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The 1619 Project Devours Its Liberal Parents

[1]2,062 words 

The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project is the future of American education.

Buffalo Public Schools announced this month [2] that the essay series will now be mandatory for its students and other school districts are soon to follow. The news was greeted with grumbles from acclaimed historians and conservatives, who despise 1619 Project’s attacks on sunny liberal view of American history. The critics wish to uphold a triumphalist view of America that emphasizes its ideas and progress, the 1619 Project emphasizes America’s racism. While the Times’ project is marred by sloppy scholarship, absurd claims, and black narcissism, it touches on more truth than the critics’ hagiography. The race realism of the founders can’t be separated from the nation they created. To the Dissident Right, this is a noble legacy that must be defended; to the supporters of the 1619 Project, it’s a terrible blot that must be recognized and eradicated.

The detractors’ preferred history treats racialism as an aberration of the founding and insists the founders wanted a multicultural America. Sure, there were some bad things in the past but that shouldn’t distract us from how free America is!

The 1619 Project eviscerates this vision and provides non-white America with an alternative theory. Whites are the source of all evil in this country, and only non-whites can make America great. Blacks are our real founders, not the dead white males of the Constitutional Convention. The founding ideals are good, but only if they’re interpreted by black and brown voices.

This vision is insanely anti-white and far more appealing to minorities than the stale hagiography found in airport bookstores. This is the history our children will learn in public schools, and it will soon replace Ken Burns historiography.

The 1619 Project [3] takes its name from the year the first African slaves landed in America and aims to mark this event as the true founding of our country. The project, led by New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, argues slavery built America and blacks are the real founding fathers. The series, which includes contributions from academics and respectable journalists, is largely sour on America and every essay bemoans a facet of American racism.

Here’s a sampling of what to expect from the series:

Academic critics are fine with most of these essays, as they also believe blacks are integral to America and racism needs to be atoned for. But the liberal historians cannot abide the claims about the revolution, Abraham Lincoln, and the importance of slavery to the modern economy. Hannah-Jones lead essay [4] claims the Revolution was fought to preserve slavery and Abraham Lincoln was racist.

That essay, entitled “America Wasn’t a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One,” works through Hannah-Jones’ own conflict over her identity. As a young person, she saw the American flag and other patriotic symbols as alien. Now, she believes blacks have the greatest claim to these symbols.

[I]t would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage. Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom. More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.

The black writer correctly notes the Founders did not want America to be a multiracial democracy and blacks were not part of their body politic.

The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst.

She argues that blacks made these ideals true, in spite of the country being founded on their oppression. Hannah-Jones, who curiously appropriates white hair color, makes bold claims about American history.

The revolution was initiated to protect slavery, Abraham Lincoln was racist, whites did nothing to help blacks, and “[a]nti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity.”

The first claim is clearly false, the second is true, the third is false, and the latter claims are sort of true. But the historians believe these claims are all false and dangerous to teach.

Five prestigious historians–Sean Wilentz, Gordon Wood, James McPherson, James Oakes, and Victoria Bynum–wrote a letter to the Times [5] last month demanding the paper of record correct these alleged falsehoods. The historians praise the project for bringing more focus to slavery and racism, but contend the project didn’t include sufficient academic review and these errors marr the whole series.

New York Times Magazine Editor in Chief Jake Silverstein defended the project’s accuracy and stood by Hannah-Jones’s claims.

Several scholars agree with the letter, but didn’t sign it to avoid lending credence to a “white historians’ criticism.”

The five historians first criticized the project in separate interviews with the Trotskyite World Socialist Web Site, an unlikely place to lead the fight against leftist historiography. Most of the historians are centrist liberals. Gordon Wood is Newt Gingrich’s favorite historian and has written: “‘To be American is not to be someone, but to believe in something’ – i.e., to believe in America as a democratic idea, not an organic body or an extended family, like a European nation or people.” James McPherson wrote the most popular scholarly account of the Civil War. James Oakes is a chief exponent of the argument that the Union fought the Civil War primarily to end slavery. Victoria Bynum wrote the Free State of Jones, which inspired the execrable film. Sean Wilentz is a Bancroft Prize-winning historian of the antebellum era and proudly signed an academic petition to impeach Donald Trump.

In the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) interviews, the historians are goaded into a strange combination of boomer conservatism and old-school Marxism. Most of the historians praise Karl Marx’s positive thoughts on the Union and Lincoln and attack 1619 Project’s identity politics. They dismiss the project’s claims about the revolution and the Civil War and insist whites helped elevate blacks.

All of the historians were particularly appalled that the Project calls Lincoln a racist. “It’s ridiculous. Most of what Abraham Lincoln had to say about African Americans was anti-racist,” Oakes told WSWS [6]. The 1619 Project claims Lincoln was a racist due to his support for colonization of freed blacks. Oakes is outraged by this claim and insists Lincoln gave up this idea by the time of his assassination and was a committed racial egalitarian.

Wilentz, arguably the most vocal critic of 1619, echoed this argument in an article for The Atlantic [7]last week defending his position. “Lincoln asserted on many occasions, most notably during his famous debates with the racist Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, that the Declaration of Independence’s famous precept that ‘all men are created equal’ was a human universal that applied to black people as well as white people,” Wilentz writes. He also very seriously states that Lincoln had black friends and that means he definitely was not racist.

However, Lincoln was a long-time supporter of colonization [8] who still believed this the best solution to emancipated blacks as late as 1864. Most of his political rhetoric upheld the idea that America was a white man’s country and that blacks could not be full citizens.

Lincoln said in the aforementioned debate with Stephen Douglas [9]:

I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.

1619 is more right about Lincoln than its critics.

But the historians are right about the cause of the American Revolution. Silverstein defended Hannah-Jones claim that the revolution was started to protect slavery by pointing to the 1772 Somerset decision and Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation. The Somerset court decision, which received little notice in the colonies, ruled that slavery was not found in English common law. The decision obviously did not apply to Britain’s many colonies that depended on slave labor. In 1775, Lord Dunmore, the governor of the Virginia colony, declared that any slave who took up arms against the Patriots would receive his freedom. This proclamation certainly encouraged colonial support for the revolution, but it was issued after the rebellion had already erupted.

“Assertions that a primary reason the Revolution was fought was to protect slavery are as inaccurate as the assertions, still current, that southern secession and the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery,” Wilentz argues.

But the real fight is not over sloppy scholarship–it’s over interpretation. Even though clown-haired Hannah-Jones says she loves America, her project makes readers hate the country’s history. How could one love a nation that was so racist toward the most noble people to ever walk the earth? It completely separates the values and deeds of America and places them with people who played no integral role in our country’s founding. America becomes a nation exclusively for non-whites to redeem.

This is horrifying to boomer historians. The founders may have said some politically incorrect things about race, but they cared about freedom! Their ideas were good and we should honor them as the forerunners of modern liberalism. They would impeach Drumpf, welcome refugees, and march with Martin Luther King as a brother if they were alive today.

This whitewashing of American history is both wrong and silly, but it is appealing to wide swaths of white America. This is the history education most Americans received after the 1960s, and old ways die hard. Many Americans still think racism is the worst thing in the world, and they can’t accept the Founding Fathers as white supremacists.

But this side is losing in academia and journalism. Professor Oakes says he feels besieged by campus “identitarians” due to his avoidance of identity politics and that graduate students gravitate toward the fields that encourage minority narcissism.

On one hand, it’s good that the liberal view of American history is on its last legs. This historiography has inspired every bad meme in our country’s recent history. It obscures an identitarian view of our country and imagines the whole world can become America with the right constitution. The 1619 Project is the just desserts for this historiography, the monster liberals created with their talk of a multiracial America and the virtues of “anti-racism.” Now whitey is not allowed to join the new America and teach its history.

At the same time, it’s terrible that the 1619 Project will likely become the basis for American history curriculum. Millions of young Americans will only learn whites are evil and non-whites are the epitome of virtue. They will learn whites made America terrible while blacks made it great.

The upside is that this potentially opens the way for the identitarian view of history. More Americans will read the Founders’ views on race and how they intended the nation to be for whites. Many of them will ask “what’s wrong with that?,” the question at the heart of identitarian historiography. There are similarities between the leftist view and the identitarian view. What differentiates them is the hatred for whites and the exaggerated importance of non-whites in the leftist view.

Identitarian historiography would shift the focus from American ideals to the achievements and struggles of the American people. Our nation is great due to its founding stock and those Europeans who assimilated to it, not to words on a piece of paper. “All men are created equal” is not the core of our country–it’s the historic American nation. The Founding Fathers were ethno-nationalists and racial egalitarianism repulsed them.

This is the true vision of America and it must be championed against the unbearable ethnic narcissism of the 1619 Project and the decrepit historiography of Boomer liberals.