'Irish slaves' post that was shared nearly a million times was taken down by Facebook
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UPDATE/EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was successfully removed from Facebook thanks in part to this article from Annie Reneau and also thanks to readers like you who took action and demanded accountability from Facebook. We're sharing it again as an example of how we can all be part of positive and constructive change on social media. Don't let the trolls win!

Original story begins below:

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As we say in the viral stories world, there's viral and then there's viral. A post with 100K shares in a month would be considered super viral. A post with a millions shares—even over a long period of time—is nearly unheard of.

So the fact that a post about Irish slaves has been shared nearly a million times in just nine days is incredibly disheartening. Why? Because it's fake, fake, fake. And not in an "I don't like what this says so I'm going to call it fake" kind of way, but in a non-factual, already-debunked-by-real-historians kind of way.

As someone with a crapton of Irish ancestry, I find the perpetuation of the Irish slaves myth utterly embarrassing—especially since it's most often shared in an attempt to downplay the history of Black slavery in the U.S. If it were true, that kind of deflection would still be annoying. But pushing false history narratives to deny the reality of the impact of institutionalized, race-based chattel slavery is just gross.

And to be sure, this is false history. To begin with, the photo isn't even of Irish people at all. It's a photo of Belgian miners crammed into a mining elevator around the year 1900.


And the text for this post comes from a discredited article from 2008, written by a man whose identity has never been verified. Since Reuters already did a beautiful job of going through the post detail by detail and sharing historians' corrections of what it claims—with citations—I won't rehash too much here. (Find the Reuters debunking here. Find an Irish Journal debunking here. And a Pacific Standard fact-check of the Irish slaves myth in general here.)

Please, please read those links. Save them on your computer or phone so that you can share them with people who keep sharing these posts.

And please, for the love of all that is good and holy, let's all learn how to check things for ourselves. Here's a quick tutorial for how to do that, using this viral post as an example.

First, let's check the photo. There are two easy ways search for a photo online.

1) In a Chrome browser, hover over the image and right-click (or "control"-click on a Mac). Select "Search Google for Image" and you'll see all the places the photo shows up with descriptions.

2) In any browser, right-click the photo and select "Copy Image Address." Go to images.google.com, click on the camera icon in the search bar, then paste in the image address.

Here's what comes up in the image search for this photo. Clearly, this is a photo of Belgian coal miners, not Irish slaves from the 17th century (when cameras hadn't even been invented yet).

Now let's look at the text.

The first red flag on this post is that there are no citations. The person who created the post gave no credit at all for where the "information" came from. If a post contains historical claims and offers no sources, it needs to be verified. Always and forever.

The second red flag is that comments have been turned off on the post, which means no one can share refuting information on the post itself. Sometimes people turn off comments for problematic responses, but on a post that's sharing "history," it's super suspect.

The third red flag is the content of the post itself. Claims like "The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white," and "It is well recorded that African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts," are both extraordinary, considering what we know about the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. If your first reaction is, "Wow, I'd never heard that before," that's a good sign that you should check with actual historians before sharing.

In the misinformation age, we all need to get used to googling the words "myth" and "debunked." A search for "Irish slaves myth" and "Irish slaves debunked" both bring up well-cited, credible historians' responses to narratives like the one in this post. (Again, read the debunking links above. Check the links they share from interviews with and written works of Irish historians.)

Of course, part of the reason this post has almost a million shares is that a whole lot of people want it to be true. This narrative makes slavery in the U.S. seem like an equal opportunity reality, thereby diluting the racism and white supremacy inherent in the "peculiar institution" of American slavery, and thus absolving white folks of any responsibility for the powers and privileges we've inherited as a result of it. It also allows white folks to say ignorant things like, "See? Our ancestors were enslaved just as badly and you don't see us whining," or better yet, "Where are MY damn reparations?" (Actual share text from someone who shared the post.)

We have got to stop this kind of misinformation and disinformation from spreading. It's not harmless. It's not a matter of opinion or an "alternative viewpoint." It's blatant lies, and no one from any background should stand for it.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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