This writer recently visited Boston including several historical sites. My wife had traced her ancestry to the Mayflower (along with 35 million other people, I learned), so a side trip to Plymouth was in order (it was either that or Salem, but we had been there before). In virtually every exhibit wherever we went, we were treated to some display of how the Indians were mistreated, had their land stolen, became inflicted with diseases carried by the white settlers, and had treaties broken (except one that lasted 50 years). But, there was one museum that actually stated that in the future they were dedicating an exhibit to marginalized people of early Colonial America- natives, blacks, and even LGBT people including… and I am not making this up- queer Indians.
So, this got to thinking back to a trip we had made through Virginia three years back. We made a stop in Williamsburg (I suggest a trip to Plymouth Plantation since it is more enjoyable and informative than Williamsburg). On a previous trip to Williamsburg, we participated in a trial at the historic courthouse where my wife was accused of stealing a cow and I had to defend her from a pre-written script. It was informative about colonial justice. On the most recent trip, we were treated to a lecture about slavery by an African-American actor.
Living near Philadelphia (not really; I live 50 minutes away), we also have made trips there. One new museum is dedicated to the American Revolution. Many of the exhibits are long on social justice and short on actual history or military campaigns and strategy. It was a monumental letdown.
I will always remember that trip through Virginia and a walk through Richmond. There was a very nice shaded park with a statue of some Confederate general. Two black men were sitting there talking. This was before Charlottesville although there had been some brewing controversies about removing Confederate statues. Against my wife’s wishes, I turned around and asked these men what they thought of the statue. The one replied: “Sir, we’ve been sitting here in this park for 40 years. We don’t pay it any mind.”
I bring these stories up as a springboard to the so-called “1619 Project” being heralded by the New York Times and now other media outlets. That project is based on one false premise: that we exist as a country because of slavery. We exist as a country because people fled Europe looking for prosperity and/or religious and other freedoms. It is silly to assert that all the explorers and all the colonists and all the trade companies came to America to establish slavery. The fact that slaves were brought to America in 1619 was simply a by-product of the status quo in Britain at the time. Yet, the 1619 Project asserts otherwise.
It is very easy to sit here 400 years later and impose our sense of morality and decency on people 400 years ago. It is why the less-educated among us believe the three-fifths compromise is predicated upon the belief our Founders thought blacks were 60% human. It is why they also believe the Electoral College is inherently racist. In fact, the 1619 Project furthers the belief that slavery and negative attitudes towards blacks permeates the whole of American society from the first colonists to the present.
The 1619 Project is nothing but institutionalized white guilt being foisted upon the public disguised as an intellectual exercise. No country in the world is without its faults in history. Yet no country grappled with and experienced so much bloodshed to end the practice of slavery than this country.
The Left is pushing the 1619 Project as part of their more-broad war on Western culture in general. They wish to engrain this misguided collective guilt upon all white Americans. Their newest phrase is “white fragility-” a term to describe a white person’s difficulty and defensiveness when talking about race. Apparently, the attempts are succeeding with younger generations of whites. Young white Americans are the first generation to display out-group bias. They are to the left of non-whites on the issue of immigration and are “…more likely to think that racial disparity is a problem that demands state intervention.”
In reality, there is not necessarily fragility in talking about race, but perhaps fragility when it comes to accepting the Leftist pablum when it comes to race. When you repeatedly call a race “evil” because of actions 400 years ago, there is likely to be a backlash. Just as there is no shame- nor should there be- in being black, Asian, Latino or Native American, there should be no shame or guilt in being white. But, the 1619 Project’s aims are the exact opposite. Every white American- even those whose ancestors arrived here well after slavery was abolished and those who can trace their roots to their arrival before the Civil War and having nothing to do with slavery- are obliged to feel the collective guilt because of their skin color.
The 1619 Project does a serious disservice to black leaders in the past like Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. Dubois, and especially Martin Luther King, Jr. King’s vision of a color-blind society cannot be realized as long as the Left harps on race. It has become institutionalized in our educational system. There have been calls for the 1619 Project to be adopted into state educational curricula at all levels. Personally, as a part-time educator, I am tired of taking a month out of the year dedicated to black history at all levels (even Pre-K) to learn that a black man invented the traffic light and gas mask.
A well-rounded educational curriculum would incorporate the tribulations and contributions of blacks, women, Indians and whatever throughout the school year. But we not only fail to do that but now many are suggesting that slavery and its aftermath as regards blacks permeate the whole of American history and that it be presented in the most negative light possible. It is designed to teach that despite the fact this country is a beacon of freedom and tolerance all over the world, we are not free and we are not tolerant. By placing the “original sin” of slavery and black civil rights front and center at every turn in American history, it crowds out the more numerous examples of American greatness, ingenuity, and tolerance.
The 1619 Project is based on a single premise: white is evil and blacks are oppressed. Every person without the correct skin pigmentation is a potential white supremacist yearning for the days of slavery or Jim Crow. It matters little your ancestral connection to this country- you are guilty by virtue of your skin color. You are privileged or fragile. Only the elitist Left white pundits and historians are enlightened and not tainted with original sin. They have correctly bowed before the altar of political correctness and been absolved of their sins. In essence, they have apologized for being white.
This writer has no doubt that there are some blacks who feel slighted by a statue of a Confederate general or display of the Confederate battle flag. But, I also believe there are many more who think like those two older black gentlemen in that park in Richmond who “don’t pay it any mind.” Erasing the past- the good, the bad, and the ugly- is the same as either rewriting the past or concentrating exclusively on one aspect of the past to explain the entirety of the American experience.
The United States does not exist because of slavery. To assert otherwise is to denigrate the legacy of those who escaped religious persecution in Europe or those who came to this country seeking prosperity and a better life than they could ever hope to achieve in their native land. We are built upon the idea that all are equal before the law. Admittedly, getting to that point was a long and arduous task with many dead bodies- black and white- along the way. We are, as a country, predicated upon the fact that individuals are responsible for their own actions. If you replace those two premises with identity politics and instilling collective white guilt through things like the 1619 Project, then you have succeeded in laying the seeds for the dismantling of this country.
Then again, isn’t that the entire objective of those on the Left?