August 22, 2019

The 1619 Project

“The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” New York Times

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From the Left

The left is supportive of the project, arguing that narratives like these tell a truer, fuller story of America.

“The project was deeply researched and fact-checked with the assistance of a panel of historians. Elements of it were conducted in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, a venerable pillar of American learning. It’s a serious work of popular history that starts America’s clock four centuries ago… What followed was 250 years of brutal slavery the United States, then a century of de facto apartheid rule. [The lead reporter] Hannah-Jones, 43, stresses that she is part of only the first generation of black Americans born in a country where it was not legal to discriminate against them… Those who engage with history more seriously than politicians understand that recognition of a national darkness need not be an impediment to national pride.”
Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post

“Conservative uproar over the New York Times’ 1619 Project is just the most recent clash in a decades-old battle over how we should understand American history… For most historians, it’s just not interesting to think of history as a place you go to feel good, or bad, about America. ‘America’ is so big, and so complex. Patriotism might be a side effect, but it’s not the point of historical study. That’s why an alternative vision of patriotism, like the one that Nikole Hannah-Jones articulated in the 1619 Project’s opening essay—‘Black Americans… have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy’—is so valuable…

“This is a complex and yet immediately legible argument, expressed as public history, buttressed in the package by other arguments that are in turn informed by years of academic historical work. It is the ‘realest’ sort of history, the kind that enriches articles and exhibits and historic sites with new information about the daily lives and struggles of non-elite people and minority groups.”
Rebecca Onion, Slate

“For conservatives, being a patriot means believing that America is an essentially good country; its sins are aberrations rather than central to its history. There is no room for a nuanced patriotism that sees a nation with racism as a central part of its DNA, but also a nation that can be improved through constant struggle and work. It is the ‘America: Love It or Leave It’ bumper sticker, expressed in more florid prose… The 1619 Project challenges not only the founders’ innocence but that of white Americans who downplay racism’s vitality today… The furious reaction from the American right only proves how much their work [is] needed.”
Zack Beauchamp, Vox

“There is a James Baldwin quote that I have had tattooed on my consciousness: ‘I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.’ That is the animating spirit of endeavors like the 1619 Project, which — if people bothered to read it — shows it is possible to depict our ugliness through beauty, to artfully weave a reader’s eyes and mind through a re-examination of the very soil beneath their feet so that they see it anew, and more clearly. It is a vision test for the soul, and it certainly helps us not only view America in greater relief, but those working to inhibit its growth and empowerment.”
Jamil Smith, Rolling Stone

Minority view: “There is a lot to admire in the paper's presentation of the 1619 Project — searing photographs, illuminating quotations from archival material, samples of poetry and fiction giving powerful voice to the black experience, and gripping journalistic summaries of scholarly histories… The country's treatment of the slaves and their descendants through the century following emancipation and, in some respects, on down to the present was and is appalling — and the story of how it happened, and keeps happening, is extremely important for understanding the United States…

“[But] throughout the issue of theNYTM, headlines make, with just slight variations, the same rhetorical move over and over again: ‘Here is something unpleasant, unjust, or even downright evil about life in the present-day United States. Bet you didn't realize that slavery is ultimately to blame.’ Lack of universal access to health care? High rates of sugar consumption? Callous treatment of incarcerated prisoners? White recording artists ‘stealing’ black music? Harsh labor practices? That's right — all of it, and far more, follows from slavery…no single narrative of the past is the indisputably right one… new interpretations that break sharply from a past consensus often go too far. That's especially true when the new claims advance a radical political agenda.”
Damon Linker, The Week

From the Right

The right is critical of the New York Times, accusing it of distorting history to fit a partisan narrative.

The right is critical of the New York Times, accusing it of distorting history to fit a partisan narrative.

“Slavery was this nation’s original sin. But it is also true that hundreds of thousands of people spilled their blood on the Union Army side as propitiation for that sin… The 1619 Project by the New York Times is as flawed as it would have you believe the country’s founding was. It seeks to divide, not heal. It seeks to give power and primacy to those who think the nation’s founding was premised on evil… Americans, particularly white Americans, need to learn more about slavery in the United States. But doing so on the premise that the United States itself is flawed and illegitimate is not the way to do it. Sadly, that’s what so much of the Times’ coverage amounts to.”
Erick Erickson, The Resurgent

“By far the most central and important issue regarding race and racism in the United States is how to change the fact that black and to a lesser degree Hispanic Americans have consistently worse outcomes in a whole host of areas than do other Americans. In regard to the former, 1619 makes a compelling case that slavery played a big role in this, because it did. This is something few serious people would argue with. What is less clear is how reframing American history as a tale of evil is going to fix the problem. As if somehow non-black Americans will have their eyes opened to how important slavery was and suddenly have policy fixes to change outcomes. This seems extremely unlikely, especially given that such significant efforts have been made to reframe history over the past decades and these negative outcomes have not changed.”
David Marcus, The Federalist

In the reframing of the 1619 Project, African-American success stories disappear. There’s no mention of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games. There’s no mention of Jackie Robinson… Harriet Tubman is never mentioned. Nor is Booker T. Washington nor is Bishop Richard Allen, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first independent black denomination in the United States. Abolitionist Sojourner Truth, Shirley Chisom (the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress), Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. (the first African-American general for the U.S. Army), Ida Wells (a journalist who documented lynchings and co-founded the NAACP), Duke Ellington, and Rosa Parks are never mentioned…

“The 1619 Project argues, with considerable justification, that most of us [have] been seeing only one part of the portrait of the founding, formation, and growth of our country… and then ‘reframes’ the portrait to leave out some of the most consequential and under-discussed African Americans in our history.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“Jefferson’s original final draft of the Declaration explicitly referred to black slaves not as property but asmen and castigated King George III for suppressing parliamentary efforts to prohibit or restrain ‘this execrable commerce’ (referring to slavery). Letters written to John Jay show Alexander Hamilton hoping the Revolutionary War could lead to the emancipation of blacks and appraising them equal to whites in their abilities. Additional examples are plentiful…

Much of the United States was ahead of the world in ending the horror of slavery. Shortly after the signing of the Declaration, northern states took the lead. By 1804, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania had passed laws that immediately or gradually abolished slavery… The 1619 Project is politically driven 2020 posturing dressed in the veneer of a historical ‘exposé.’ By warping history, it hopes that dopamine hits of anger and injustice will prevent readers from engaging in objective analysis. Just in time to paint America as racist for the upcoming presidential election.”
Joshua Lawson, The Federalist

“We now know without a shadow of a doubt that the most influential news organization in the nation, and probably even the world, is operating on an algorithm that forces the multifarious complexity of events in the life of this diverse nation to conform to left-liberal race dogmas. Imagine what it’s like being a reporter or an editor at the Times, and disagreeing with this radical assessment of American history, and the approach the newspaper ought to take to reporting and analyzing the news. Would you have the courage to speak out? Of course you wouldn’t…

“If the black executive editor of theTimes won’t even challenge the extreme assertion that ‘racism is in everything,’ and ought to dictate how the newspaper does its job, why should you take that risk?”
Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

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