State House candidate Ray Blacklidge is taking heat from opponents for sharing a Facebook meme suggesting white slaves suffered more than black ones. But he says he just wanted to educate the public about slavery’s long reach.
Blacklidge, a Madeira Beach Republican, shared a post on March 26, 2017, from writer Jerome Palkowski containing a historical cartoon showing a woman “flogging her apprentice in the cellar.” The image accompanied a write-up alleging African slaves were expensive compared to Irish slaves and in turn treated much better in Colonial America.
When Blacklidge shared the image, he wrote “A sad American Truth…” with his post. He told Florida Politics he recalled sharing the illustration but believed at the time the message was about the evils of slavery, not an attempt to minimize the plight of black slaves.
“It’s unacceptable no matter who does it,” he said. “Unfortunately, civilization has had a long history of enslaving people. It should not be accepted in any way. That was not my intention. I was just showing it’s occurred to numerous civilizations and numerous groups.”
The origins of the shared cartoon can be hard to nail down, but the message appeared in numerous internet memes around the time Blacklidge shared the picture. Often, white nationalist groups spread the information, according to a The New York Times article from March 2017.
Blacklidge is running in the Republican primary for state representative in House District 69 against Jeremy Bailie, himself a first-generation American and son of an Irish immigrant. Bailie, a St. Petersburg Republican, said regardless of Blacklidge’s intent, sharing the extremist message showed poor judgment.
“If he can’t make good decisions on Facebook he’s probably not going to make good decisions in Tallahassee,” Bailie said. “That type of vile and disgusting post has no place in America today.”
In addition to racist undertones, fact-checking organizations say the meme also contains inaccuracies. No Irish slaves existed in North America; there were indentured servants, most of whom willing entered into brutal worker situations and all of whom maintained legally recognized human rights. Black slaves before emancipation, by comparison, were deemed property.
The spread of “Irish slaves” myths prompted a group of Irish scholars in 2016 to dismiss such claims as “an exercise in racist ahistorical propaganda.”
The text accompanying the cartoon, which suggests Irish slaves cost 5 sterling while African slaves cost 50, appears to pull directly from articles about “The Forgotten ‘White’ Slaves” shared under numerous bylines online. Among the early sites sharing the statistics, according to Snopes, were the conspiracy-mongering InfoWars and the white nationalist Stormfront.
As for Palkowski, the source of the meme shared by Blacklidge, he no longer has a Facebook page viewable for the public but has written for a blog called “Christian Politics,” describes his own heritage as “white Catholic” and decries “politically correct, left-wing ideology.”
On his site, he once wrote “radical liberals” believe minorities deserve benefits and opportunities over white men because “all minorities were slaves to the wealthy landowners of the South.” “Well, to tell you the truth,” he wrote, “this isn’t exactly correct, but let’s pretend that it is.”
Blacklidge, a prolific sharer of memes on Facebook, said individuals should research history themselves; he acknowledged a proliferation today of disreputable sources online.
“We have so much more access to information that may not have been available in the past,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s some fake news, so you have to take everything with a grain of salt.”
He said he’s always defended civil rights, and sent an email around Easter this year that touched on race.
“I have learned to understand that no one can ever know what it is like to be a person of a different race or religion, or to be another gender or age,” he wrote, “and that the only way to resolve the issues between us is to talk, to listen and to support each other.”