Why some cannot accept America’s racist history

Jordan Sheppard |Staff Writer

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Photo Credit: Jack Delano | Flickr

In Aug. 2019, The New York Times Magazine unveiled its 1619 Project, to mark the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of African slaves to North America in 1619 at Fort Monroe. 

The project details the history of slavery in the United States from its inception until its abolishment in 1865. It also details how the system of slavery has affected African-Americans for the decades that followed. 

Shortly after its release, the project, led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, was met with much positive criticism. 

Rolling Stone senior writer Jamil Smith called the issue a “hidden genius,” stating that the 1619 Project got “history right instead of white.” 

California Senator and 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris, tweeted: “The #1619 Project is a powerful and necessary reckoning of our history. We cannot understand and address the problems of today without speaking truth about how we got here.” 

Though the flood of positive reviews in support of the project were overwhelming, many conservatives came out in staunch opposition to the content displayed to the public. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, called the project “propaganda” during a segment on Fox & Friends and thinks the project should have discussed the “several hundred thousand white Americans who died in the Civil War” who helped freed the slaves, instead of focusing on slavery alone. 

Conservative radio host Erick Erickson tweeted that while the overall idea of the project was good, he thought the writers should not be looking through “racial lenses and keeping racial [tensions] aflame,” suggesting that the 1619 Project shouldn’t have been a “race” thing. The responses that came from many on the right opposing the project, explaining what was wrong with the issue and why this history shouldn’t be told in this manner, supports the argument of why more projects like the 1619 Project need to be created. 

 American history, as it would love for itself to be presented, has many high points, but there are many moments in which the United States behaved in a deplorable manner. 

Many on the far right want those high points to be the only ones referenced. 

“The far right’s vision of American history is that it should be taught in a way that reinforces goodness and the idea that there might be a problem with that story is something they see as an attack,” said Dr. Michael Davis, assistant professor of history at Hampton University. 

Many of American history’s low moments range from slavery to The Reconstruction Era, Japanese internment camps and the opposition to The Civil Rights Movement. The common theme that lies within each of the standout events is that race is the major factor. 

When the topic of race is brought up and how Americans have treated people of color, the discussion turns into a debate, where one side begins to go on the offensive. 

Instead of fully acknowledging the problems of the past, they gently brush over them, making light of their existence and then expecting the public to move on. 

Many make the argument that slavery happened over a century ago but fail to mention that ever since then, African-Americans have been at a huge disadvantage compared to their white counterparts. 

The 1619 Project’s objective was not to attack anyone because those at fault have long passed on, but what it intended to do was to inform the public and spark conversation about these events and how they’ve affected African-Americans in present day and how we can start finding solutions to these problems. 

As German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once stated, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” 

When one does not know history, they are likely to repeat it. And America has been repeating discrimination and oppression, under a different guise, since 1619. 

 

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