Can you discern a writer’s race by how they write? Perhaps by what they write, yes. But Michael Harriot, writing for the black news site, The Root, thinks he’s got it all figured out.
On Thursday, the National Review’s Peter Kirsanow wrote an article entitled “History According to the 1619 Project,” suggesting that the celebrated New York Times’ project is trying to envenom defenseless white children by exposing them to the poisonous truth—namely, America’s shameful history of slavery.
“The 1619 Project’s obsession with race, standing alone, is bad enough,” Kirsanow writes, whitely. “[B]ut it’s even worse that it’s actually being used in public school curricula.”
Kirsanow, a regular contributor to National Review, is a former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as well as a former member of the National Labor Relations Board.
Kirsanow is also a proud and accomplished black man and one of the foremost conservatives in the country.
Kirsanow was surprised to discover that he is caucasian.
“Well, I guess if Elizabeth Warren can be Cherokee, I can be white,” Kirsanow told the Washington Free Beacon. “Wait till my wife finds out.”
Harriot did not respond to a request for comment.
NR’s online editor Charles C.W. Cooke was bemused.
Just another day of Peter Kirsanow being white. pic.twitter.com/A2poxyzzCc
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) January 17, 2020
Lost in all this racial mix up is Kirsanow’s intelligent destruction of the “1619 Project” that Harriot looks to discredit only and exclusively because Kirsanow is “white.”
Regurgitating Nikole Hannah-Jones’ explanation that her historical project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” Kirsanow notes that the endeavor argues that America was founded when the first African slaves arrived in Virginia, rather than, as white people decided: “When the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain (or, say, 1620, when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, or 1607 when Jamestown was settled). Instead of fixing the founding of the country on a constructive event, the New York Times seeks to define the U.S. by its failures.”
He’s right. That’s exactly what the 1619 Project admittedly does. But Kirsanow undermines his own argument by acknowledging the varying perspectives of historians who disagree on when the nation was founded. His point seems to be that it’s OK to say the Pilgrims founded America; or that it was really founded by the Jamestown settlers…or the signers of the Declaration of Independence…or the ratifiers of the Constitution. All these people could be counted as “Founding Fathers,” according to Kirsanow.
But not black people.
Cannot an intelligent, independent thinking black person like Kirsanow agree with some white historians and not be accused of thinking or writing “whitely”? Must all blacks march in intellectual lockstep without questioning the counternarrative on slavery being advanced by Harriot and the New York Times?
Harriot can’t really believe that some American history is locked away in a government closet somewhere and guarded 24 hours a day. Access to information by students is a touch away on their phones. Any conceivable topic is there for any curious kid to learn about.
The problem, as it has always been, is that history textbooks are, by definition, limited. It is impossible to capture the gigantic sweep of history that led to and contributed to the American Revolution in a textbook. There are going to be omissions. There are going to be disagreements on what constitutes “history” worthy of being included — or excluded.
The New York Times is seeking to put African American history at the center of American history. They are doing it by, in some cases, exaggerating the role of blacks and minimizing the roles of others. Women could make the same claims to being excluded, as could gay people and other representatives of the LGBTQ community. No doubt the Times will get around to giving them their very own “projects” in the near future.
We will never get it right for everybody. But it would help if we had a little more objective perspective on the subject matter than Mr. Harriot, whose biggest sin wasn’t in misidentifying Mr. Kirasnow as white, but in claiming the ignorance of even learned white writers whose perspective doesn’t match up with Harriot’s biased, racialist worldview.