A friend of mine who’s followed the New York Times‘s 1619 Project sent me a link to an article that you can access by clicking on the screenshot below. It’s in the Catalyst Journal, and my friend adds “don’t confuse it with Catalyst Magazine, which is pure woo!!” First, though, be aware that Catalyst seems to be largely socialist and anti-capitalist, but you shouldn’t dismiss anything they say simply because of that. Here’s its mission as stated on its website:
Discussion of capitalism is not off the table any longer. Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy launches with the aim of doing everything it can to promote and deepen this conversation. Our focus is, as our title suggests, to develop a theory and strategy with capitalism as its target — both in the North and in the Global South. It is an ambitious agenda, but this is a time for thinking big.
Catalyst is a peer-reviewed journal sustained by the support of over 7,500 individual subscribers and our institutional readers.
This explains the remarks on capitalism included at the end of this critique by historian James Oakes. (Note: it’s long: 47 pages as I’ve printed it out, but if you’re interested in the 1619 Project, its implications, its benefits, or its dangers, you should read it.). Click on the screenshot or go here; both afford free access.
And if you’re worried about Oakes’s credibility, below are his credentials from Bookreporter. You can also go to his Wikipedia bio, where you can see his impressive list of books relevant to the issues of slavery and race. One simply can’t dismiss his critique on the grounds of his credentials!
My friend’s take on Oakes’s piece was sufficiently eloquent and thoughtful that I asked him/her—not a pronoun but a disguise!—if I could use it to introduce the article, and he/she agreed. It’s between the two lines below. At the bottom I give a few quotes from Oakes’s piece:
The beating heart of wokeness is racial guilt––sincerely felt by remorseful white liberals, but amplified by BLM advocates seeking to convince the liberals that they and all of their ancestors have always been “supremacists” and nothing else. Although repentance and reparations are called for, the demand is made without an expectation that the original sin will thereby be purged. Whiteness itself is construed as an indelible sign of racism.
The New York Times is impressive and invaluable in many ways, but it has become desperately trendy in others. With its recent 1619 Project, the paper has lent its well-deserved prestige to the woke worldview. The Project amounts to a recasting of American history that turns racial domination into an all-explanatory factor––the only significant motive in “the white mind” from the seventeenth century until today. The result is a moralizing simplification of the key issues in our national development.
As the following essay by James Oakes––Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY––reveals, one of those distortions has to do with the work of historians themselves. According toThe 1619 Project, all preceding experts have whitewashed the record. They have minimized the importance of 1619, when the first British slave ship landed in the Colonies, while jingoistically celebrating 1776 instead. And they have misinterpreted the Revolution itself, Abolitionism, the Civil War, and the economic development of the country, which, it is said, was powered above all by slave labor.
As the author of such books as The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War, James Oakes is well situated to assess those claims. You will see that he shows them to be libels of nuanced studies by major American historians––liberals, one and all. And you’ll be left to wonder whether the New York Times, always so insistent on fidelity to facts, will now apologize to its readers and cease recommending its deeply flawed Project to schools and colleges across the country. (Don’t wait up for it.)
JAC: Here are a few quotes from Oakes’s piece:
If the 1619 Project was not actually introducing Americans to an aspect of their history they were never taught in school, why the controversy? If all the Times was doing was restating what we already knew, why the complaints? What was it about the way the Times presented that history that caused so much strife? There were the egregious factual errors, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s the ideological and political framework of the project that led its editors to those inaccuracies and distortions. The 1619 Project is, to begin with, written from a black nationalist perspective that systemically erases all evidence that white Americans were ever important allies of the black freedom struggle. Second, it is written with an eye toward justifying reparations, leading to the dubious proposition that all white people are and have always been the beneficiaries of slavery and racism. This second proposition is based in turn on a third, that slavery “fueled” America’s exceptional economic development.
. . . If nearly everything was caused by racism and slavery, it must follow, as night follows day, that the defense of slavery had to be one of the “primary” reasons for the American Revolution. This absurd, insupportable claim is derived from a syllogism rather than source material. The jury is not out on the question, because juries deliberate over evidence. When confronted by the absence of evidence, the Times changed to wording that read that protecting slavery was the primary reason “some” Americans rebelled. That may be true, but there’s more evidence that “some” Americans rebelled so they could begin to undermine slavery. Either way, the effect of that rewording is to destroy the intellectual architecture of the entire project, for if — whatever the individual motives of “some” people — the revolution itself was not driven primarily by the defense of slavery and racism, it follows that slavery and racism cannot explain one of the most important events — if not the most important event — in US history.
. . .The political goal animating the 1619 Project is reparations. “If you read the whole project,” Nikole Hannah-Jones has said, “I don’t think you can come away from it without understanding the project is an argument for reparations. You can’t read it and not understand that something is owed.”But if the case for reparations rests on distorted history, it can’t be a good case. On the subject of slavery, the distortions of the 1619 Project are numerous, and they are significant. It conflates the wealth of the slaveholders with the wealth of the United States. It asserts without evidence that slavery “fueled” the growth of the Northern economy. It betrays a stunning lack of familiarity with the basic facts of cotton cultivation. It stresses the expansion of the cotton economy but ignores the South’s relative decline in the national economy. Slavery consigned generations of Southerners, black and white, to poverty and economic backwardness. Its legacy is hardship and misery, not widespread wealth.
Most of what the 1619 Project has to say about Southern slavery is contained in an essay by sociologist Matthew Desmond that grossly distorts the history of the slave economy and is riddled with factual errors. . . .
Read the rest for yourself; it’s the most powerful takedown of the 1619 Project I’ve seen, and I thank my friend for calling it to my attention.
As you probably know, the 1619 Project has produced a book (below), which is an expansion and supplementation of the original essays in the New York Times magazine. It’s selling like hotcakes, too: #4 on Amazon. Click on the image below to go to the Amazon site:
The second review appears in the NYT itself, and the paper has a long history of reviewing books by its own writers favorably. That review is at the second screenshot below (you can access the reviews by clicking on the screenshots), and the reviewer is Adam Hochschild, author, journalist, and historian, who wrote a book I read not long ago and liked very much: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. I would have bet a lot of money in advance that the NYT review would be highly positive, given their history of printing only positive reviews by their bigwig writers and the fact that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the main force behind the book, won a Pulitzer Prize for her first 1619 essay.
The contrasting titles of the reviews show their differential assessments. While both authors like parts of the book, Lazada is unwilling to excuse major claims in the book that are erroneous, misleading, or distorted, while Hochschild largely ignores or minimizes them. More important, Lazada emphasizes that the book pushes an ideological program, especially in a new essay contributed by Ibram X. Kendi.
I’ve always objected to the 1619 Project’s aim to inculcate schoolchildren with distorted and “progressive” Leftist views. It is propaganda and is not counteracted in schools by requiring other books giving other views. It’s the first time I know of that a newspaper has deliberately inserted itself into the school curriculum to push a set of ideological values and dubious “truth” statements.
Hochschild, on the other hand, gives a very laudatory review, picks out a few perfunctory problems, barely mentions Kendi’s essay, which he agrees with, and says it’s the book is a valuable and necessary corrective for racism. It might well be in bits, but if the assertions of Lazada be correct, there’s a considerable amount of distortion and cherrypicking going on. It’s amazing how the two reviews have such different takes on the same contentions of the 1619 Project.
First, Lazado’s review. I’ll concentrate on a few issues historians had with the book, and also on its propagandistic aims. Both reviewers’ words are indented:
Together these elements form a powerful and memorable work, one that launched a seismic national debate over the legacy of slavery and enduring racial injustice in American life. It is also a work with a variety of competing impulses, ones that can at times confuse and conflict. This is evident in “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” a book that softens some of the edges of the prior magazine collection but also transcends its original mission as a historical corrective, informing readers what they now must do or else risk personal complicity in the painful story they have just been told.
This is Kendi’s view, but more later. I doubt readers will appreciate being deemed racist if they’re not doing something, which includes paying reparations to the black community. (I favor a form of reparations, but in terms of social benefits, better schools, and affirmative action, not direct payments to individuals who can prove some black heritage.)
One of the contentious assertions of the first 1619 Project was Hannah Nikole-Jones’s claim that 1619, the date that the first slaves arrived in the colonies, was the true founding date of America, for slavery conditioned, she said, every aspect of American life, even being a major cause of the American Revolution. The paper has walked that claim back a bit in the face of historians’ corrections, but the book still waffles on the issue. From Lozada:
The elusiveness begins where the project begins — in 1619, with the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to reach the English American colonies, and that moment’s proper status in the history of the United States. In his note introducing the special issue, New York Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein first depicts the project as something of a thought experiment, counterfactual to the common notion of 1776 as the year of the 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 its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?” Three sentences later, the question mark is gone, the tone more declarative. The barbaric system of slavery introduced that month is not just the United States’ “original sin,” Silverstein asserts; it is “the country’s very origin.” The project’s broadsheet supplement widens that perspective, declaring that “the goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history, making explicit that slavery is the foundation on which this country is built.” From what-if to no-matter-what, all on the same day.
This hardly settles matters. More than a year later, in an article titled “On Recent Criticism of The 1619 Project,” Silverstein indicated that the notion of 1619 as the country’s birth year should be regarded as a “metaphor” and not read literally. This is why, he explained, the Times had deleted a description of 1619 as our “true founding” that previously appeared in the project’s online presentation. But then, in an essay this month titled “The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History,” Silverstein wrote that the date indeed “could be considered” the moment of the United States’ “inception.”
In the new book version, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Times journalist who conceived of the overall effort and wrote its lead magazine essay, offers a few interpretations. In the preface, she cautions that the project is “not the only origin story of this country — there must be many.” Then, in the opening chapter, Hannah-Jones repeats the text of her original magazine essay and refers to Black Americans as the country’s “true ‘founding fathers,’” as deserving of that designation “as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital.” Some 400-plus pages later, in a concluding chapter, she writes that the origin story in the 1619 Project is “truer” than the one we’ve known.
What might an assiduous reader conclude from all this? That 1619 is a thought experiment, or a metaphor, or the nation’s true origin, but definitely not its founding, yet possibly its inception, or just one origin story among many — but still the truer one? For all the controversy the project has elicited, this muddle over the starting point is an argument that the 1619 Project is also having with itself.
Lozada finds the 18 essays “both constructive and uneven”. An example of the latter is the chapter on “Capitalism”, which seems to distort matters (note that Hochschild’s review below accepts the chapter’s contentions whole hog):
Consider sociologist Matthew Desmond’s chapter, “Capitalism.” In his original magazine essay, Desmond argued that many labor-management and record-keeping practices of modern American capitalism originated on plantations, with lasting consequences for the nation’s growth and industry. He indicated, for instance, that the vast increases in the productivity of America’s cotton fields — an average enslaved field worker in 1862 picked 400 percent more cotton than one had in 1801, he noted — flowed from the meticulous efforts to manage every detail and moment of those workers’ lives. “Bodies and tasks were aligned with rigorous exactitude,” Desmond wrote in the essay, describing the “uncompromising pursuit of measurement and scientific accounting displayed in slave plantations.”
Critics of this essay pointed out that some financial and management practices Desmond mentions, such as double-entry bookkeeping, predated the slave-plantation era. More consequentially, they argued that Desmond’s discussion of cotton productivity bypassed the real explanation for the increase. In the new book, Desmond addresses this, but only to a point. Following a detailed discussion of the management of enslaved labor, he again cites the boost in productivity. Then he adds this caveat: “Historians and economists have attributed this surge in productivity to several factors — for example, Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode found that improved cotton varieties enabled hands to pick more cotton per day — but advanced techniques that improved upon ways to manage land and labor surely played their part as well.”
Note what is happening: A different explanation is introduced for an important point of fact, but the overall narrative remains — because “surely” it still holds. Readers should always be open to new historical interpretations, but when revising history, “surely” does not reassure. When facts complicate a story, they shouldn’t be tucked in an aside but taken up as part of that dynamic and contested process of discovery that Silverstein so praised.
Finally, Lozada criticizes the narrative of Hannah-Jones that the maintenance of slavery was a major cause of the American Revolution, which is based almost solely on an offer from the British in Virginia that any slave who joined them fighting the colonists would be freed:
In the opening chapter of the book, titled “Democracy,” Hannah-Jones adds two explanations supporting her interpretation of colonial motives. One involves the Dunmore Proclamation of November 1775, in which the royal governor of Virginia offered freedom to enslaved people if they joined the British side of the fight. (The declaration went unmentioned in Hannah-Jones’s original essay and did not appear in the magazine’s timeline of important events in African American life; now, it is featured in the book’s expanded timeline.) She writes that the proclamation “would alter the course of the Revolution,” appropriate phrasing given that the revolution was well underway by the time of the proclamation.
How influential was this episode in the fight for independence? Here Hannah-Jones narrows the story. She stresses that the proclamation “infuriated white Virginians” and that when you think about it, the revolution was mainly a Virginia thing, anyway. “Schoolchildren learn that the Boston Tea Party sparked the Revolution and that Philadelphia was home to the Continental Congress, the place where intrepid men penned the Declaration and Constitution,” she writes. “But while our nation’s founding documents were written in Philadelphia, they were mainly written by Virginians. . . . No place shaped the Revolution and the country it birthed more than Virginia.” It is a subtle but effective shift: Rather than expand history to encompass the range of the colonists’ rationales, Hannah-Jones limits the universe of colonists who matter. Now, Virginia is real colonial America.
This sounds a bit sleazy to me, but none of this is mentioned in the NYT’s own review. Lozada also criticizes the claim that the civil rights movement was fought almost completely without white allies, but I don’t have time to address that.
Finally—and I know I’m quoting too much, but readers may not have access to the story—Ibram Kendi writes the penultimate chapter with with his denial that American is making progress in racial relations (a claim I’ve always found totally ludicrous), so that the readers need to take antiracist action. Note the one fact Kendi adduces to deny the arc of progress (I’ve put it in bold):
In a chapter titled “Progress,” historian Ibram X. Kendi writes that the popular notion of America making steady, if slow, headway toward greater racial justice is “ahistorical, mythical, and incomplete.” The “mantra” of incremental improvement can undermine efforts to promote real equality. Kendi cites Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which held that the country’s progress against discrimination meant that certain states and counties no longer needed federal approval before amending their voting laws, as the Voting Rights Act required. (The decision unleashed a series of state-level initiatives creating obstacles to voting.) “Saying that the nation has progressed racially is usually a statement of ideology,” Kendi writes, “one that has been used all too often to obscure the opposite reality of racist progress.” The failures of the Reconstruction era led to the “Second Reconstruction” of the 20th-century civil rights movement, a cause and effect that Kendi says is too often “left out of the story.”
That is one action (there are some others, of course), but what we no longer have is blatant segregation (dual water fountains and restrooms, back-of-the-bus policies, segregated hotels), lynchinga, and mistreatment of and bigotry against blacks in every situation. What we do have are the Civil Right Act, the Voting Act, and a strident effort to hire blacks and provide affirmative action in college admissions and hiring. It appears, though, that the aim of both Kendi and Hannah-Jones is to deem all Americans as racists if they’re not antiracist by paying reparations. I favor reparations, but as a moral issue and not a duty (my ancestors, after all, came from eastern Europe around 1890), and not by dispensation of cash to individuals.
Kendi then introduces something else he says is left out of the story — that America requires a “Third Reconstruction” to address the unfulfilled promise of the second. Here the 1619 Project’s project becomes explicitly political. Hannah-Jones fills in the details in the book’s final chapter, “Justice,” where she identifies the racial wealth gap as the most serious challenge for Black Americans. “White Americans’ centuries-long economic head start,” she writes, is what “most effectively maintains racial caste today.” To narrow that gap, the country must embark on “a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”
Among these are a slate of priorities such as “a livable wage; universal healthcare, childcare, and college; and student loan debt relief,” Hannah-Jones indicates. They also include cash reparations for Black Americans — specifically, for those who can document having identified as Black for at least 10 years prior to any reparations process and who can “trace at least one ancestor back to American slavery.” Also suggested is a commitment to enforce civil rights laws regarding housing, education and employment, as well as “targeted investments” in Black communities across the country.
And so the New York Times’s 1619 Project is now enlisted in the service of a policy agenda and political worldview. The book’s concluding chapter underscores that link. “It is one thing to say you do not support reparations because you did not know the history, that you did not understand how things done long ago helped create the conditions in which millions of Black Americans live today,” Hannah-Jones writes. “But you now have reached the end of this book, and nationalized amnesia can no longer provide the excuse. None of us can be held responsible for the wrongs of our ancestors. But if today we choose not to do the right and necessary thing, that burden we own.”
Is this the message that we want to convey to children—that if they aren’t antiracist, they are racist? That is Kendi-an to the bone. I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s proper.
The NYT’s review:
Hochschild takes a diametrically opposed view, saying that his worries about historians’ concerns “largely melted away” when he read the book. He then lauds the book for showing connections between past racism and present-day acts. Here’s one example:
Part of the book’s depth lies in the way it offers unexpected links between past and present. New Yorkers, for instance, have long protested that the city Police Department’s “stop and frisk” searches for contraband or guns disproportionally snag people of color. But how many had connected it, as Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander do here, to the slave patrols of the old South, in which groups of armed white men routinely barged into the cabins of enslaved men and women to hunt for stolen goods or “anything they judged could be used as a weapon”?
Is there a direct connection here, or merely an analogy? Connecting two things because they’re similar doesn’t show an ancestor-descendant relationship. And Hochschild accepts Desmond’s chapter without quibbles:
Another contributor, Matthew Desmond, points out that the cotton plantation “was America’s first big business.” On the eve of the Civil War the monetary value “of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation.” That fact alone should silence anyone who claims that slavery is not central to American history.
No, that’s best shown in other ways, not by comparative value.
Moreover, controlling those workers “helped mold modern management techniques.” The plantations’ size allowed for economies of scale. And “like today’s titans of industry, planters understood that their profits climbed when they extracted maximum effort out of each worker. So they paid close attention to inputs and outputs” — easy to do when you compared harvesters according to how far each had progressed down parallel rows of cotton plants. Every fieldworker’s yield was carefully recorded, and rewards or whippings administered accordingly. Spreadsheets tabulated the depreciating value of human property over time. Trade magazines for planters carried management tips on getting the most out of enslaved workers: the best diet, clothing and even the proper tone of voice to use when giving orders.
Does Hochschild, a historian, not realize that many modern management techniques were afoot independently in the North, not copied from slaveholders? And, of course, modern managers don’t dictate the diets of their employees nor whip them. He also buys Kendi’s assertion that Justice Roberts’s comment shows that racism has not waned a bit since the antebellum era.
To be fair, Hochschild does have some beefs about the book. He calls the claim that the Founding Fathers created the American system, and fomented revolution, all to preserve the institution of slavery “going out on a shaky limb.” He bemoans the lack of discussion of slavery in countries outside the U.S., and wishes that there were more about white allies of slavery. (Here he’s really admitting that the main criticisms of historians are correct.) But in the end, he sees the book as a necessary corrective—part of “The Reckoning.”
Despite what demagogues claim, honoring the story told in “The 1619 Project” and rectifying the great wrongs in it need not threaten or diminish anyone else’s experience, for they are all strands of a larger American story. Whether that fragile cloth holds together today, in the face of blatant defiance of election results and the rule of law, depends on our respect for every strand in the weave.
Yes, we do need a corrective to counteract the glossing-over of slavery and racism taught in many American history courses. But I’m not down with distortions of that history, and I’m opposed to calls for action and reparations in a book that will be used widely in schools. They should have left Kendi out, and also had the book reviewed not by self-picked reviewers but, like science papers, by anonymous but qualified reviewers picked by someone other than the authors.
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.