Pittsfield City Council: Social media post sparks acrimony

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PITTSFIELD — Councilor Earl Persip III has condemned Councilor Chris Connell for sharing a Facebook post of a widely circulated article that falsely claims that Irish indentured servants were enslaved in the American colonies.

Persip responded to Connell's sharing of the article in a Facebook post of his own, in which he criticized Connell for sharing a post whose claims about Irish "slaves" repeatedly have been discredited. To compare indentured servants — they entered into labor contracts that limited the duration of their servitude in exchange for passage to the colonies — to enslaved Africans is insulting, Persip wrote.

"Racist trolls have deployed this narrative to attack the Black Lives Matter movement. I must say I can't believe one our city leaders is copying and pasting racist propaganda by people who seek to discredit BLM. I don't usually say too much on social media, but this post is only a distraction tool to get people to stop talking about the systemic racism towards Blacks in America," Persip wrote.

Persip, who is the only African American member of the City Council, said in an interview that he was motivated to respond to Connell because the article promotes a false narrative that often is used to discredit Black Lives Matter.

"A person who is supposed to be one of our leaders is kind of promoting a narrative that has a history behind it. It's portrayed to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements, and it's just not factual," he said.

Persip said Connell has a platform, and that in choosing to share the post, which Connell deleted, he amplified the false narrative.

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Connell said Thursday that he deleted the post after realizing that it offended people. He said he had not been aware of one point that Persip made in his response, of how the narrative has been used by those who seek to discredit movements for racial justice.

"I never realized that was being used, and that was my fault, and that's why, when I realized that it was offending people, I took it down," he said. "If I'd known it was going to be taken that way, I would never have posted it."

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In the Facebook post that he deleted, Connell wrote, "This is a very interesting read" above another post by a different user. That user apparently had copied the text from what Snopes.com says is one of the most popular versions of the Irish slave narrative, called "Irish: The Forgotten White Slaves."

Of Irish indentured servitude and the enslavement of Africans, he said he was not evaluating one against the other, though he said both were wrong and tragic. Connell said he works to help all humans, regardless of race, creed or ability.

"There was no malice, no taking sides, no nothing on my part. I believe in all lives matter. I have Christian beliefs, and I try to help out everyone I possibly can, no matter what race," he said.

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Persip noted the timeline of the person who shared the article "Irish: The Forgotten White Slaves," a review of which shows past postings that refer to Black Lives Matter as a "terrorist" organization and disapprovingly of recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Connell said the post he shared appeared on his Facebook page and that he had not been familiar with the Facebook page of the original poster.

Persip said he does not believe Connell is racist but that he did not understand the meaning behind the post. "It's an uneducated post and it's someone who doesn't understand what they're really posting," he said.

"I'm not calling Councilor Connell racist, some people on Facebook are trying to pull that, and I'm not saying that. I'm saying he shared something that's trying to discredit what Black Americans have gone through in this country," Persip said.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.


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