Culture

Amid Deadly Riots, Oprah Signs on to Adapt Anti-American '1619 Project'

Oprah Winfrey (Alyssa Pointer /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Following the horrific police killing of George Floyd, peaceful protests devolved into looting, riots, and arson. These riots, inspired by the idea that America is a fundamentally “institutionally racist” country and therefore needs to be uprooted, arguably echo The New York Times‘ “1619 Project,” which claims that America’s true founding came with the arrival of the first black slaves in 1619, rather than the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The project’s founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, said (in a now-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” for the riots to be called “the 1619 riots.”

Yet on Wednesday, Oprah Winfrey announced that she had teamed up with Lionsgate and the Times to launch a grand multi-media campaign to turn the 1619 Project into “multiple feature films, TV series, documentaries and other cross-platform content for a global audience,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“It’s been almost a year since we published the [1619 Project], the most important work of my life, and I am so excited to announce that we will be partnering with [Lionsgate] and the one and only [Oprah Winfrey] to bring this work on slavery’s legacy to tv and film!” Hannah-Jones tweeted.

“When the [1619 Project] came out almost a year ago, I stood in tearful applause for the profound offering that it was giving our culture and nation,” Winfrey responded. “Today, I am honored to be a part of [Hannah-Jones]’ vision to bring her transformative work to a global audience. Stay tuned, y’all!”

Oprah may want to think twice about endorsing such a project. While the “1619 Project” may shed light on the important contributions of black Americans, the project also denigrates America’s founding, the free-market system, and even things like sugar.

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In an early essay, Hannah-Jones spread a false claim about the American Revolution, namely that “one of the primary reasons” the Founders revolted from Britain was to preserve the institution of slavery. In reality, the American Revolution disrupted slavery, as many of the American colonies armed black people to fight the British, offering their freedom. The Times ultimately had to issue an embarrassing correction on the matter.

Perhaps even worse than lying about slavery, however, the “1619 Project” has arguably shamed the urban unrest spreading across America in the wake of the George Floyd Protests. The riots — which Democrats seem intent on ignoring — have destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. Yes, vandals attacked the monument to the 54th Massachusetts regiment, a group of black volunteers who fought for the Union. Others dislodged a monument to the former slave and magnificent orator Frederick Douglass, who arguably would have disagreed with the 1619 Project’s foundational premise.

At least 21 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black. Retired police chief David Dorn was killed by looters breaking into his pawnshop in St. Louis. Chris Beaty was shot while helping two women who were being mugged in Indianapolis. Italia Marie Kelly was trying to leave a protest when she was shot and killed in Davenport, Iowa. Antonio Mays Jr., a 16-year-old boy, was shot and killed outside the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) in Seattle. Secoriea Taylor — an 8-year-old girl — was fatally shot as her mother attempted to park a car near a group of protesters close to the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks had been killed by police.

Amid the riots, vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, spray-painting “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” 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.

The 1619 Project is not entirely bad. Many of its essays likely highlight the important achievements of black Americans, achievements that have been overlooked. However, the project undermines the very goodness of America and arguably contributes to the deadly and destructive riots across the country.

Furthermore, Oprah should hesitate to work with Hannah-Jones. In a November 9, 1995 op-ed, the 1619 Project founder condemned Christopher Columbus as “no different” from Adolf Hitler and demonized the “white race” as the true “savages” and “bloodsuckers.”

“Europeans have colonized and destroyed the indigenous populations of every continent of this planet. They have committed genocide against cultures that have never offended them in their greed and insatiable desire to control and dominate every non-white culture,” Hannah-Jones, then a sophomore at Notre Dame, argued.

In a telling preview of the core of the 1619 Project, she quoted Rodney King, the black man whose vicious beating from members of the Los Angeles Police Department triggered riots in 1992. “In closing, a famous American, who was beat down by members of the christian society, once said ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ Why? Because white America’s dream is colored America’s nightmare. To Kelly I say: It does not feel good to have your culture put under a microscope, does it?”

While Hannah-Jones may no longer stand by everything she wrote in that op-ed, her declaration that “white America’s dream is colored America’s nightmare,” seems very much in line with the central divisive argument in the 1619 Project.

Oprah Winfrey represents a tremendous black American success story, and the 1619 Project’s anti-American message is at odds with the talk-show host persona many Americans came to love. She should seriously reconsider endorsing this divisive project, especially during this deadly moment of turmoil.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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