Interesting commentary on the New York Times’s 1619 Project, from Wilfred McClay:
How The New York Times Is Distorting American History
‘The 1619 Project’ and its false and destructive narrative about this country
The New York Times seems to have made a grand splash with the August debut of its 1619 Project, which it unveiled to the world as an audacious effort to “reframe” all of American history as little more than the lengthened shadow of slavery. The title derives from the historical fact that 400 years ago, some 20 Africans were dropped off by (probably) a British privateer at Jamestown, Virginia—the first such individuals to appear in the British mainland North American colonies.
The first effort in what is promised as an ongoing 1619 endeavor throughout the paper was a 100-page issue of the Sunday Magazine, devoted entirely (except for the oddly jarring inclusion of the Times crossword and other puzzles) to a series of short articles of varying length and genre. They ranged from highly compressed historical arguments to poems and other literary or memoiristic pieces, all of which are in some way devoted to the idea that slavery “and the anti-black racism it required” constitute the true foundation of American history. “Out of slavery,” declare the introductory remarks, “grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system,” and so on, down to the nation’s propensity for violence and its “endemic racial fears and hatreds.” The Project is therefore dedicated to “considering” the proposition that 1619, rather than 1776, should be regarded as “our nation’s birth year.”
The language is both sweepingly hyperbolic and coy, since it leaves open the possibility that all that is being suggested here is merely a “what if” thought experiment. Hence it is frankly difficult to know how seriously we should take such vast declarations, or the 1619 Project as a whole. It is not even clear what such a proposition could possibly mean.
Does it put forward the hypothesis that the introduction of these 20 individuals—who many scholars argue must have been indentured servants rather than slaves, since there was no provision for chattel slavery in the English common law—is to be taken to represent the nation’s real beginning, and thereby to supersede the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, among many other conventional items, in understanding and accounting for the nation’s creation?
Does it mean that the existence of those elements we associate with American exceptionalism, such as individualism, political democracy, constitutional liberty, economic freedom, egalitarianism, inventiveness, and so on, are somehow to be attributable to slavery? Surely not, but then what could such statements mean?
Perhaps they are best understood as flights of fancy. But it would not be overly cynical to suspect that they are better understood as part of the Times’ journalistic battlefield preparation for the 2020 election. That interpretation is given fairly incontrovertible support by a revealing leaked transcript of a recent meeting between Times executive editor Dean Baquet and his staff writers, in which it becomes clear that some Times reporters are itching to inject the theme of America’s endemic racism into virtually all of the Times’ reporting, as a way of tilting public opinion toward whichever candidate the Democratic Party ends up nominating—and that Baquet is not the least bit inclined to resist his staff’s desires.
Read the whole thing.