How do I talk about racism and Gaeldom?
I ask this question, sincerely, because it is increasingly apparent that this topic is deeply nuanced. Let me rabble on a bit, it will be a mess...
I think I need to start with
Who am I?
I am a white-skinned man in the 30-45 age bracket. I would describe myself as a Gael 1st, a Scot 2nd and European 3rd. Not really sure what more I need there.
What is it to be a Gael?
I have been reading the work of Dr Michael S. Newton, Ph.D., his book Warriors of the Word and some work that is available on his academia site. I have recently been interested in how and where Gaeldom and Native America (specifically Canada) intersect, specifically when it comes to colonisation.
I also wanted to know how Gaels saw The New World, how they were thought of and what their position in it was.
I am aware there is a lot of, what I view as, propaganda involved in the histories here. The stories from Scotland stop when people go on the boat to Canada. The stories of gallant success in winning back clan land post 1946.
I am also aware that the stories in Canada begin at the point when people step off the boat and have to understand what is before them.
I didn't do the leg work for this; my partner spoke to Dr Iain S. MacPherson who referred me on to Michael Newton.
What did I find?
I cannot say what I found was a surprise to me, I have been loosely aware of the state of dissonance in being a Gael. A people who simultaneously hold the role of oppressed and oppressor; those who faced the boot of Empire and wore that boot too.
I wasn't aware of the greater nuance involved in that apparent dissonant position and how, almost fluidly, that position could change based on circumstance.
Gaels, referred to as Irish then, were definitely viewed as not-white. They were viewed as 'barbarous, uncivil, wild savages, disobedient, lawless and void of God's fear' who needed force to be ruled over.
Whenever Gaels fought back it was further proof of their intransigence and barbarity, so even more force was required to control them.
This was in the early 17th Century.
I found that King James VI, in 1599, stated that Highlands needed colonised and the people civilised.
Later on, unpaid rents were paid to pay for church-schools with the sole purpose of teaching Gaels to speak English. Thus rooting out the Irish language.
1597 King James VI made Highland Chieftains travel to Edinburgh to provide evidence of their land titles.
This also enabled the King to change the society from a system of oral agreements, local consumption and customary dues to one of written records, cash-based economy and normalised cash transactions.
This followed up in 1747 with Parliament annulling private military service and mediate all relationships cash-based.
Other aspects were definitely a surprise:
* Just how blatant the racism was, especially by today's standards.
* The apparent scale of Whiteness, being white of skin was by no means an ticket to enter.
* How Gaels were perceived through the lense of race.
* How First Nations people were perceived through the lense of race and the commonalities with Gaels.
This is without touching on the views of people in Canada, which is the part I have been struggling with and I am happy for that. Far from making the situation easier and making my understanding greater, I have been left with greater dissonance than before to the point I am asking 'How do I talk about racism and Gaeldom? No, really?'.
Before I would say;
A Gael, you live in the periphery of two governances who impact you little. There's a level of autonomy you require in your life because the centres of power are far away.
In being a Gael, you will likely be aware of the ills of Empire (most locally Clearance) and the attempted destruction of an entire people and culture following Battle of Culloden in 1746. This should make you more inclined to see injustice and act to help those who ask/need it.
Now, after my reading;
I think that to be a Gael you have to be aware of the actions of the displaced, émigré and whose ancestry originated from the Highlands.
You have to be aware that there were those who wished to join the White world and did so by violence. There were those who remembered their oppression and saw the First Nations people as being in the same/similar position to them and were sympathetic to them.
Reading the quotes from 17th, 18th and 19th centuries it is increasingly clear to me that 'civilisation' and 'civility' are a facade. They were(are?) a tool of Empire and a tool that reduces other people and cultures to ornament.
Today, Gaeldom is seen, in civilised society, as having a whisky whilst wearing a kilt and listening to some atmospheric song at someone's wedding. It is reduced to misspelled names and followed up with the abhorrent lie of “nobody speaks it”.
I am amazed at the level of nuance and the stratification of peoples before the label of White was applied to them. Especially comparing Highlanders before and after transportation. How regardless of place, unless they dropped what made them a Gael, they were seen as savages, as idle, as lacking in an understanding of justice, in a word; uncivilised.
I see this today, when it comes to issues that affect Scotland in the Parliament of Westminster. Scottish, Irish and Welsh issues aren't given the courtesy required by representation. We see those who drop their Scottishness, except for Burns Night, acting against Scottish interests and when they stand up, being told they're insignificant. As an aside, the Scottish Conservative MPs are a topic unto themselves, they embody an aspect of this dissonance.
I was especially shocked by the in-your-face nature of racism in the quotes. Racism that persists to this day. Quite sad for me, a racism that didn't need to be yet was perpetuated because Gaels felt they needed to use it to become White. They had adopted the language of those who had subjugated them.
What I am struggling with
I am struggling with the meeting place that is Whiteness and Gaeldom. It is most definitely murky and, the more I read of historic texts, not as simple as the colour of ones skin.
I wonder where the Gael sits, today, on the continuum of Whiteness. I have a lot more reading to do and it is made more difficult in that the writing I think I need resides in dustier parts of museums across the Atlantic.
What do I want to find out more on?
Beginning in the later 18th century, culturally-defined stages of civilization and savagery became increasingly subsumed under the idea of race. Racialism was a product of the imperial experience which was used to justify domination of various sorts.
While the Enlightenment recognized the abilities of societies to progress (as well as regress), this paradigm of cultural fluidity came in increasing competition with the more rigid notion of race during the course of the 19th century and often lost out to it.
Race was understood as an index of a people’s capacity for self-government, amongst other things, and even into the 20th century many texts dismiss the possibility that Highlanders had such capacities.'
That quote is from Celtic Cousins or White Settlers and I want to know a little more about the Enlightenment era thought processes described there and how/why it fell to Racialism.
- Given that the “superior” race imposes and enforces its vision of civility and governance on those it views as lower, what could a truly decolonised governance look like?
- I want to find out more about the Six Nations Regiment that was meant to be.
- I would like to read/hear what the First Nation people thought of the Gaels as they first saw them?
I am going to do my best to finish the Warrior of the Word book and follow it up with Slaves and Highlanders by David Alston because I am aware that many people claim that Scotland wasn't involved and didn't have material gone, direct or in-direct. I need to be better informed on this area.
Apologies for the mess that is this post =)