In August 1619, the first known slave ship arrived from Africa on the American shore. That became the date for the start of slavery in the colonies and later the United States. The “peculiar institution” has been foundational to the country, from the structure of the Constitution to the Civil War to the systemic — yes, systemic — racism to continues to haunt us today.
Last year, on the 400th anniversary of slavery, the New York Times (which does get some things right) published The 1619 Project (sorry, the links aren’t working right), a monumental review of slavery’s history and impact. It won a Pulitzer Prize, and high schools around the country have been including in their curricula:
The teachers and students who used The 1619 Project material in class were enthusiastic—and understandably so. The goal of engaging students in learning about American history and the role slavery and black Americans have played in it is widely and justifiably shared. That goal animated some earlier successful and ongoing programs such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which has trained thousands of educators about teaching slavery.
At the same time, The 1619 Project was attacked by a number of conservatives:
and so on. Now the Malignant Mangoface has joined the fray:
In a Sunday morning tweet, the President said the US Department of Education would investigate whether California schools are using the New York Times' “1619 Project” in public school curriculum. The Pulitzer-Prize winning collection reframes American history around the date of August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on America's shores.
“Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!” he wrote on Twitter, citing a message from an unverified account saying it was being taught in schools there.
The message came after the President on Friday night banned federal agencies from conducting racial sensitivity training related to “white privilege” and “critical race theory.” . . .The moves follow a pattern by the President of disparaging attempts to process or reckon with the country's fraught racial history. In his convention acceptance speech, the President said “Americans are exhausted, trying to keep up with the latest lists of approved words and phrases, and the ever more restrictive political decrees. Many things have a different name now, and the rules are constantly changing.”
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican, has introduced legislation that would prevent schools from teaching the curriculum. The legislation, titled the Saving American History Act of 2020, “would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project by K-12 schools or school districts. Schools that teach the 1619 Project would also be ineligible for federal professional-development grants.”
Trump’s proposed cutting off funds is almost certainly illegal, and while Cotton’s bill would make it a law, it appears to have no chance of passage. But it sends a message, which is what both Cottonmouth and Mangoface are after.
Trump used to say he was the least racist person ever. He’s always been a racist — just ask any of his Black tenants or the Central Park Five. For a while, though, he pretended that “there were fine people on both sides” and that he was the best president Blacks had had since Lincoln. (LBJ and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 notwithstanding, just for starters.)
In Michael Cohen’s new book, Disloyal: A Memoir, there are highly credible stories of Trump disparaging Blacks (and Hispanics) as “too stupid” to vote for him, and of hating the first Black president so much that he hired an actor to play Obama so he could fire him. Everything he’s done since the day he came down that escalator has been to promote white supremacy and destroy our progress toward racial equality. This attack on The 1619 Project is the next shot in Trump race war.
In fairness, I have to say that The 1619 Project is a controversial report that serious historians have problems with, though they acknowledged its importance:
Underlying each of the disagreements in the letter is not just a matter of historical fact but a conflict about whether Americans, from the Founders to the present day, are committed to the ideals they claim to revere. And while some of the critiques can be answered with historical fact, others are questions of interpretation grounded in perspective and experience.
In fact, the harshness of the Wilentz letter may obscure the extent to which its authors and the creators of the 1619 Project share a broad historical vision. Both sides agree, as many of the project’s right-wing critics do not, that slavery’s legacy still shapes American life—an argument that is less radical than it may appear at first glance. If you think anti-black racism still shapes American society, then you are in agreement with the thrust of the 1619 Project, though not necessarily with all of its individual arguments.
But that is nuance, and the Great Orange Shitgibbon and his slavering (pun intended) horde don’t do nuance.