Current Affairs Politics

Kevin Myers On President Obama: Racially, A Half And Half Mulatto

As regular readers may have gathered I’ve long regarded Kevin Myers, the British-born journalist, as one of the chief proponents of the bizarre form of anti-Irish self-hatred that permeates much of the media establishment in Ireland. With his odd “racial” theories about Irish politics (that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin politicians and voters are of “uncivilized” native Irish descent while Fine Gael politicians and voters are of “civilized” colonial British descent) and his frequent recourse to distorted or false representations of Irish history, in any other nation he would be relegated to the fringes of society. But here he finds a ready and comfortable home in our news media; a news media filled with people every bit as anachronistic in their opinions and attitudes as he is. This platform allows him to issue his regular apologias on behalf of British rule and misrule in Ireland, regardless of the facts (or the truth), as well as discussing his many other, er, theories.

Yet there is a strange kind of relief in knowing that it is not just the Irish (and our native identity, language and culture) that he loathes, or the British for whom he will act as an apologist. From an article he has penned for the Irish Independent on President Obama comes this delightful explanation of the US Civil War and its origins and consequences:

“As for President Lincoln, I can barely write about him without shattering my keyboard in rage at both his hypocrisy over slavery and his ruthlessness, as he visited ruin and death upon his fellow Americans.

He sought union rather like the Provisional IRA did, except that he had the resources to impose an overwhelming campaign of terror upon his enemies.

The Confederacy really didn’t want to be anyone’s enemies; the southern states simply wanted to go their own way, just as the American colonies had originally chosen to do.

The system of slavery was certainly evil, but it was also complex, and could not be ended by a simple fiat and the mass-release of a largely unlettered, culturally dependent and socially naive people. It required time and care, neither of which was available in the middle or immediate aftermath of a quite abominable civil war.”

If you’re now thinking to yourself, “Did I just read what I thought I read?”, well, yes, I’m rather afraid that you did. Not often that one reads a defence of the Confederate States of America. Or indeed that there should have been a gradual (?) end to slavery. How long, I wonder, does Myers think that should have taken? Ten years? Fifty years? A hundred?

Who says you can’t qualify evil?

But there is more. Myers provides this description of Barack Obama, President of the United States of America. Hold onto your hats boys and girls.

“Racially, he is half and half, namely a mulatto (not, however, a term ‘The New York Times’ has ever used about him).”

I’d say not. For all sorts of reasons that Kevin Myers will probably never understand.

10 comments on “Kevin Myers On President Obama: Racially, A Half And Half Mulatto

  1. Excellent and incredibly depressing post. The sheer ahistoricism of Myers approach is something to behold.


    • Thanks, WBS, I quiet agree. A tacit defence of the Confederate States of America and the “institution” of slavery is something that is only too common in the US these days with the “new revisionism” embraced by the local evangelical Right and the Tea Party movement in the south but one doesn’t expect to see it in an Irish newspaper. Taken with the defence of the Republican Party and Romney, et al in the Indo newspapers one wonders what sort of culture now exists in Irish journalism?

      I haven’t seen the word “mulatto” used outside the pages of a history book or research article in years. It shocked me in the same way that the word “nigger” would do, albeit to a far lesser extent of course. It is part of the language of racial discourse that I thought we had left behind us long ago and is quiet demeaning of the individual it is used about. Which perhaps was Myers’ intention?


  2. James Todd

    Don’t misconstrue this as a defense of that Myers fool – I’m amazed that someone could, or even would attempt to argue that the outlawing of slavery was a poor choice. But that President Obama is a mulatto – that is, his mother was white and his father black – is true. Maybe I’m missing something here…?


    • Yes, but is it not terribly old fashioned and loaded with racial and racist overtones? I haven’t seen it in print for many years, at least outside the pages of a history book or some historical novel. Most people, I believe, would naturally recoil at its use.


  3. There is nothing unreasonable about the suggestion that large-scale societal transitions from unjustice to justice are better carried out gradually than overnight. What that suggestion warrants is a discussion based on merit; I see no need for exasperated indignation.

    There is nothing false about the statement that Barack Obama is half black, half white. I wish you explained in more detail what exactly your objection against that statement is.


    • There is lot that is unreasonable in a tacit defence of the Confederate States of America and the institution of slavery. Qualifications about slavery are highly dubious.

      President Obama may be of mixed race or biracial, but “mulatto”? It is a term as anachronistic as the culture that most of us associate with its use – the ante-bellum southern US.


  4. James Todd

    I don’t know about that, at least not here in the U.S.. Granted, this is a white guy speaking, so I don’t really have a right to say if it’s offensive to black people or not. But it’s always been my understanding that “mulatto” was simply the scientific designation for mixed white/black parentage. Along the lines of Caucasian.

    At any rate, the guy has some seriously alarming viewpoints based on his defense of the CSA. Kind of reveals the inner-workings of his mind if you ask me.

    I’m curious – how is his statement being received over in Ireland? Are people disgusted or overall apathetic about his apparently racist viewpoint?


    • I believe “mulatto” is generally taken as a slang or historic word with certain cultural connotations. Most of them negative. In the setting of historic fiction or an academic article its use would be acceptable enough, given the context, but outside of that?

      I believe most people would see this as typical of his journalistic work and writings. Indeed, in some ways it is very representative of the right-wing newspaper group he works for in terms of their editorial policies. Recently they featured articles defending Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and similar US politicians of the right.


  5. I am upset that a defense of the Confederacy, the crushing of which I regard as one of history’s worst tragedies, is seen as so shocking.

    Firstly, it is widely accepted by all serious historians that the war was not waged to end slavery, Lincoln and Grant and many others insisted it wasn’t. In fact, Lincoln demanded in the early stages of the war that captured slaves be returned to their owners. This only stopped when folks in the Union Army persuaded him this was aiding the Confederate war effort. Some states in the Union actually had slavery, dammit. Even when slavery was made a war aim with the Emancipation Proclamation, it was in reality completely hollow. As I explain here, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave:

    Relevant extract:

    “…the much-celebrated Proclamation only applied to ”rebel territory” and specifically exempted the several states in the Union which had slavery… It did not free a single slave. The ‘Emancipation’ Proclamation served two purposes for Lincoln. Firstly, it was a military measure designed to incite slaves in the Confederacy to rebel. This is a prospect the Confederate states certainly dreaded, with a large proportion of able-bodied men away from home women and children would be most vulnerable to slave violence and the Cotton States would be in turmoil. This fear never materialized, and many blacks fought with the Confederate forces when they were allowed to do so towards the end of the war. The other purpose of the Proclamation was that by making slavery a war aim, it would discourage the European powers, especially Britain, from supporting the Confederates. The ‘Emancipation’ Proclamation was a farce and widely recognised as such in the American and British newspapers at the time”.

    However, lets consider the consequences to the peculiar institution of slavery if Southern secession had proceeded peacefully. I address that here: and here: I use the argument in ‘Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War’ by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel.

    Relevant extract:

    “… secession would have helped defeat slavery, as it would have allowed the Union to repeal the fugitive slave laws, and thus have legally made the North a haven for escaped slaves. Other chattel slavery-based economies such as Brazil could not sustain the vile institution due to the problem of runaways. Conscious men, even in bondage, do not act like cattle or furniture. If you believe this is a radical original proposition, it is interesting to note that the abolitionist movement itself was fiercely split on the war due to this very point. In fact, the most famous abolitionist, the editor of The Liberator and social reformer William Lloyd Garrison, actually advocated well before as well as during the war that the Northern states should have seceded from the slave states for this to happen. Hummel estimates slavery would have collapsed in the Confederacy before the end of the century, possibly even in under five years”.

    Many people also regard tariff policy as one of the main causes of the war, an area where the cotton states had very legitimate grievances, as I explain here:

    Relevant extract:

    “Tariffs were a much more important way of raising revenue before the income tax was introduced in 1913, and this disproportionately affected the agrarian states of the Deep South. These states had a small manufacturing base, and relied on imports from Europe or the North for which they exported massive amounts of cotton annually. One of the most significant laws in American history was introduced in 1860, known as the Morrill Tariff Act. This massively increased the tariff from 20% to 47%. The Cotton States were now shouldering 80% of the nation’s tax burden, despite constituting 30% of the population”.

    Indeed, if you read first hand accounts from the time, such as those of Salomon De Rothschild and many newspapers, you will see just how many people regarded the Southern drive for secession as a tax revolt.

    I don’t know about you, but the warnings of Robert E. Lee to Lord Acton seem very prophetic, and the correspondence illustrates his humility and gentleness:

    “While I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it”.

    To paraphrase the Johnny Cash sang, the last words you’ll probably hear from me (before the Shema Israel) are ‘God Bless Robert E. Lee’:


    • A fascinating viewpoint, though not one I could agree with. While you’re right about the complex origins of the US Civil War, with the issue of slavery being initially a secondary one for the North, there seems little doubt amongst most mainstream historians that the Southern succession was primarily driven by the wish to retain slavery. It may have been a wish heavily driven by economic and societal interests but racial or racist ones were just as important. There is simply no getting away from the Confederation’s intrinsic need and support for slavery. It was part of the institutional make-up of Southern society. Absent it that Southern society fell apart.

      However thank you for the Comment and the links. Contrary opinions are always worthwhile and welcome and I’m sure others will enjoy exploring them.


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