On Monday, RealClearPolitics launched a new portal to push back on the misleading and destructive “1619 Project,” a New York Times revisionist history that seeks to redefine America. The project claims America was really founded in 1619 with the arrival of the first slaves (the first slaves actually arrived before that, by the way) rather than in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. The project is arguably fueling the destructive riots that spread across the country after the horrific police killing of George Floyd and have continued in Portland, Seattle, and Chicago.
While the “1619 Project” aims to change the narrative on American history, celebrated American historians and scholars have challenged its key claims. Critics include Gordon Wood, Wilfred McClay, Sean Wilentz, William B. Allen, Michael Burlingame, James McPherson, Lucas Morel, Diana Schaub, and James Oakes, among others.
In response to the Times project, RealClearPolitics and the RealClearFoundation launched the portal “Engaging The 1619 Project,” which viewers can access at the RealClear American Civics portal. The RealClearPolitics portal “provides a library of commentary by historians and scholars, primary sources from the American founders on race and slavery, multimedia resources, curricula, and more.”
“Our new ‘Engaging The 1619 Project’ page brings together the best scholarship on the relationship between slavery and the American founding,” RealClearPolitics Publisher David DesRosiers said in a statement. “With much of the discourse on these issues having been one-sided, through this portal RealClear seeks to offer much-needed balance.”
RealClearPolitics has also teamed up with 1776 Unites, a group of mostly black scholars and intellectuals led by civil rights leader and entrepreneur Robert L. Woodson.
“Time and again, the achievements of American heroes such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. serve as empowering examples that the most powerful response to oppression is not resentment but resilience,” Woodson said in a statement. “This is the message that will empower young people to achieve and succeed—this is the message of the new 1619 Project portal at RealClear American Civics.”
RealClearPolitics will provide an important balance in discussions about the 1619 Project. While the project may share the stories of heroic black Americans who have often been wrongly overlooked, it stokes division and resentment that fuels Marxist attempts to overhaul America.
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The pernicious effect of the 1619 Project
The 1619 Project uses Marxist critical theory to demonize America and inspire an unguided and destructive revolution. Portland activist Lilith Sinclair expressed a similar idea when she said, “There’s still a lot of work to undo the harm of colonized thought that has been pushed onto Black and indigenous communities.” As examples of “colonized thought,” she mentioned Christianity and the “gender binary.” She said she organizes for “the abolition of … the “United States as we know it.”
Marxist critical theory encourages people to deconstruct various aspects of society — such as capitalism, science the nuclear family, the Judeo-Christian tradition, even expectations of politeness (as the Smithsonian briefly taught) — as examples of white oppression. This inspires an aimless and destructive revolution.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post “Call them the 1619 riots,” 1619 Project Founder Nikole Hannah-Jones responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots and the defamation of American Founding Fathers like George Washington.
In a November 9, 1995 op-ed, Hannah-Jones condemned Christopher Columbus as “no different” from Adolf Hitler and demonized the “white race” as the true “savages” and “bloodsuckers.” She went on to describe “white America’s dream” as “colored America’s nightmare.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) expressed a similar sentiment when she called for the “dismantling” of America’s “economy and political system,” in order to root out supposed racist oppression.
Yet the “1619 riots” have arguably oppressed black people far more than the U.S. supposedly does. The riots have destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 22 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.
This narrative undermines the positive aspects of America and encourages hatred toward the very country that provides its citizens with an unprecedented degree of freedom and prosperity. It encourages violent riots in the name of racial justice, even though those riots make life concretely worse for black Americans.
The 1619 Project isn’t true
It is also important to acknowledge that the 1619 Project just simply isn’t true. For one thing, there were black slaves, and black freedmen, in America for a century before 1619. Whoops!
The Smithsonian Magazine disputed the 1619 Project because the Spanish brought slaves to present-day South Carolina in 1526.
“In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures,” the magazine reported.
Ignoring these and other pre-1619 slaves “effectively erases the memory of many more African peoples than it memorializes,” the Smithsonian Magazine article argued. Therefore, the New York Times project “silences the memory of the more than 500,000 African men, women, and children who had already crossed the Atlantic against their will, aided and abetted Europeans in their endeavors, provided expertise and guidance in a range of enterprises, suffered, died, and – most importantly – endured.”
Of course, the 1619 Project is also false in a much deeper sense. Its narrative delegitimizes the very real benefits of American freedom and prosperity by claiming that racist oppression is the central truth behind the country’s ideals, while in truth the country was founded in pursuit of freedom and equality but the Founders allowed slavery to persist, laying the groundwork to defeat it eventually.
While America is far from perfect, the 1619 Project unfairly demonizes it with a false and destructive narrative. RealClearPolitics is right to engage with it, pushing back against the lies and preserving any positive results by linking to both the 1619 Project and other sources.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.