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The 1619 Lesson


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The 1619 Lesson

If the young are taught the terrible falsehood that “racism is and always was the dominant ideology,” then the American experiment will hang by the thinnest thread, and we will have no Lincolns to save it.

 

 

self-respecting people must be a self-critical people, open to introspection and ready to repent of real sin. But self-criticism is not the same as self-loathing. Reckless and willful distortion of the historical record betokens not integrity, but ingratitude toward those who have left the American people a noble civic and moral inheritance. The “1619 Project” represents everything to be avoided in this regard. It is an effort to identify the American story unilaterally with irredeemable racism, systematic oppression, unprecedented violence, and Hitlerian malignity.

The Project first appeared in a special issue of the New York Times Magazine dated August 18, 2019. At that time it comprised a series of articles on a theme outlined by the black journalist and activist Nikole Hannah-Jones in her flagship essay, “America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One.” In 1619, a ship arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia, “bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans.” Hannah-Jones sought to make that landing into America’s founding moment, eclipsing the Pilgrim settlements and the Mayflower Compact (1620), the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention (1776 and 1787), and “the new birth of freedom” heralded by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address (1863). To the 1619 Project, slavery is more than America’s “original sin”: it is a moral stain that the nation can never escape or overcome. No subsequent developments truly matter. America is a nation with the soul of a “forced-labor camp,” as Hannah-Jones repeatedly calls plantations like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Whites are ontologically guilty, and blacks seemingly can do no wrong.

This effort to valorize recrimination and prohibit civic reconciliation was lauded by journalists, racial activists, “progressive” educators, “woke” capitalists, and one of our two major political parties. Hannah-Jones was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, and the 1619 Project was quickly adopted as the basis of history and civic curriculums in school systems across the country. Charles R. Kesler pointed out in a New York Post op-ed that the mayhem which overtook many American cities after George Floyd’s death was inspired by the inconsolable hatred Hannah-Jones preaches. The riots of summer 2020 are thus best understood as “the 1619 riots.” In a tweet that quickly followed (and was just as quickly removed), Hannah-Jones enthusiastically agreed. Strikingly, however, she denied that the willful destruction of property, broken windows, and arson had anything to do with violence. “Violence,” in her view, is the unique prerogative of whites. Other contributors, especially Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander, go out of their way to minimize the violence that accompanied the mass demonstrations in summer 2020. They paint a picture of “brutal” police attacking “peaceful protesters,” an account of events that strains credulity.:snip:

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