Brown University professor Glenn Loury is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more. What’s he mad about? The protestors and their running dogs who are calling for defunding the police. And that, he argues—probably correctly—has reduced the amount of policing, which is “costing black lives.” Further, he’s angry at Nikole Hannah-Jones for being proud that someone called the riots after the George Floyd killing “the 1619 riots.”
Here’s part of his recent Patreon discussion with John McWhorter (the whole discussion is behind a paywall but will soon be up for free) about the 1619 Project and its leader, the often-unhinged Nikole Hannah-Jones. McWhorter isn’t a fan of Hannah-Jones, either, but shows a little more empathy for her because he thinks that she really believes she’s changing America for the better and isn’t just engaged in moral preening. McWhorter recalls an incident from his youth, when he knocked down a ten-year-old girl and “broke her,” as leading to his reluctance to “break” Hannah-Jones.
My own view is that you don’t need to “break” any of your opponents (after all, that’s what Woke people do): just break their arguments. On another note, I can’t wait for McWhorter’s upcoming book on social-justice activism and DiAngelo-style anti-racism as forms of religion.
Here’s Loury, in another clip from the same show, really heated up about the death of black children in drive-by shootings, and how, he thinks, the media ignores that compared to the death of people like George Floyd.
JAC: Greg has another installment in his continuing series on the New York Times’s 1619 project. Readers please note that this is Greg’s piece, not mine.
by Greg Mayer
As they have since it was published last year, the folks at the World Socialist Website (WSWS) continue to lead in the critique of the New York Times‘ 1619 Project. In doing so, they have highlighted not just the defects of the project as history, but the dissimulation and mendacity of the Times‘ editors and writers in their attempts to defend it. In doing so, they have performed a public service, and have put the lie to claims that criticism of “1619” is a right-wing project.
On October 16, New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein issued a new defense of the 1619 Project in which he now argues that its best-known claim—that the year 1619 and not 1776 represents the “true founding” of the United States—was a metaphorical turn of phrase not intended to be read literally. . . . according to [lead writer Nicole] Hannah-Jones and the Times, “true” history had been suppressed by dishonest “white historians” hellbent on maintaining their racist “founding myth” of 1776. After two centuries of a historical narrative centered on the false elevation of 1776, the 1619 Project declared that “it was finally time to tell our story truthfully.”
In spite of Silverstein’s deletion of the “true founding” claim and his other word changes, the Times’ essential position remains the same: The American Revolution was a retrograde event, in which the defense of slavery was the critical motivation. . . .
As for the Project’s quietly-deleted “true founding” thesis—which was emblazoned on the Times website and repeated again and again by Hannah-Jones on social media, in interviews, and her national lecture tour—Silverstein now claims that this was the product of nothing more than a minor technical error, the sort of snafu that is an inevitable outcome of difficulties for modern-day editors, such as himself, in managing a “multiplatform” publication and “figuring out how to present the same journalism in all those different media.” With all of these formats to tend to, the beleaguered editors of the Times just couldn’t get the story straight! Silverstein does not seem to grasp that the criteria of objective truth do not change as one moves from printed newspaper to website, or from Facebook to Twitter. What is a lie in one format remains a lie in another. . . .
This is the version that was sent out to school children. It read, with emphasis added:
1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that our defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?
He [Silverstein] then quotes the revised passage, that has been made to the online publication only:
1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that the moment that the country’s defining contradictions first came into the world was in late August of 1619?
Perhaps Silverstein hopes his readers will carelessly jump over this scissors-and-glue work. He writes that the difference in the two passages is “to the wording and the length, not the facts.” But actually, there to be read literally in black and white, the first passage refers specifically to an allegedly false “fact.” If a metaphor is being employed in the original version, it is very well concealed.
The Guild later deleted the tweet after a “furor” erupted among Times staff against this transparent demand for managerial censorship of a fellow journalist—to say nothing of its mangling of the English language. The Guild declared that whoever issued the attack on Stephens had done so without permission.
The 1619 affair has clearly revealed that wokeism is not a position on the left end of the American political axis. Rather, it forms an orthogonal axis, and racialists of all persuasions can espouse “identity” über alles; and opponents of wokeism can come from all along the traditional political spectrum. That is why we need to have terms such as the “liberal left” vs. the “illiberal left”. (The WSWS would be to the left of “liberals” on the traditional political axis, but I would identify them as “liberal left”, since “liberal” in this context refers to defense of civil rights and anti-racialism as the opposition to wokeism and racialism.)
In ignoring its own fact checker, dismissing cogent criticism from respected scholars, and dissimulating about its actions, the Times has discredited itself. As the WSWS put it,
The 1619 Project is a travesty of both history and journalism that has humiliated the Times and undermined its self-proclaimed status as “the newspaper of record.”
I still read the Times, but I can no longer defend it.
The title of this piece came from Greg Mayer, who was about to write a post on this same subject when he saw my draft. So, with permission, I’ve stolen his title, which was better than mine. And I agree with it.
Bret Stephens knew what he was doing when he called out the 1619 Project in his latest column (click on screenshot below). For he not only criticized the project, but the paper’s—his paper’s—journalistic integrity, verging at times on mendacity. In fact, it’s a good piece, even if you don’t like Stephens’s conservatism, for what I know about his indictment is true. But how much of a career will he have at the NYT now? For what he did was far more serious than the “crimes” that made Bari Weiss’s life at the paper so untenable that she left. She was just anti-woke, which went against the paper’s editorial grain.
When Greg saw this draft (he’s followed the Project since its inception, he added this:
You mention Bari Weiss, but don’t forget the opinion page editor, James Bennet, who was defenestrated from the Times for insufficient wokeness. One thing about Stephens that might protect him is the fact that he is very visible, as the Times‘s premier conservative columnist. Both Weiss (who only occasionally was published by the Times) and Bennet were mostly behind the scenes players; Stephens is out in front, published twice weekly (including his duets with Gail Collins), and a “Columnist”, not a mere contributor.
In his column, Stephens says the 1619 Project, however good its motivations, was handled so duplicitously that it gave the paper’s critics “a gift.”
Let me say first that since the 1619 Project was not just journalism, but also an attempt to infiltrate American secondary education with its ideology from Critical Race Theory, it represents a victory for the Woke. Although Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the Woke haven’t won, I disagree. They control not only the two most respected liberal papers in America, and most higher education, but are now putting their tentacles into secondary-school education. Even the Chicago school system has adopted the 1619 Project as part of its curriculum.
But I digress. I described some of the paper’s questionable practices in earlier posts, and Stephens reprises how Nikole Hannah-Jones, the project’s director, simply lied about the project’s overriding aims, saying that she never tried to change the foundation date of America from 1776 to 1619. But she did make that claim several times, and it quietly disappeared from the paper’s website without an explicit correction. And despite trenchant criticism by historians about many of the project’s empirical claims, the paper and editor refused to accept, or even consider, the criticisms. The Woke don’t do stuff like that.
Stephens finds other problems, like the new claim that 1776 represented the year of “defining contradiction” of America, that the founding principles were “false,” and that Jake Silverstein, the NYT Magazine editor, grossly exaggerated when he said this:
“Out of slavery—and the anti-Black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.”
Well, you can argue about the meaning of words like “contradiction,” “falsity”, and “nearly everything,” but the fact remains that noted historians on all sides of the political spectrum have argued that the Times‘s journalism simply distorted history. Stephens gives several examples of pushback by historians (e.g., here, here and here) and concludes, correctly, I think, that the 1619 Project is “a thesis in search of evidence, not the other way around.”
The historical distortions and track-covering by the Times are not in doubt, at least not among those who’ve followed the controversy, but of course all criticism of the 1619 Project by liberals comes with the obligatory praise for its anti-racist intent. And indeed, the intent was admirable. Who of good will can oppose anti-racism? But the execution has been deeply flawed, and will the paper really reduce racism by inculcating a generation of American children with Critical Race Theory? Further, Trump has already suggested that he’ll cut off government funding to any schools who adopt the 1619 Project in their curriculum. I oppose that autocratic decision as well, as the President should not be dictating what’s taught to children. School boards set curricula.
In the end, Stephens knows he’s even more of an apostate with his NYT colleagues now, but you have to admire him for the courage of his convictions. He didn’t have to write this column, which includes criticisms of the paper’s journalistic practices like this:
Journalists are, most often, in the business of writing the first rough draft of history, not trying to have the last word on it. We are best when we try to tell truths with a lowercase t, following evidence in directions unseen, not the capital-T truth of a pre-established narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded. And we’re supposed to report and comment on the political and cultural issues of the day, not become the issue itself.
As fresh concerns make clear, on these points — and for all of its virtues, buzz, spinoffs and a Pulitzer Prize — the 1619 Project has failed.
Nor did he have to end his piece this way, but I’m glad he did:
For obvious reasons, I’ve thought long and hard about the ethics of writing this essay. On the one hand, outside of exceptional circumstances, it’s bad practice to openly criticize the work of one’s colleagues. We bat for the same team and owe one another collegial respect.
On the other, the 1619 Project has become, partly by its design and partly because of avoidable mistakes, a focal point of the kind of intense national debate that columnists are supposed to cover, and that is being widely written about outside The Times. To avoid writing about it on account of the first scruple is to be derelict in our responsibility toward the second.
All the more so as journalists, in the United States and abroad, come under relentless political assault from critics who accuse us of being fake, biased, partisan and an arm of the radical left. Many of these attacks are baseless. Some of them are not. Through its overreach, the 1619 Project has given critics of The Times a gift.
In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal has reported on a futile effort: a letter to the Pulitzer Committee signed by historians (including Glenn Loury), asking them to take back the 1619 Project’s Pulitzer Prize (that Prize was ridiculous from the get-go, awarded not for quality but wokeness). You won’t be able to read the WSJ article, which is paywalled, but you can see the beginning by clicking on the screenshot below. (Judicious inquiry may yield you a copy of the piece.)
The WSJ repeats some of the earlier criticism, but also links to the Pulitzer letter, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below:
Of course the Pulitzer folks won’t retract the prize; I don’t know if it’s ever done that, but it surely wouldn’t retract an award for an antiracist piece in these times. Here’s a short extract from the longish letter which includes lots of material we’re familiar with by now:
The duplicity of attempting to alter the historical record in a manner intended to deceive the public is as serious an infraction against professional ethics as a journalist can commit. A “sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay,” as the Pulitzer Prize Board called it, does not have the license to sweep its own errors into obscurity or the remit to publish “deeply reported” falsehoods.
The Pulitzer Prize Board erred in awarding a prize to Hannah-Jones’s profoundly flawed essay, and through it to a Project that, despite its worthy intentions, is disfigured by unfounded conjectures and patently false assertions. To err is human. But now that it has come to light that these materials have been “corrected” without public disclosure and Hannah-Jones has falsely put forward claims that she never said or wrote what she plainly did, the offense is far more serious. It is time for the Pulitzer Prize Board to acknowledge its error rather than compound it. Given the glaring historical fallacy at the heart of its account, and the subsequent breaches of core journalistic ethics by both Hannah-Jones and the Times, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written” does not deserve the honor conferred upon it. Nor does The 1619 Project of which it is a central part, and which the Board seeks to honor by honoring Hannah-Jones’s essay. The Board should acknowledge that its award was an error. It can and should correct that error by withdrawing the prize.
The letter is signed by 21 original signatories and 7 additional ones from “the Independent Institute.” I can’t be arsed to look most of the scholars up and, as most Woke people do, try to discredit them. I’d never heard of any of them save Glenn Loury, who, as I recall, identifies as a liberal. It doesn’t matter, though, as Pulitzer won’t revoke the Prize. But the original award to the 1619 Project is, I think, a travesty, motivated much more by ideology than by quality.
I’m not a big fan of the New York Times’s 1619 Project, though I think its aims—letting people know that the aftereffects of slavery still weigh down America—are admirable. But I’m wary of its historical inaccuracies, called out by several prominent historians, of its main message that America is affected in nearly every aspect by “systemic racism”, and, above all, by the efforts of the paper to propagandize American schoolchildren with its own unvetted view of history. (What other bit of NYT journalism has been explicitly designed to be part of a school curriculum?). In view of this, I thought it was a travesty that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Project’s creator, got the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her essay on the Project. It seemed to me that the Prize was given not for quality but for wokeness.
On the other hand, it’s out of line for Trump to de-fund school districts who adopt the project into its curriculum, as school curricula are the ambit of local school districts, cities, and states—not the President. Here’s his Big Threat.
But I was surprised to hear that in fact the Chicago Public Schools, as reported in this Tribune article (click on screenshot) have quietly adopted that curriculum, for I’d heard no intimations of it previously. And I don’t know how it got adopted.
The report of Chicago’s ideological curriculum came in one short sentence (my bolding):
Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired back at President Donald Trump’s weekend threat to cut federal funding for public schools that teach the “1619 Project,” calling it “more hot air.”
. . .The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” looked at slavery and how it shaped America. Although widely celebrated, the Pulitzer Prize-winning project has drawn criticism from some conservative politicians and scholars. [JAC: It’s not just conservatives who have criticized the project, so this sentence is editorializing.]
But Chicago Public Schools has adopted it as part of its curriculum, which Lightfoot defended on Tuesday by saying it’s important for students of all backgrounds to understand slavery. Lightfoot also said Trump has “no power to try to take funding from any school district.”
“If he does, obviously, we will see him in court,” she said.
Now I like Mayor Lightfoot: she’s tough and a straight shooter, and she even called out violence and looting when they occurred as part of the demonstrations in Chicago. But I wonder if she was able to get that curriculum adopted on her own. For it’s not just an understanding of slavery that the project teaches, but also some aspects of Critical Race Theory, including the prevalence—indeed, ubiquity—of racism in every aspect of American life. It’s also historically inaccurate, but neither Hannah-Jones nor Lightfoot seem to care too much about that.
News of the day: Take my word for it—the news is all bad. First, a 63-year-old woman, swimming 20 yards offshore in southern Maine, was fatally bitten by a great white shark—only the second shark attack in that state since 1837.
Trump continues to lie about the coronavirus, sharing a video touting the use of hydroxychloroquine as a palliative for the virus, a video which was removed by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. He also claimed that large portions of the country were “corona free.” I’d like to know where they are so I can travel there.
The discovery of what appears to be van Gogh’s last painting (not “Wheatfield with Crows”) casts doubt on the recent hypothesis that he didn’t shoot himself but was shot by two young ruffians. Read the details here. Here’s the painting: “Tree Roots”:
1565 – The widowed Mary, Queen of Scots marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Duke of Albany, at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, Scotland.
1567 – The infant James VI is crowned King of Scotland at Stirling.
1818 – French physicist Augustin Fresnel submits his prizewinning “Memoir on the Diffraction of Light”, precisely accounting for the limited extent to which light spreads into shadows, and thereby demolishing the oldest objection to the wave theory of light.
1836 – Inauguration of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.
1921 – Adolf Hitler becomes leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party.
1948 – Olympic Games: The Games of the XIV Olympiad: After a hiatus of 12 years caused by World War II, the first Summer Olympics to be held since the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, open in London.
1973 – Greeks vote to abolish the monarchy, beginning the first period of the Metapolitefsi.
1976 – In New York City, David Berkowitz (a.k.a. the “Son of Sam”) kills one person and seriously wounds another in the first of a series of attacks.
Berkowitz who killed six and wounded seven, is serving three consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences in the Attica Supermax Prison. Amazingly, he was eligible for parole in 2003, though he’ll never get out. Here he is:
Notables born on this day include:
1805 – Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian and philosopher (d. 1859)
1869 – Booth Tarkington, American novelist and dramatist (d. 1946)
1883 – Benito Mussolini, Italian fascist revolutionary and politician, 27th Prime Minister of Italy (d. 1945)
1898 – Isidor Isaac Rabi, American physicist and academic, Nobel Prize Laureate (d. 1988)
Here are two headlines from British papers when she won the Prize. How things have changed! Crikey, as if “wife” were her distinguishing characteristic. Would they have said, “Nobel prize for a husband from Oxford”?
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili read the news today, oh boy:
Hili: Did you read the morning papers?
Hili: Irritating. Bad news and bad journalism.
Hili: Czytałeś już poranną prasę?
Hili: Irytujące, Złe wiadomości i złe dziennikarstwo.
And you get a treat today: six photos of the new kitten Kulka, who still weighs less than half a kilo (one pound). And she looks pretty much like baby Hili did.
Caption: This little monster is everywhere. (In Polish: Ten mały potwór jest wszędzie.)
The New York Times‘ ‘1619 Project’, and the critical reaction to it, has drawn attention here at WEIT a number of times. The diversity of the sources of criticism has been notable, ranging across the traditional political spectrum from left to right. In another salvo from the right, conservative political commentator George Will attacks the project in a new column in the Washington Post. The occasion of Will’s critique is that, incredibly, the lead writer of the project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize! (As Brian Leiter notes, the Pulitzer people have not covered themselves with glory in their awards for “Commentary”.)
As his headline (in the title above) shows, Will attacks both the historical account given by the project, and its motivations. He selects “three examples of slovenliness, even meretriciousness, regarding facts”. The examples chosen are the significance of a British offer of freedom to slaves who would flee to the British army; Lincoln’s views on emancipation and enfranchisement; and the role of whites in “the long struggle for freedom and civil rights”. (With regard to the latter, one of the things that seems to me to be most ahistorical about Hannah-Jones’ account is its elision of the Civil War. What is most striking about slavery in America is that it was ended by a war in which hundreds of thousands died—”every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword“. And the Union Army– with full credit to the free blacks and escaped slaves that rallied to it, and whose martial exploits had such salubrious effect on enfranchisement– was overwhelmingly white.)
While noting the Times‘ loss of journalistic credibility for embarking on a “political project”, and its “ideological ax-grinding”, Will mostly addresses the historical facts (or lack thereof). In a commentary at New Discourses, the claim is made that “facts” are not at all the point of the 1619 Project. (New Discourses is a new website by the “grievance studies” scholars, which Jerry has previously noted.)
Of some note, understanding the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project more or less necessarily begins by observing that it is not history, but the kind of pessimistic and hyperbolic historiography that is typical of critical race Theory. This makes it necessary to observe that a fundamental pillar of critical race Theory is historical revisionism—the rewriting of history in a way that tells it from the preferred and cynical narratives of critical race Theory. This renders the 1619 Project firmly within the realm of seeking to rewrite history (especially American history) to promote its cynical, anti-liberal agenda. Indeed, the project posits the history of the United States as little more than a long series of strategic moves by which white racism—especially anti-black racism—was established and has been and remains maintained as an ordinary and permanent feature of (American) society (see also, interest convergence). Indeed, critical race Theory sees racism and white supremacy as integral components of the very fabric of society (particularly American society) that is therefore urgently in need of deconstructing, disrupting, and dismantling (see also, liberationism and Neo-Marxism).
The importance of the point about the 1619 Project not being a serious attempt at historical understanding but a project within critical race Theory is beyond calculability. This is because the standard approach to challenging the 1619 Project’s bogus claims and attempt to roll itself out into our society and educational system is to challenge its historical legitimacy, and this is unfortunately a necessary part of engaging with it. The trouble is, because the 1619 Project neither is history nor claims to be history, this necessary activity is ultimately severely limited in its purposed utility.
Will’s tactical error, by this analysis, is that he challenges the project’s historical claims, while the project’s promoters do not even acknowledge that facts and argument count. New Discourses goes on:
Under critical race approaches, established historical methods, having largely been devised by white people working in a “white” cultural context are understood as merely “white history.” This will be understood to be imbued with all of the biases of whiteness, including failing to understand its own bias (see also, white ignorance and willful ignorance) and thus unconsciously working to maintain itself and its dominance (see also, internalized dominance and privilege). Thus, according to the worldview that informs the 1619 Project, there is no way to adjudicate between one historical narrative and another except by referencing the identity politics of systemic power and determining how one’s positionality has led to the creation or adoption of any particular narrative (see also, Foucauldian).
Under the critical approach characterizing the 1619 Project, there is also no need to hold oneself to rigorous academic methods or procedures, including peer review, for these would be assumed to be corrupted by “white” biases as well. Therefore, it is not only consistent with the critical ethos of the 1619 Project to exist outside of academia, it is strongly advantageous to it because it calls into question the entire process by which it can be authoritatively criticized.
The 1619 Project suffers from this “anti-epistemology”— instead of a theory of how we know things, it is a theory of how we can’t know anything. (Such theories are always hoist by the petard of self-reference, but that’s for another day.)
Interestingly, in this week’s New York Times Magazine, their ethics columnist, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, comments on another dysfunctional epistemology, that of anti-vaxxers. He writes:
This doesn’t work with epistemic dissidents. Whether they fixate on climate change, the moon landing or vaccines, they distrust authority, including scientific authority. (Maybe they think that the medical establishment has been suborned by big pharma or bamboozled by ideology.) They know that beliefs have changed in the past and think they have a special insight into which of our current mainstream beliefs are the next to go. They have invariably rabbit-holed into a detailed counterreality.
I love the term “epistemic dissidents”—it’s a nice way of capturing that the argument isn’t about whether this or that is true, but about whether “facts” or rational arguments are even relevant. (It also is very close to “epidemic dissidents”, which is very appropriate, perhaps unwittingly, for the world’s current pandemic.) Note that Appiah, correctly, associates views primarily from both the left (vaccines) and the right (climate change) with this dysfunctional epistemology. Although we’ve had occasion to note the affinity of the Republican party for anti-science, I’ve also argued that wokeism (of which the 1619 Project, a sort of anti-history, is an exemplar) is conceptually perpendicular to the traditional left-right axis of American politics, and Appiah’s choice of examples makes the same point for the larger phenomenon of “epistemic dissidents”.
The New York Times is backing off just a little from some of the claims they made in the “1619 Project”. Interestingly, as both an online and paper subscriber, I found out about it not from the Times, but from Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine! [JAC note: Jake Silverstein, the author of the “correction” below, is the head editor of the New York Times Magazine. If you want to read a correction that is not a correction, this is a masterpiece of slipperiness.]
I find little to quibble with in Andrew’s piece, “A Welcome Concession by the New York Times“, so I’ll quote a few bits.
It took them many months, but it’s a good thing that the editor, Jake Silverstein, and primary author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, of the New York Times’ 1619 Project have finally conceded that they did make a mistake in claiming that the retention of slavery was a primary reason for the American revolution. . . .
Silverstein’s concession is a marked shift from his position back in December, when he was adamant that he would not concede anything to the many historians who had criticized the project, especially over Hannah-Jones’s assertion about slavery’s centrality as a motivation for the Revolution. . . .
All of this is welcome, and Hannah-Jones and Silverstein did the right thing. . . . But it seems to me that the real tension here was not between journalistic inclinations and history but between ideological inclinations and history. The entire point of the 1619 Project, after all, was to “reframe” American history, to make 1619 its core beginning. And it was to buttress that argument that Hannah-Jones and Silverstein wildly overstated the salience of white supremacy to American independence.
And look, educating people about the brutal horrors of the slavery regime . . . But the upping of the ideological ante, the decision to call the issue a “project,” the placing of slavery at the center of the revolution, and the intent to deploy it as simple, incontrovertible, historical truth to schoolkids takes things much further.
It is, in fact, history as filtered through the ideology of critical race theory, which regards the entire American experiment as an exercise in racial domination, deliberately masked by rhetoric about human freedom and equality.
Andrew, who still calls himself a conservative, also writes the following:
[F]actual, honest journalism . . . imply a liberal view of the world, in which the race of authors is far less important than the cogency of what they have to say, in which history is not predetermined by analyses of “structural oppression,” but by fact and contingency. [emphasis added]
The sentence must be read carefully: he is accusing the Times of not exemplifying a liberal world view. With this I heartily agree. The paper has, in this project as in other places, fallen to the anti-liberal and racialist doctrines of wokeism.
Although making this concession in a way that let Andrew became aware of it, to its subscribers and readers the Times is still tub-thumping for the Project. It was touted in part of a March 12 in-the-paper-ad (i.e. an ‘internal’ ad), and in an email to subscribers:
A quick look at today’s issue of the Times Magazine shows no sign of the “clarification”, either.
We’ve noted here several times at WEITthe New York Times‘ “1619 Project”, a racialist program to rewrite American history. The notices have been largely critical, and we’ve pointed out that much of the criticism has come from the World Socialist Website (WSWS), an organ of the International Committee of the Fourth International. While the WSWS is a Marxist (and specifically Trotskyist) website, and their own writers have heavily criticized the 1619 Project, what has been most notable about the WSWS’s coverage is the series of interviews they have done with scholars whose own views range widely, including avowed Marxists, but consisting mostly of “average” center-left academics.
Now another center of criticism of the 1619 Project has arisen, this one originating from the right wing of American politics, but, like the WSWS, including a fair diversity among its contributors. The “1776” website states its mission as
“1776” is an assembly of independent voices who uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery. We seek to offer alternative perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering its promise of equality and opportunity and highlight the resilience of its people. Our focus is on solving problems.
We do this in the spirit of 1776, the date of America’s true founding.
Here’s a video introducing 1776 featuring its founder, Bob Woodson, in which he refers to slavery as America’s “birth defect”. (Notice that they use the same antique font for “1776” as the 1619 Project uses for “1619”!)
The group has a clearly conservative cast to its contributors. Of the eight featured essays on its home page, I was familiar with only two: Clarence Page, a well known columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University. Both I would regard as “centrist”, following the usual way of divvying up American political attitudes. Looking at the provided biographies, and a little googling, shows the others to be generally conservative (e.g. Woodson, Jason Hill), although some I’m unsure about (e.g. Stephanie Deutsch). The Bulwark, an anti-Trump conservative site, has also posted a long critique by Cathy Young. I mention these political leanings to neither praise nor condemn, but to point out the breadth of critical response to the 1619 Project.
Unlike the WSWS, which featured academics and historians, only three of the 1776 front page essayists are academics, and none are historians. (The WSWS did have critiques by its own contributors, who were also neither academics nor historians, but I have focused on the eight interviewees/essayists at the WSWS that garnered the most attention.)
One interesting rebuttal is coming from the newly formed 1776 Project, which seeks to “uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery.” The group of predominantly black scholars and writers was organized by anti-poverty crusader and MacArthur “genius grant” winner Bob Woodson, and features thoughtful essays rebutting the 1619 Project from heavyweight intellectuals such as John McWhorter, Clarence Page, and Shelby Steele.
The United States of America began in 1776, not 1619.
That one sentence is the thesis statement of “1776”—a non-partisan black-led response to the New York Times’s “1619 Project” initiative, which launched last week at D.C.’s National Press Club. I am pleased and proud to be a part of 1776, along with founder Bob Woodson, Glenn Loury, Coleman Hughes, Jason Hill, Carol Swain, John Wood, Taleeb Starkes, Robert Cherry, and many others. From my perspective as a member, 1776 has three core goals: (1) rebutting some outright historical inaccuracies in the 1619 Project; (2) discussing tragedies like slavery and segregation honestly while clarifying that these were not the most important historical foundations of the United States; and (3) presenting an alternative inspirational view of the lessons of our nation’s history to Americans of all races.
He goes on in this essay to cite the work of a number of the historians featured by the WSWS.
The reaction to 1776 by Nikole Hannah-Jones, leader of the 1619 Project, has been, as one would expect, negative. She tweeted this image as a response (Ida Bae Wells is Hannah-Jones’s Twitter name):
Mark Heminway parsed this response for those (like me) who didn’t know what she was getting at with this gesture:
Earlier this week, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine staff writer and the driving force behind the 1619 project, took note of the rival effort. “I want to say this is my response to the 1776 project,” she tweeted, followed by a picture of her pointing at her bottom row of gold teeth with her pinky, a dismissive and deeply unserious hip-hop gesture. She followed that up with a “serious” tweet where she suggested that her African-American critics at the 1776 Project didn’t actually care about the enslaved children at the time of America’s founding. (She later deleted the tweets.)
The political diversity of the critics of the 1619 Project shows what I think is a broader point, which is that wokeness is a political axis that is conceptually perpendicular to the traditional left-right axis of American politics. “Anti-wokeness” is found all across the political spectrum. Although wokeness— the fetishization of group identity, with group identity arrayed along a “scala homi“, and position on this scale determining a person’s worth and (allegedly) behaviors— is currently more identified with the political left, I think this is only contingently true in America; the blood and soil populists that contend for power or rule in Europe are the right wing of wokeness.The only difference is that Viktor Orban and his ilk place groups at different places in the scalahomi: Hungarians (or whoever) are the most worthy, and at the same time the most oppressed.
A few weeks ago, I asked “Is Maggie Haberman worth it?” This was in response to the New York Times‘ growing “wookeness”, as I called it: the pervasion of woo and woke ideology throughout the paper. A major aspect of this in the paper is their 1619 Project, a major effort to rewrite American history from a racialist perspective, and to, furthermore, evangelize for racialism. The Times dismissed criticism from historians, and last Sunday took out a two page ad in itself to promote the project. (Does one part of the Times pay some other part for these ads?) The Times may or may not think Maggie Haberman is worth it, but they sure do think the 1619 Project is! Here’s the first page:
And here’s a closeup of the text:
This is the second page:
And the text up close. This is the part that really got me. The Times is saying that I, as a subscriber, must share responsibility for the Project, and then thanks me for doing so. And to rub salt in the wound, their website is called “/worthit”, the very thing I have begun to doubt.
The Times catchphrase now is “The truth is worth it.” And the truth certainly is. But the Times no longer seems to know what is true.
The day after the two page ad, I received an email (sent to all subscribers) from Nikole Hannah-Jones, the leader of the 1619 project:
I am a journalist at The New York Times Magazine and the creator of The 1619 Project. I cover racial inequality and injustice for the magazine, and in many ways, this project feels like the journalistic endeavor I’ve been working toward my entire life.
I understood that 1619 — the year the first enslaved Africans were sold into Virginia in British North America — was a pivotal year in American history, but one that very few Americans had heard about. So, as the 400th anniversary of American slavery approached, I pitched a project that would dedicate an entire issue of The New York Times Magazine to examining not just that historic moment, but the ongoing legacy of slavery across modern American life.
That is how The 1619 Project, which would grow to include not just an issue of the magazine, but a special section of the newspaper, a podcast and a series of live events, was born. For eight months, the sweeping effort consumed many talented editors at The Times, as we all worked together to produce something worthy of the anniversary.
The day the project launched, it sold out all across the nation, and we have sold out of several additional releases since. I’ll never forget how it felt to see people posting videos and photos, proudly announcing that they had snagged a copy of The 1619 Project for themselves. What I have heard again and again from readers like yourselves who engaged with the project, is that they simply did not know this history before.
That is the power of The New York Times. We are unparalleled in resources, talent and the commitment to do unprecedented journalism that transforms national conversations and the way we think about our world. I do not know of another news organization that could have given this type of journalism its authority and its reach. And we most certainly could not do this without your readership and support.
Thank you for supporting journalism that matters.
They seem to really want me to cancel my subscription!
As Jerry noted the other day, the woo goes on as well. (Because newspapers track clicks assiduously, I now make a point of only reading the myriad bursts of wookeness in my paper copy, lest I contribute to the growth of this material—there’s no such thing as a bad click.)
But while the Times increasingly strains a reader’s patience, there is, as I noted in my original “worth it?” post, still much that is good. The following article takes on the use of unproven and improbable medicines in the treatment of coronavirus. Not visible in this link, but present in the paper version, was the subtitle “Ancient Medicine Raises Concerns”. This is the Times as it should, and used to, be.
Last August the New York Times Magazine launched what it called the “1619 Project“. The project’s promoters wish to change the general understanding of American history, and to have their view of American history adopted by schools. The project has generated a wave of backlash from historians. (The Times‘ Project is run by journalists, not historians.) While being sympathetic to some of the Project’s ideological goals, historians have decisively refuted many of the factual claims that are key to the Project’s interpretation. (We’ve discussed the Project in previous posts here at WEIT: here, here, and here, with links to some of the historians’ critiques.)
Not all historians are critical though, and Alexander Lichtenstein, an historian at Indiana University, has published an article criticizing historians who are not on board with the Project. In terms of history, two things stand out to me about the claims of the Project and its defenders. First is their claim that the American Revolution was about saving slavery from the British Crown, which was about to abolish it. (This isn’t the case.) Second, the Project wholeheartedly adopts, of all things, a neo-Confederate view of the Civil War: the war was about state’s rights, or Northern aggression, or some such; but not slavery. But of course the war was about slavery, and the Times here is actively undoing the valuable work it did with its Disunion series. That effort, marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, did much good in furthering understanding of the war, and, by republishing the secession ordinances, made it clear what the South went to war for.
But perhaps even more striking than dubious historical interpretation and factual errors is the ideology that pervades the defense of the Project: it is racialist and, apparently, capitalist. The racialist part is clear, and perhaps not surprising. Victoria Bynum, of Texas State University, San Marcos, one of the critics of the Project, and a target of Lichtenstein, has responded directly to him, writing on her blog:
Despite your [Liechtenstein’s] disclaimer that “in principle” being white should not “invalidate” the views of 1619 critics, in fact the skin color of historians critical of the 1619 Project has been scorned (and far worse) over and over again in the Twitterverse—by historians as well as the general public—as the preeminent reason for discrediting our views.
But Lichtenstein isn’t even right about the critics being white. Of the several critiques gathered by the World Socialist Website (WSWS; more on that below), one was by the well-known political scientist Adolph Reed of the University of Pennsylvania, who is black; Lichtenstein doesn’t mention him. Of the critics, he was one of only two I had heard of before (the other being the even more well-known, and white, James McPherson).
[Addendum, 4.ii.2020. I already knew Reed’s work, and knew he was black. The WSWS posted photos of all the people it interviewed about the 1619 project, but I hadn’t made any note of their apparent race at the time. Going back and looking, I now see that two of the eight interviewees are black- Adolph Reed and Clayborne Carson. That 1/4 of the interviewees were black completely puts to the lie Lichtenstein’s claim that “all of these historians are white.” (He might want to complain that Reed is a political scientist, so he doesn’t count, but that’s hair-splitting that I’m not buying.)]
Lichtenstein makes much of the fact that it is the WSWS that has published a number of critiques, noting “The animus of the Fourth International types seems clear”. I don’t know Lichtenstein’s economic policy views, and perhaps his disdain for the WSWS stems from some internal debate among leftists. (I once met a rather haughty and disdainful Trotskyist myself!) But I don’t know why it is brought up. Marxists of most stripes are not racialists—seeing class as at least equally important as race—and thus would not be expected to endorse a racialist project. Furthermore, the historians interviewed by WSWS are not all, or even mostly, Marxists. (The WSWS, like Bynum, has replied to Lichtenstein’s piece.)
Adolph Reed, however is a Marxist, and as such it is not surprising that he has been a fierce critic of racialism. He, along with Brian Leiter (a white Marxist, for those racialists keeping score), have characterized identitarianism in general (which Leiter derides as “diversity blather“) as a capitalist tool for distracting attention from what is really afflicting society. As Leiter wrote in a defense of affirmative action, since “diversity” would “increase productivity”, it was “good for capitalism”. Reed, noting the disconnect with what the real problems are (which, in his view, include a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very few; I concur), put it in a way that highlights, if not heightens, the contradictions:
. . . society would be fair if 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources so long as the dominant 1% were 13% black, 17% Latino, 50% female, 4% or whatever LGBTQ, etc.
So while Reed shows that criticism cannot be dismissed because critics are white, and a number of the white critics show that criticism cannot be dismissed because critics are Marxists (or perhaps the wrong kind of Marxist), a new piece at Reason by John McWhorter, an African American linguist at Columbia University [JAC: He’s also a liberal], shows that black non-Marxists can be critics, too. (I did not know of McWhorter before seeing this piece; he writes frequently for the Atlantic.)
McWhorter, following the criticisms of Bynum, Reed, and others, accepts that the central premises of the 1619 Project have been shown to be false. What he discusses is how—because we are in a post-truth society where facts must be bent to the demands of group identity and membership—the Project may well succeed:
The verdict is in: The idea that America’s real founding was in 1619 does not wash. And yet, it will be considered a mark of sophistication to pretend otherwise.
Since last August, The New York Times has asked us to consider that America’s real founding was not in 1776 but in 1619, when the first Africans were brought to these shores. Nikole Hannah-Jones teaches that the Revolutionary War was fought mainly not to escape British tyranny, but out of fear that British tyranny was about to threaten the institution of slavery.
Stimulating proposition, but professional historians, as modern academics about as enlightened on issues of race and racism as any humans on the planet, have politely but firmly declared that the facts simply do not bear out this take on our nation’s founding. Gordon Wood and others wrote careful and authoritative pieces to this effect, and more recently Sean Wilentz has penned a careful response to the inevitable pushback. Unless fact is not fact, unless documentation is forgery, no unbiased observer could read Wilentz here as partisan or as even swayed by subconscious racism. [Emphases added.]
He endorses the view that epistemologically challenged ideologies may usefully be compared to religion:
Only this perspective can explain how serenely professional historians’ takedown of The 1619 Project will be ignored. Of late, social justice warrior ideology has been deemed a new religion by many writers, Vox writer Matthew Yglesias’ term “The Great Awokening” being especially apt. The 1619 idea is an almost uncanny embodiment of this new way of thinking.
For one, note the suspension of disbelief we are expected to maintain. Supposedly the Founding Fathers were trying to protect slavery, despite never actually making such a goal clear for the historical record, and at a time when there would have been no shame in doing so. What are the chances that this supposed revelation would have slept undiscovered until now, when for almost 50 years, humanities academics of all colors have been committed to their socks to unearthing racism in the American fabric? Can we really believe that a group of journalists writing for the Times has unboxed such a key historical revelation from reading around, that no one else of any color has chosen to trumpet in the mainstream media for decades?
The insistence on maintaining the 1619 idea is rooted in a pervasive modern notion that when evaluating race issues, it is a form of intelligence and morality to duck truth when it is inconvenient to a victimhood-focused construct. W.E.B. Du Bois tackled the Dunning School with facts; today people sensing themselves as his heirs insist we accept alternative facts. Yet, to point out that neither Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, nor Martin Luther King Jr. would see this as progress renders one a heretic. This is one more thing we must overcome.