Guest post: Off to America on a coffin ship

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on David Brooks tells Ta-Nehisi Coates to try some social mobility for a change.

For them, America was the antidote to the crushing restrictiveness of European life, to the pogroms. For them, the American dream was an uplifting spiritual creed that offered dignity, the chance to rise.

My ancestors came over because they faced near certain death in potato famines; they would have gone anywhere, except the landed class restricted the poor’s ability to relocate. So: off to America on a coffin ship; one more than half of the family made it, the rest were buried at sea. I started to read great great-grandpa’s journal, once, and couldn’t bear it.

Perhaps the famine was the “crushing restrictiveness of European life” though the pogroms were certainly nothing to sneeze at. I’m not sure what’s a dream of uplifting spirituality woven into “I hope the fucking neighbors don’t kill us this easter! let’s move to America!” Glad they made it. Europe has some fucking awful problems. Awful problems they exported to North America in the form of religious/ethnic cleansing of most of the extant population. That’s some fucking uplifting spiritual message, Europeans, right there.

The Chinese mined the guano and laid the track, and so did the Irish and Welsh and not a few Norwegians. Of course the Africans had it vastly vastly worse. The US would not exist without them, because Europeans didn’t have resistance to Malaria like many Africans (unfortunately, they get Sickle Cell in return; some tradeoff) The US economy was able to take advantage of slavery by force and slavery by necessity. When your choice is to surely starve in Ireland, New York City looks mighty fine. The entire American Dream is built – like all of the other wonders of the world – on the blood, sweat, and tears of slaves.

you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie

What the dumbass doesn’t realize is this:
a dream shown to be a lie … is still a lie.


  1. Donnie says

    @1 Blanche Quizno

    Capitalism doesn’t work without a slave class.

    Or minimium wage set below the poverty level with no medical or retirement benefits. Or, as you said, the slave class. Though, with social mobility, we now euphemistically call them, “the working poor”. A small step up the ladder from the slave class, eh?

  2. Donnie says

    Oh, and undocumented immigrants….Capitalism cannot exist without labour to exploit while being lauded as ‘Job Creators’

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    From Dred Scott v Sandford to Plessy V Ferguson, to the post WWII property exclusion laws…

    The Irish and, and even East European Jews, have been able to ‘pass’ for white. By legally and culturally conflating Blackness with Slavery, this country has cursed itself. We have never really ‘reconstructed’ as a nation.

  4. Omar Puhleez says

    Sorry Blanche. Capitalism works both with and without a slave class.
    In brief:
    1. Post 1492: Spaniards, Portuguese then Pilgrim Fathers land. Begin progressively to take N.America from the natives.
    2. Then bring in black slaves. Create a new feudalism on their backs in the plantation South.
    3. North and South in the US steadily grow apart on these lines, resulting in Civil War.
    4. Civil War and Reconstruction shape the society long after. Deep scars.
    5. Meanwhile, countries which did not go through this historical progression (eg Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) finish up with much the same levels of prosperity and happiness as the white US.
    6. Go figure.

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