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A Man's a Man

I wonder how Robbie Burns would have made out as a slave driver. The farmer turned poet and high society darling was planning to head out to Jamaica to work on the Port Antonio slave plantation in 1786 and probably would have if his scribbling hadn't started to pay off. Supporters sometimes point out that his job description was "book keeper". But Burns himself admitted he was going out to become a "poor negro driver".  Part of Burns's popularity is his supposed egalitarian leanings. All men may have been brothers in Burns's eyes but the ones with the darkest skin tones obviously were less equal than their lighter skinned brethren. Of course, Burns was not the only Scot who had no apparent objection to slavery in the West Indies. Thanks to Americans' self obsession, when most whites think of slavery they think of Dixieland and the Land of Cotton. The truth is that slavery in the West Indies was often far more cruel and brutal than anything happening south of the Mason-Dixon line. It had to be. There were far fewer whites in the West Indies per head of population than there were in the southern states of the USA. Any slave rebellion would have far more serious consequences. Something like three-quarters of slave overseers in the British West Indies were Scots and the greatest concentration of British-based slave owners in the 1820s were in the Glasgow area. An estimated one-third of the white population of Jamaica at the time was Scots or of Scots descent. One of the reasons Kingston in Jamaica remains so lawless is that the police force on the island was never intended to tackle crime but to cow the majority of the population and prevent a racial bloodbath. To this day, the force has never really shaken free of its roots. Only now the exploiters they serve are black instead of white - a not uncommon state of affairs in today's Commonwealth. 

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