Martyn, Independent Scholar, Galway

Dr Lucy Michael, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Ulster

Dr Joss Moorkens, Researcher, Dublin City University

John Moynes, Writer, Dublin

Dr John Mulloy, Lecturer in Art History, Heritage and Applied Social Studies, GMIT Galway & Mayo

Ruaidhrí Mulveen, Galway

Maeve O’Brien, PhD Candidate, Ulster University

Tomás Ó Brógáin, BA Hons Irish History and Politics, Ulster University

Aileen O’Carroll, Irish Qualitative Data Archive, Maynooth University

Carrie O’Connell, Lecturer of Media Studies, San Diego State University

John O’Donovan, Independent Scholar, Cork

Terry O’Hagan, Researcher, University College Dublin

Nicole O’Loughlin, Northwell Health Systems, New York

Dr John Ó Néill, Head of Lifelong Learning, IT Tallaght, Dublin

Dr Sean Phelan, Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media, Massey University, Wellington

Dr Juan J Ponce-Vázquez, Assistant Professor of History, University of Alabama

Dr Niamh Puirséil, Historian, Dublin

Dr Stephanie Rains, Media Studies Dept, Maynooth University

Dr. Robert L. Reece, Duke University, North Carolina

Dr Joe Regan, History Dept., NUI Galway

Dr Matthew Reilly, Brown University, Rhode Island

F. Stuart Ross, Political Historian, Queen’s University Belfast

Ms Ebony Ryan, Dun Laoghaire

Zoé Samudzi, Writer and Academic, University of California San Francisco

Barry Sheppard, Post Graduate scholar, Queen’s University Belfast

David Sim, Lecturer in US History, University College London

Sharon Slater, Historian (MA), Limerick

Catherine Sloan, D. Phil researcher, Oxford University

Dr Sheamus Sweeney, Lecturer in Film and Television, Boston University Dublin Programs

Dr Robert Taber, University of Florida

Dr Gavan Titley, Lecturer in Media Studies, Maynooth University

Michael W. Twitty, Culinary Historian, Washington D.C.

Natasha Varner, PhD, Historian and Writer, Duwamish Territory/Seattle, WA

Dr Brian Vaughan, Lecturer and Course Chair MSc Creative Digital Media, DIT, Dublin

Haydyn Williams, Independent Archaeologist and researcher (former RCAHMS & British Museum), Scotland

Professor Patricia Wood, York University, Toronto, Canada

Catherine Walsh, poet, Independent scholar, teacher, Limerick

Cormac Watters, MA, London