Every decade or so, a new revisionist fad will captivate some small — and invariably loud — subsect of American “historians.” It happened, most memorably, in the 1960s and ‘70s as the rise of Marxist professors swept through our universities. Slowly but surely the grift was seen for what it was — bad history based on bad motives. But a good deal of damage was done, as thousands of university students were indoctrinated to interpret American history as an ongoing drama of class conflict and nothing more. We see the effects of this education playing out today.
Well, the revisionists are at it again. Similar grift, similar bad history and similar bad motives. But this time it’s worse, the long-term effect more pernicious.
Earlier this month, Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary “For a sweeping, provocative and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.”
At the heart of Mrs. Hannah-Jones’ project is the explicit claim that the true history of America did not start in 1776, but in 1619, the year when the first slaves arrived to the colonies. Instead of taking our bearings from the eternal truths enshrined in the Declaration (“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”), she argues that slavery is the lens through which all of America’s successes and failures, every single thing that defines us, good and bad, must be understood.
Mrs. Hannah-Jones applies her argument to Revolution, claiming that the colonists fought for independence on the grounds that an America untethered from Britain would allow the institution of slavery to flourish. This assertion is so wrong, so factually inaccurate, that leading historians (Mrs. Hannah-Jones is a journalist) of both conservative and liberal persuasions, systematically went through her research and found no evidence supporting her contention. (They did, however, find a trove of historical inaccuracies and distortions.)
Now, Mrs. Hannah-Jones is an ideologue. The truth and falsity of her “Project” does not, one suspects, interest her (or The New York Times) in the least. She cares about making a political splash, self-aggrandizement and righting historical wrongs on her own terms. This is disgusting as it lamentable, and all the more so since the suffering and story of black Americans doubtless deserves to be told honestly and more loudly.
The Pulitzer Prize, like the Nobel Prize for Peace, is so obviously a tool of the dogmatic left that demanding objectivity or standards from their respective committees is futile. And in this respect, Mrs. Hannah-Jones was given an award by an organization that matches the seriousness of her endeavor. If this is where things stopped, we could easily ignore the 1619 Project.
But there are indications now that this dishonest “history” will now be taught in K-12 public schools, from Chicago to Washington, D.C. This means children, unable to discern fact from fiction, will be subjected to a politicized, false history of their country. It would be one thing if Mrs. Hannah-Jones, The New York Times and the Pulitzer committee were ignorant of what they were creating or supporting. But they are not, as evidenced by the fact that 1619 Project is still funded and lauded — irrespective of the devastating critiques it faced by real historians.
So, let’s call the 1619 Project and its use in our public schools what it is: An attempt to brainwash children into believing the historical narrative Mrs. Hannah-Jones and The New York Times want them to believe.
Neither party cares that the dissemination of their distortion of America’s story will lead, like the teachings of the Marxists of yesteryear, to the weakening of our shared social fabric. Neither party cares that elites telling mistruths about the trials African-Americans endured does this community a tremendous injustice. And neither party cares, ultimately, about the status of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, in the world.
But we should.