The New York Times’ 1619 Project argues that the United States is inextricably rooted in the evil of slavery, brought to these shores in 1619. As a black scholar, I reject this narrative. Instead of 1619, I take pride in our true Founding — 1776.
And I’m not alone.
Some of 1619’s attempts to link contemporary America to slavery are plain absurd. Matthew Desmond says US capitalism is uniquely brutal, and “you can trace that to the plantation” (no, you can’t). Jeneen Interlandi argues that the one-syllable reason we don’t have single-payer health care is “race.” Project leader Nikole Hannah-Jones argues that our wealth is due largely to slavery, a widely debunked claim.
For good measure, there is even a 1619 essay headlined “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam.”
Numerous eminent historians, many of them of the left, have pointed out the manifest factual errors behind the project’s larger claims, in The Post and other venues. The notion, for example, that preserving the Peculiar Institution was a major cause of the American Revolution is quite literally incredible. Yet Hannah-Jones and her colleague seem impervious to scholarly correction.
That renders the potential political impact of 1619 all the more dangerous. If the prestige of the Times leads elites and ordinary Americans to accept its assertions as true, then the United States must be remade — or else African Americans and others will remain justified in hating the country.
If, for example, we don’t have a single-payer system not because only 31 percent of Americans favor such a system, but because of the legacy of slavery, then establishing single-payer becomes an urgent moral imperative.
The most hyper-competitive economy in the world is Singapore’s, which didn’t have slavery. But if the competitiveness of ours owes to slavery, as the Times claims, then what choice do we have but to shift our entire economy in a social-democratic direction? In an era when leading presidential candidates propose just that, the implicit message of 1619 is clear — and potent.
I propose an alternative narrative. I am, along with Bob Woodson, Glenn Loury, Clarence Page, John Sibley Butler, Carol Swain, Coleman Hughes, Taleeb Starkes, John Wood and many others, a founding member of “1776,” an African-American-led pro-American organization launched partly to respond to the 1619 Project.
Our project advances three core theses. First, many of the major claims of 1619, and of radical social science in general, are simply not true. That much the contributors to The Post’s “Twisted History” series have already demonstrated.
Second, we believe that slavery was radically evil, but also that it doesn’t account for the uniqueness of America today; virtually every nation in the world had both slaves and slave-owners until the mid-19th century, and only one became the United States. Since the elimination of US slavery in 1865-66, our population has increased by 874 percent and our GDP by 11,796 percent, with both jumps driven by modern-era immigration.
Third and most important, 1776 offers an alternative, positive view of America. We believe that the United States is a flawed but very good society, where it is frankly not very hard to succeed with hard work and personal responsibility.
People regularly immigrate to America from developing countries like Vietnam, Ethiopia and many others, and they outperform many native-born citizens. Rather than endlessly chastise America for the crimes of generations dead and gone, these sojourners look to the future. Rather than being hobbled by our nation’s past, they draw inspiration from our timeless, world-leading ideals.
Teaching those ideals anew to our own citizens is the best way for all of us to move forward, together.
Wilfred Reilly is an associate professor of political science at Kentucky State University, and the author of the book “Taboo: Ten Facts You Can’t Talk About” and “Hate-Crime Hoax.” Twitter at @Wil_da_Beast630 http://www.1776unites.com
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