"I’d rather be a rebel than a slave." —Emmeline PankhurstThe warriors claim this is racist, that "slave" is code for "black."
Short reply: tell it to Spartacus.
Or to the Slavs whose enslavement lies at the root of "slave".
Many people who have not studied history think the "one drop" rule was always the distinction between who was white and who was black, but it was a creation of Jim Crow. During the era of legal slavery, whiteness varied from state to state: in most, if you were 3/4 white, you were white. But to be a slave, the only requirement was that your mother was a slave, so there were slaves in the Old South who were legally white, and it's likely some of their owners were legally black.
As for the ongoing argument over whether the Irish were slaves, if you're not free, you're a slave. Indentured servants and prisoners of war who were forced to work were slaves, and if they died before they were free, they died as slaves. Being indentured was not necessarily better than being a slave; as noted at Were the Irish Slaves? | HistoryNet: "In practice, the masters sometimes extended the time of indenture; others, for whom the indentured servant was not the lifelong investment that a black or native American slave was, had no compunction about working the indentured servant to death in his last year."
White Slaves – The Multiracial Activist
The 'white' slave children of New Orleans: Images of pale mixed race slaves used to drum up sympathy and funds from wealthy donors in 1860s | Daily Mail Online
Appropriation alert: no one owns the metaphor of slavery
Poor whites in the USA
Indentured servitude - Wikipedia:
Several instances of kidnapping for transportation to the Americas are recorded such as that of Peter Williamson (1730–1799). As historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out, "Although efforts were made to regulate or check their activities, and they diminished in importance in the eighteenth century, it remains true that a certain small part of the white colonial population of America was brought by force, and a much larger portion came in response to deceit and misrepresentation on the part of the spirits [recruiting agents]." One "spirit" named William Thiene was known to have spirited away 840 people from Britain to the colonies in a single year. Historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. notes that "Masters given to flogging often did not care whether their victims were black or white."
Indentured servants could not marry without the permission of their master, were sometimes subject to physical punishment and did not receive legal favor from the courts. To ensure that the indenture contract was satisfied completely with the allotted amount of time, the term of indenture was lengthened for female servants if they became pregnant. Upon finishing their term they received "freedom dues" and were set free.FACT CHECK: Were the Irish Slaves in America, Too?:
That thousands of Irish people were carried across the sea against their will and indentured to serve on plantations isn’t disputed. It happened. What’s in question is whether or not they are rightly referred to as “slaves.” Some writers, such as genealogist and Irish Times columnist John Grenham, ask why not: "The labor they did was slave labor, and their circumstances were much worse than those of the indentured workers who traveled at the same time and later, not least because indentured work, though often harsh, was voluntary and time-limited. Refusing to call them slaves is quibbling."Irish indentured servants - Wikipedia:
The type of labor being used in American colonies shifted dramatically after 1642, as the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the Irish Confederate Wars, and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms led to a reduction in the number of voluntary migrants, while growing numbers of prisoners of war, political prisoners, felons, and other "undesirables" were sent to labor in the colonies against their will.:236:507 After the Siege of Drogheda, for example, Cromwell ordered most of the English military prisoners who surrendered shipped to Barbados.:236 In 1654, the governors of several Irish counties were ordered to arrest "all wanderers, men and women, and such other Irish within their precincts as should not prove they had such a settled course of industry as yielded them a means of their own to maintain them, all such children as were in hospitals or workhouses, all prisoners, men and women, to be transported to the West Indies.":507RACE - The Power of an Illusion . Background Readings | PBS:
...indentured servants, whether they are black or white, are pretty much treated the same way as slaves. Very badly. Bacon's Rebellion changes that, and what seems to be crucial in changing that is the consolidation after Bacon's Rebellion of a planter class. The planters had not been able to control this rowdy labor force of servants and slaves. But soon after Bacon's Rebellion they increasingly distinguish between people of African descent and people of European descent. They enact laws which say that people of African descent are hereditary slaves. And they increasingly give some power to white independent white farmers and land holders.