Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Ignorance of History

When I sit down to write As I Please, I often wonder what on earth am I going to write about today? Fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of stupid things people say in writing. My latest example comes from right here on BN in a blog entitled "Race Wars" by Esteban:

"Indeed, white males, past or present, in the U.S. have not undergone the legalized unfair treatment, abuse and brutality forced upon imported Africans (slavery), Native-Americans (Cherokee Removal and the Trail of Tears), Asian-Americans (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and 1884; Japanese Interment), Mexican-Americans (Bracero Program and Operation Wetback), and women."

Of course, all the examples he has cited are true save one. In Esteban's world there are just "white males" and they are all uniformly evil and only interested in suppressing someone. This is both inaccurate and untrue.

The very first anti-immigration legislation, The Alien and Sedition Act of 1794, was passed against Irish refugees. The very first person prosecuted under the law was an Irish-born former indentured servant by the name of Matthew Lyon. During the 19th century hundreds of anti-Irish laws were passed both on the state and federal level. These "white Negroes," as the Irish were often described, gave rise to nativist political parties, the most notorious being the "Know-Nothings".

In 1854, four years after its founding, the Know Nothing party had over one million members and it had elected eight governors, more than 100 congressmen, and the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia as well as thousands of lesser officials throughout the United States. The rise of the Know Nothing party astounded many Americans and led Abraham Lincoln to observe, "Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that all men are created equal. We now practically read it all men are created equal except Negroes. When the Know Nothings get control, it will read all men are created equal, except Negroes, and Irish and Catholics."

The last time I checked, the Irish are "white", in fact, it could be argued they may be the fairest complexioned people on the planet. Their "whiteness" did not save them from "legalized unfair treatment, abuse and brutality". In answer to the argument that whites never suffered as slaves; in 1649, Oliver Cromwell sold over 160, 000 Irish men, women and children as slaves in the West Indies. Besides, the essential difference between "indentured servitude" and slavery is in large part academic.

If people are going to use history to right past abuses, they need to read all of the history – not just that which supports their cause.


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