The 1619 Project: Historians v Historians With Strongly Worded Letter

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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80 Responses

  1. Avatar LTL FTC
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    says:

    Serwer’s take is refreshingly even-handed and a pleasure to read.

    I’m not sure the race-first-and-only theorists will ever be able to reconcile with competing theories and influences. Witness the much-praised Ibram X. Kendi, who just wrote a book how everything can be neatly divided between racist and anti-racist. Talking about how white people debating the best way to structure a government will always be beside the point to these people. It’s a shame too, since their research has done so much to enhance our understanding of the period.

    Professional race workers owe their sinecures to being broken clocks. A nuanced 1619 project would be 5x as long and about as fifth as useful at separating highly educated white urbans and inner-ring suburbans from their money for the special edition.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LTL FTC
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      says:

      Serwer’s take is refreshingly even-handed and a pleasure to read.

      Surprising, because prior to this I only knew of Adam Serwer as the race card shark who kicked off a smear campaign against Arnold Kling. But that was ten years ago. People can grow and learn.Report

      • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        I’m trying out something new: saying nice things about what I like instead of just dumping on what I don’t. Not instead of, but in addition to.

        Too often these controversies are covered poorly, with all manner of strawmanning, aspersion-casting and a game of Six Degrees of Mass Shooter. I felt that I could read his article and understand what both sides had to say and I didn’t have to read between the lines to do it.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    I think you missed the key point of Serwer’s essay: “These are objections not to misstatements of historical fact, but to the argument that anti-black racism is a more intractable problem than most Americans are willing to admit. A major theme of the 1619 Project is that the progress that has been made has been fragile and reversible—and has been achieved in spite of the nation’s true founding principles, which are not the lofty ideals few Americans genuinely believe in. Chances are, what you think of the 1619 Project depends on whether you believe someone might reasonably come to such a despairing conclusion—whether you agree with it or not.”

    I think this is a broad part of the the political divides currently going through the country. Many of which are generational divides. Sean Wilentz was born in 1951. He was 13 years old when congress passed the Civil Rights Act, 15 when the Voting Rights Act was passed. He has also been teaching at Princeton since 1979 according to wikipedia.

    So he grew up in a different time when Congress was able to pull together and do things to advance justice. Yes he saw divisions of Vietnam and Watergate but the country’s moral arc was still bending towards justice.

    The writers for the 1619 project are much younger. They grew up with the rise of mass incarceration, how increased awareness of police violence against black and brown people never seems to result in substantive reform to lessen police violence against black and brown people, massive student debt and decreased opportunities, continued voter suppression,l and how even sympathetic boomers* just don’t seem to get it and have blinkered reactions that the advantages they had are no longer around.**

    I think a lot of the tensions in recent American politics are largely related to age and race more than class. Trump is for Silent Gens and Boomers (and some younger radicalized right-wingers) who are deathly afraid of whites going off the demographic cliff. Some are also afraid of Millennials. Biden is the Presidential candidate for Boomers who think that they can not die and hold onto power forever. Warren is seemingly the candidate for people in their 30s or 40s who were hurt a bit by the Great Recession but largely recovered. Sanders is the candidate of people 40 and under who were absolutely fucked by the Great Recession if not fucked before the Great Recession. People with college degrees (often in “practical” subjects) that never landed a job with good pay or benefits.

    Boomer used to say “hope I die before I get old.” Now they are old and the alternative is not dying. But they are also deeply perplexed by later generations.

    *When I was going through my sporadic bouts of under/unemployment in the aughts. My boomer parents recommended knocking on doors with resume in hand and finding managing partners at law firms. They did this despite knowing that many office buildings now have ground level security that will not let you up without an appointment. Or something never quite connected that the ground floor security might not let me or anyother person without an appointment up.

    **A few years ago on LGM, Erik Loomis shared some intel that even really liberal members of the Oregon State Legislature were absolutely clueless about the depth of the student debt for younger generations. Possibly because of age, wealth, or both.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Oregon State Legislature were absolutely clueless about the depth of the student debt for younger generations

      I’ve looked into the data on this, and there is no Student Loan Crisis. The numbers just don’t add up. Not including links because of moderation, but this data is readily available, and I can point you in the right direction if you can’t find it yourself.

      The average debt for the 2/3 of graduating seniors who had any debt at all was about $30,000. The median college wage premium is about $25,000, which means that the median college graduate makes about $2,000 more per month than the median high school graduate. $30,000 in subsidized debt is totally manageable for the typical college graduate. To head off the inevitable ad hominem, I had $60,000 (2019 dollars) in student-loan debt. It was fine.

      Furthermore, median household income for 25-34-year-olds is about $65,000. Pace the “Millennials so broke” narrative, this is in fact an inflation-adjusted all-time high, despite the fact that 25-34 year-old Millennials are less likely to be married than previous generations. Of course, the median household income for college-educated Millennials is even higher, though I don’t have specific numbers on that.

      Again, the typical 4-year university graduate has a student debt load that is totally manageable. For the outliers who do not, there’s income-based repayment. I understand that many borrowers would prefer not to pay back their loans, so that they have more money to spend on other stuff. I also would prefer not to have to pay rent, so that I could have more money. Nevertheless, I do pay my rent, and I did pay off my student loans. So can the vast majority of borrowers.

      There are some defaults, but the default rate, interestingly, is negatively correlated with loan balance. That is, the highest default rates are found among borrowers with the lowest balances. This is because they took out loans for a semester or two and then bailed without graduating. Most people in this group go on to become productive members of society who then pay off their loans, but likely people with major employability issues (physical/psychological disabilities, substance abuse problems, etc.) are overrepresented in this group. They’re not in default because they have too much debt; they’re in default because they have no income and can’t service any debt at all.

      There are some outliers who’ve just had really bad luck finding a job, or made some regrettable choices and borrowed way too much money, but these are individual problems, just the way excessive credit card debt is, not a National Student Loan Crisis.

      TL;DR: There is no National Student Loan Crisis. The narrative being pushed by politicians and the media is flatly contradicted by publicly available data.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        This is some nice rhetorical sight of hand. A quick google search reveals that the total amount of student debt in the United States is a staggering 1.6 trillion dollars. Each individual case might not be technically bad but the aggregate amount of student debt is a crisis. Plus, if the individuals debts were manageable we wouldn’t have the aggregate debt of 1.6 trillion dollars because people will be paying off their debts. The fact is that that we require most people to go into debt to get a higher education and that paying off this debt is not easy because they have other expenses. The jobs with the best pay are in the areas with the highest cost of living.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          Another way to look at it, is that is 1.6 trillion dollars of future income that will not go towards buying houses or consumer goods, but simply go towards the finance sector. Is that healthy for our economy?

          Or another way to look at it is that while the number of those who are mired hopelessly in debt may be a minority, political instability doesn’t take much.

          “Only” 25% of jobseekers in the 1930s couldn’t find work; “Only” 10% of mortgages in 2008 were at risk of default;
          Yet those events brought our economy to its knees.

          Or yet another way to look at it,, is that Trump was swept into power by a large minority of people in the Midwest who “felt” like they were being treated unfairly, who “felt” like they were being ignored and belittled, and those “feelings” of resentment created a cataclysmic shift in our politics.

          What will the political effect be of the small but growing army of people who saw the statistics of wage differences between college and noncollege jobs, and attempted to leap into the ranks of college educated, failed and are now mired in hopeless debt?

          What political revolution will their “feelings” of being forgotten and ignored by the elites bring?Report

        • Avatar Damon in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          What’s the aggregate mortgage debt? The average credit card debt? I think you can use your argument for those as well….Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      The writers for the 1619 project are much younger. They grew up with…

      Since 2016 and forward the number of people killed by the police is down, a lot. The most recent 4 years (2016-2019) averaged about 200 police killings a year, the previous 4 years averaged about 600 a year. Similarly “Decreased opportunities” is a problematic claim in the context of full employment, rising incomes, rising technology, etc.

      Which isn’t to say you’re wrong about the perception. These sorts of things aren’t in the front page because bad news sells.Report

  3. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    I think the quotes from the historians who opted not to sign on are pretty telling. For example:

    The 1619 Project was not history “as I would write it,” Painter told me. But she still declined to sign the Wilentz letter. “I felt that if I signed on to that, I would be signing on to the white guy’s attack of something that has given a lot of black journalists and writers a chance to speak up in a really big way. So I support the 1619 Project as kind of a cultural event,” Painter said. “For Sean and his colleagues, true history is how they would write it. And I feel like he was asking me to choose sides, and my side is 1619’s side, not his side, in a world in which there are only those two sides.”

    The others are all saying essentially the same thing: Yeah, the critics may be factually correct. But the 1619 Project is politically correct. Political correctness isn’t “treating people with respect,” or “being a good person”—it’s an alternative to factual correctness, chosen for political reasons, as the quoted historians have done here.

    The New York Times has really been committed to flushing its credibility down the toilet lately. Carrie Fisher used to tell a story about how, when her cocaine habit got really bad, she got a call from John Belushi, telling her to get it together. When John Belushi tells you you have a coke problem, she said, you know you really do. Similarly, when the World Socialist Web Site tells you you’re taking too many liberties in pushing a left-wing agenda, you have a serious problem.Report

  4. Avatar InMD
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    says:

    Critical theory is simply ahistorical and uninterested in actual inquiry, always has been always will be. It’s entire purpose is based on validating preconceived prejudices, all it can do is beg questions. I see it as a good sign that the reality based community is pushing back on this sort of stuff.

    The path to learning is bathing fully in the complexities of the past. All the 1619 Project seeks to do is replace one set of comforting distortions with an arguably even less accurate set. I hope for their thorough discrediting, though I do somewhat mourn the paper of record’s total capitulation to fashionable nonsense.Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    Adding to what my brother said, there has always been a big divide between people who see the United States as an eternal source of all that is good and the people who see the United States as wicked. The writers of the 1619 project are trying to act as a corrective to the overly triumphal teaching of American history that went on in the past, where slavery and persecution of African-Americans and the genocide against Native Americans was ignored until the late 1960s or so.Report

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    One of the difficulties is the description of America as a singular, as in “America is racist”, when America is and always has been a myriad of ideas and behaviors.

    For example, the idea that we were taught in the Boomer generation, that unlike those who lived under communism, Americans were never in fear of the midnight knock at the door”, that is, the arbitrary and unjust action of government;

    That was true, for most of us.
    But at every moment in American history, there were in fact many people who did fear the midnight knock at the door; whether it was native people wondering at what moment the whites would decide to expropriate their land, or black people fearing the night riders of the Klan, or even gay men wondering when the police would raid their bar or now immigrants fearing every knock at the door is ICE.

    Not everyone in America experiences the same America, but the history is usually written by those who only experience one small part of it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      Another problem is that different people approach history in different ways. For a lot of non-historians, history is about great deeds done by great people or national dirges or mourning because atrocities were committed against us. Professional historians and activists approach history different regardless of their politics. For many historians on the left, America has been nothing but a source of internal and external malevolence. On a more international scale, many left leaning historians and activists are really wary of celebratory history of any sort because they believe it will lead to bad contemporary politics. So there idea is to tell a very negative version of history in the name of justice and progress.

      Most people don’t like this version of history even if they have political sympathies in a left leaning direction. Celebratory history is certainly a lot more upbeat and optimistic than the everything is bad version. I’m going to guess that the average African-American is also more patriotic, optimistic, and a believer in American political mythology than the historians behind the 1619 project. There is enough evidence to suggest this. The people behind the 1619 project might be right but they are also activists and ideologues and those never really reflect popular opinion on a whole.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        This is a false dichotomy and a deceptive one at that (though it’s certainly the game proponents of the 1619 project would like everyone to play).

        The way to conduct historical research and analysis is to follow the evidence where it leads, regardless of whose tummy is rubbed by the conclusions. What you’re proposing is akin to ‘teach the controversy’ from the old Intelligent Design days, which is why responsible (and hardly conservative) historians oppose it. Its bad work, through and through.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to InMD
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          says:

          History isn’t like natural science though, where everybody performs the same experiment and should theoretically get the same result. In history there are lots of different documents to look at and analyze and these documents could be very contradictory. Historians will emphasize the documents that support their conclusion and ignore everything else. Like every social science, history is inherently ideological in nature.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            There’s a pinch of truth to what you’re saying here but that pinch of truth is being used to conceal fundamentally wrong analysis and conclusions, which if you read the letter is exactly what the historian critics are saying. You can’t just disregard or misrepresent large swathes of the record and call it a difference in framing or emphasis.

            Your assertion that all history is inherently ideological is also a wild overstatement. The whole purpose of peer review is to keep research and the conclusions drawn from it responsible and justified by the underlying primary source material. What you’re arguing here is akin to saying the difference between a strong argument made by a good plaintiff’s attorney and a strong counter argument made by a good attorney for the defense is the same as the difference between an argument made by a good lawyer and an argument made by a pro se litigant, citing random authority without comprehension or basis. One is a close call that might illustrate some fundamental differences in philosophies of the law but the other is sound legal reasoning against bullshit.Report

          • Avatar Aaron David in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            To be awarded a Ph.D., in history as in any field, one presents a bit of research, backed up with primary, secondary and tertiary analysis. And then, it has to be defended. Other historians will look at all of those sources that the researcher finds contradictory and had ignored and make sure* that the researcher understands the implication of that other research on what is being presented. Is it as specific as empirical science? No, but the candidate has to be able to account for historical facts that don’t immediately support the conclusion of the research.

            When that is glossed over, you may end up with boat anchors such as Michael Bellesiles’s work, which is not only false but damages the political position that it intends to support. At this point, the NYT is crap. It has damaged its reputation with anyone who doesn’t share its ideological priors.

            *In theory.Report

            • Avatar InMD in reply to Aaron David
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              says:

              We’re getting to a completely absurd place of equating that which fundamentally lacks rigor with that which does. Soon someone at NYT will be saying old women performing snake auguries ought to be taken just as seriously as experts in physics.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to InMD
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                says:

                Nah, snake handlers are too right-wing…

                But to your point, we had an excellent discussion regarding this in the physics realm. It is, sadly, fascinating to see society’s blind spots on display.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            Historians will emphasize the documents that support their conclusion and ignore everything else.

            This is in actual fact exactly what Dinesh D’Souza does.

            QED?Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        I am going to completely agree with InMD. When you build your house on a foundation of mud, you end up with a building that can fall down at any point, leaving you with no shelter.

        When a person’s entire sense of self is built on a foundation of lies, nothing good can come of this. And we see this in places such as Oberlin. And books such as Michael Bellesiles.Report

  7. Avatar George Turner
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    says:

    There are all kinds of nuances in approaching history, along with the very subjective decisions about what to focus on that are simply unavoidable. If tasked with making a click bait list of “The 10 Most Important Trends of the 1890’s”, few people are gong to come up with the same list. Is the main topic military, medical, home decor, women’s fashion, trade, industry, deforestation, or what? Even regarding WW-II, there are many ways to look at things that could produce differing conclusions, from the miracle that the Allies won (miracles, luck, pluck, and Nazi blunders) to the absolute inevitability of Allied victory (overwhelming numerical, economic, and geographic advantages).

    But that doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that has people questioning the 1619 project. I’d be more reminded of the differences between Churchill’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples” and “Mein Kampf”, where one is trying to write an exhaustive (though I assume biased) take on English history, and the other is trying to create a myth of historic oppression (using one hammer to hit every possible nail) to build the public’s will toward total vengeance. The latter was designed to stoke resentment at injustice and lay the groundwork for a mass movement and radical social transformation by steeping the public in “Aryan racial history”. The results, I’ve heard, were not good, and not just from the standpoint of the resulting catastrophe, but the sheer idiocy of the true believers that Germany dispatched around the world to conduct “research” (while battling the intrepid Dr. Indiana Jones).

    Are there similarities in the two projects? Obviously, since both try to explain the sweep of history in racial terms with everyone cast as either a villain or a victim, and both seek to stoke the fires of resentment to make the purported victims and their allies seek vengeance, or at least to make the purported villains destroy themselves with guilt and remorse. Both were peddling a mythology designed to play on people’s basest emotions and turn them into activists.

    The pen is mightier than the sword, so if the sword must be handled with care and respect, so too should the pen be wielded responsibly. The Times fails that test.Report

  8. Avatar PD Shaw
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    says:

    Lincoln wept.

    In 1857, the NY Times complained that Chief Justice Taney had “incorporated [slavery] into the Constitution of the United States . . . . It is not too much to say that this decision revolutionize the Federal government, and changes entirely the relation which Slavery has hitherto held towards it.”

    In 2019, the NY Times: Taney was right.Report

  9. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2019/12/the-ladder-of-law-has-a-top-and-a-bottom

    Compare and contrast. White cop from NYC goes on a drunken rampage with burglary and terror and gets 15 days in jail and three years probation. Black man from Alabama steals 9 dollars and has spent the last 38 years in prison.

    As Scott states in the LGM post, it is truly a wonder as to why Donald Trump was elected President.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      I was worried that maybe the cop would have been fired.

      Good news! He wasn’t.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      NY city you say…Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aaron David
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        says:

        It’s weird how these things happen.

        Report

        • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          It wasn’t even so much that angle (though that sure is interesting), more that NYC, a bastion of liberalism by looking at the voting record, is used as a sign of Trump’s “damage” to America.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Well that’s grim. I don’t know what to say about the guards poisoning a group of inmates, i.e. attempted murder, and it being proven in court. Either there are serious problems with the system or serious problems with the source of intel.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Dark Matter
            Ignored
            says:

            I’ll point out that such poisonings probably don’t occur in prisons in red states because their cities aren’t overrun with rats. There are also some obvious jokes about rats in prison, but I’ll leave those as an exercise for the reader.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dark Matter
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            says:

            This ain’t a sitch that we can vote our way out of.

            I got into this the other day on Twitter. San Francisco’s housing policy is a million miles away from “progressive”. Yet, if you were to make a list of the most progressive cities in the US, San Francisco would be on it. (Here, let me google “most progressive cities” and, yep, San Fran is #1. (Hey, Colorado Springs is #4 in “most conservative”. Go fig.))

            Remember when we were arguing about “apartheid schools“? Well, San Fran has those too.

            Back in logic class, we were taught that the word “but” works, logically, identically to “and”.

            So let’s take this sentence: “This is a very liberal part of the country but it has some exceptionally racist policies” and work our magic:

            “This is a very liberal part of the country and it has some exceptionally racist policies.”

            Progressivism is a racist system. It’s just got some very, very effective marketing and does a very good job of yelling “HEY LOOK OVER THERE!”

            New York is exceptionally progressive too.

            We got into the argument because I took the position that progressivism is working as designed.

            Anyway, we ain’t gonna vote our way out of this.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Excellent Link JB.

              How did I miss that thread originally? There’s like a dozen posts I should reply to even if it’s 4 years old.

              RE: we ain’t gonna vote our way out of this.
              Voting will keep the peace for as long as they’re alive. The real solution will take a generation or four.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              Would it surprise you if I agreed with you?

              That even-the-liberal parts of America still harbor racist attitudes and polices that are structurally racist?

              This shouldn’t be a surprise- you can find plenty of liberals arguing over why Bernie and Mayor Pete just can’t seem to get any black supporters.

              But now that you and I agree, the obvious question is what now?

              And when you say “we ain’t gonna vote our way out of this” you realize there are millions of black Democratic Party activists saying, “Who ‘we’, white man?”

              Because they really, really do think they can vote their way out of this.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Well, maybe they’ll be able to vote in more Democrats into San Francisco’s government, New York City’s government, Baltimore’s government, Chicago’s government, etc, and finally turn things around.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                That even-the-liberal parts of America still harbor racist attitudes and polices that are structurally racist?

                This is probably a misuse of the word “racist”. The all black politicians who run liberal plantations are probably not racist in the traditional meaning. Their white counter-parts with the same policies don’t consider themselves racist. There are vast hoards of people who racially indifferent who also don’t consider themselves racist.

                Taking the demon of racism out and ritually beating it once again seems more virtue signalling rather than a solution, which implies it’s part of the problem.

                And as much as I’d love to say something wise after that I’m not sure where to go for solutions. Wait for the cultures to change? If the problem can’t be solved at the ballot box then maybe the gov can’t fix this?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                Did the government fix anti-gay prejudice? Male chauvinism?
                How did those problems get resolved?

                Why are “racism” and ethnic slurs now taboo, when even within my lifetime they weren’t?

                How did all this come about?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                My impression is the media and increase in technology had a lot to do with this. The world got a lot smaller, we got more informed.

                The gay boogy man turned out to be not very scary when enough people were out of the closet. Women turned out to be a lot more compitent than originally assumed and muscle power became less of a determining thing.

                So to a first approximation, we treat everyone the same, and that’s why efforts to attack “racism” aren’t working. This helps, a lot, the Asians, Indians (from India), and Blacks from Africa.

                What it doesn’t do is change that the guy put in prision for 38 years attacked a random person for $9 dollars. It also doesn’t change that I picked the local school system based on it’s published stats. It doesn’t change that the school system I rejected has whites who get an education the equal of my kids while the inner city blacks at the same school get one roughly equal to Detroit Public.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                So when the most famous and well read newspaper in the world publishes a massive series of essays documenting racism, and thereby forces millions of people like you and me to have this very discussion we are having, isn’t that part of how the wheel of culture turns?Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                No, that’s how we get stupid. But I guess you could call that the turning of the “wheel of culture”, kind of like the descent into the dark ages after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

                Maybe the Times will feed the public nuggets of science and engineering – as understood by journalism majors and fringe activists. Wait. They already do that.Report

              • Avatar KenB in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I think this is the essence of the debate over the humanities these days overall — in Jonathan Haidt’s formulation, should the primary goal of humanities departments be to pursue the “truth” wherever it leads, or to work for “justice” as currently conceived? You’re clearly on the side of “justice”, focusing as you are on the outcomes of the project over the question of how well it fits the available evidence.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to KenB
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                says:

                There used to be a word for that…

                Propaganda, I believe it was.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to KenB
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                says:

                If you abandon the search for truth then all you have are competing narratives, with no objective reason to prefer one over another.

                The new “historians” might as well tell students how Xenu used an army of psychologists to enslave mankind, flew them to Earth, then blew everybody up in giant volcano, leaving their Thetan spirits to inhabit our bodies.

                The whole point of history was than in a world of tribal and national myths, misremembered events, and fake narratives, a few people decided to try and figure out what had actually been happening, making sure that accounts could be verified, documented, and cross checked. To abandon that is to go back to tribal tales about evil spirits, angry gods, and magical heroes.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to KenB
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                says:

                Even the five critics of the project had only minor quibbles with the facts presented.

                For example, the biggest complaint was the idea that the Revolution was “primarily” about preserving slavery. Instead, their contention is that the Revolution was primarily about other things, with slavery being a minor issue.

                In other words no one is disputing the facts, only the interpretation of the facts.

                “Truth” is a commonly agreed upon interpretation of the facts.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                No, the project believes that slavery “was one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain.

                The historians say that there is no evidence this. “I don’t know of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves.”Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                isn’t that part of how the wheel of culture turns?

                Yes it is. So… what is it that you want to have happen?

                End racism? Our current example of “racism” is the junky running around attacking people for 9 dollars. Are we supposed to give him a pass because he’s black? Maybe only arrest one black junky if we’ve already arrested 7 white ones?

                IMHO fundementally what we want is for him to make better choices, be raised by two parrents, and have a different sub-culture. None of that really involves the gov or even other sub-cultures.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                ” Our current example of “racism” is the junky running around attacking people… ”

                “Our” current example? Who is this”we”, white man?

                “We” have a massive amount of personal testimony and data points (including Jaybird and Erik Loomis’ observation of white liberal racism in school and housing selection).

                So yeah, I want the wheel of culture to turn to include all the voices and experiences of people who haven’t traditionally been heard.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                “Our” current example? Who is this”we”, white man?

                Wasn’t that on this thread? Hmm… yes it was. Saul presented it as a serious act of racism “December 26, 2019 at 6:53 pm”

                (including Jaybird and Erik Loomis’ observation of white liberal racism in school and housing selection).

                If the “white liberals” and “black liberals” who are doing this aren’t motivated by racism and are simply doing what is best for their families, then they probably don’t view themselves as racists. It’s probably stretching the word “racist” beyond the point of usefulness.

                I want the wheel of culture to turn to include all the voices and experiences of people who haven’t traditionally been heard.

                And… what exactly is supposed to happen then? Because someone I’m not related to and don’t know believes my school selection is “racist”; I’m supposed send my kids into sub-optimal (or even substandard) schools?

                We can call my school choices “racist” if you want, but that’s lowering the bar so low that everything is “racist”, which means nothing is. That label isn’t going to make me care more about other people’s kids than I do about my own.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw
      Ignored
      says:

      A WaPo story about Trump-supporting farmers, filing for food stamps because of his trade war.
      And yet still believe in him.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/in-trump-country-a-season-of-need-on-family-farms/2019/12/26/fcb71262-2377-11ea-86f3-3b5019d451db_story.html

      Truly, LBJ was a prophet for our times.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw
      Ignored
      says:

      Cherry picking creates weak arguments.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw
      Ignored
      says:

      I get that you and Scott Lemieux really want this to be about race, but there are some pretty important uncontrolled variables here. Just off the top of my head:

      1. Blue privilege.

      2. Reading between the lines on the cop story, it sounds like he walked up to the wrong door and thought they had broken in. I think it’s reasonable to say that kicking in a door instead of checking the number constitutes criminal negligence or something like that that warrants more than two weeks in prison, and shows exceedingly poor judgment that should definitely get him fired, but it’s not clear that there was any criminal intent here.

      3. 1980 Alabama was a lot tougher on crime than 2019 New York all around.

      4. Willie Simmons (“black man from Alabama”) had two priors.

      5. “Steals 9 dollars” is a profoundly disingenuous description of Simmons’ last crime: “Mr. Simmons told me he was high on drugs when he committed the crime that landed him in prison for life. He wrestled a man to the ground and stole his wallet which contained $9.” “Which contained $9” is not the important part of that sentence. This wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t going to be the last. 38 years was overkill, but addicts who are going around violently robbing people for drug money need to be kept off the streets.

      That aside, this is blatant cherry-picking. There are black people who commit violent felonies and get a slap on the wrist. There are white people who get much longer sentences than are warranted by their crimes. It’s dishonest to just pick two extreme outliers and assert that they’re representative.

      See also this post. Every year several hundred white suspects are killed by police, and many thousands of black suspects are safely arrested after violent confrontations with the police. You can create any narrative you want if you’re selective enough about cherry-picking data points.

      Did you know that the white-black ratio in executions is slightly greater than the white-black ratio in homicide offending? Prison demographics also look fairly similar to the demographics of serious criminal offenders. As do demographics of suspects killed by the police. Black men may be moderately overrepresented in prison relative to the rates at which they commit serious crimes, but it’s much subtler than what’s implied by The Narrative. Certainly it’s not the 925:1 ratio implied here.Report

  10. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
    Ignored
    says:

    I wasn’t familiar with the 1619 project, or the controversy, until reading this OP and Serwer’s article in The Atlantic. After reading that article, I’m inclined to say that the supporters of the 1619 project and the non-signers of the letter seem to have the better of the argument. Maybe I’d change my mind if I read the letter or read some of the actual articles from the project. But my general sense is that Wilentz et al. are functionally just trying to discredit the project, even though that may not be their conscious intention.

    I say all that while questioning the premise of identifying 1619 as “the year slaves first came to the [British] American colonies” (my words, but something the project seems to assume). I also question the claim, repeated in Serwer’s article, that 1619 should be seen as the date of the founding of the American nation. Nationhood develops slowly, in fits and starts, and not in some backwater tobacco colony only 12 years after a feeble settlement was embarked upon.

    I realize that premise is using 1619 only as a shorthand, a symbolic date when slavery was supposedly introduced into the English-controlled Americas. So in a sense I’m being unfair.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Gabriel Conroy
      Ignored
      says:

      It skips the revolt of African American slaves in South Carolina in 1529, I guess because that just doesn’t fit their narrative of non-Hispanic white guilt.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Gabriel Conroy
      Ignored
      says:

      Serwer’s article isn’t particularly good on the historical issues. There are better critiques of the 1619 Project at the World Socialist Website, particularly in the interviews with leading historians. Gordon Wood recently responded to the NY Times refusal to make corrections or modifications of historical inaccuracies:

      “I have no quarrel with the idea behind the project. Demonstrating the importance of slavery in the history of our country is essential and commendable. But that necessary and worthy goal will be seriously harmed if the facts in the project turn out to be wrong and the interpretations of events are deemed to be perverse and distorted. In the long run the Project will lose its credibility, standing, and persuasiveness with the nation as a whole. I fear that it will eventually hurt the cause rather than help it. We all want justice, but not at the expense of truth.”

      “I have spent my career studying the American Revolution and cannot accept the view that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” I don’t know of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves.”

      * * *

      The best analog to what Hannah-Jones writes are the Christian “historians” who gather all of the religious observations that can be made from the founders and write books full of anachronism and speculative inferences about how the United States was founded as a Christian nation.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to PD Shaw
        Ignored
        says:

        The idea of picking one aspect of America’s founding (from colonies onward) and using it to explain everything is hard to distinguish from satire. I’ll suggest a few more juicy topics:

        “The American colonists and the Founding fathers were unanimous in thinking women shouldn’t wear pants, much less yoga pants.”

        “America was founded on fur trading: Why we should still wear beaver and raccoon.”

        “America: A country built on the idea of clear cutting forests and drinking hard liquor.”Report

    • Avatar KenB in reply to Gabriel Conroy
      Ignored
      says:

      Have you seen this analysis by Phillip Magness? I have no special knowledge of this area but it seemed like a sincere effort to be fair to both sides.Report

      • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to KenB
        Ignored
        says:

        I think Magness is too generous on the first point: There is no evidence that the Somerset case motivated American independence: It was a relatively late event, it was not reported well in the American news media (and particularly not in the most pro-rebel media), and it wasn’t that much different than similar British court rulings from the late 17th century. (Most of the other points being discussed talk about post-Revolution events)

        As to the second point: Lincoln, like most Republicans (and some freemen), supported colonization. The complaint voiced by Oakes and others is that Lincoln is almost exclusively discussed in the context of his meeting with black leaders seeking their support for colonization. Is that what he’s known for? Making this part of the K-12 curriculum is crazy.

        The economics were always the worst part of the project.

        The lack of historical guidance is the most damning:

        “The historians have a valid complaint about deficiencies of scholarly guidance for the 1619 Project’s treatment of the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War. This comparative lack of scholarly input for the years between 1775 and 1865 stands in contrast with the Times’ heavy use of scholars who specialize in more recent dimensions of race in the United States. It is worth noting that the 1619 Project has received far less pushback on its materials about the 20th century and present day – areas that are more clearly within the scholarly competencies of the named consultants.”Report

  11. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    Completely related to the topic of how racism drives American politics:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/28/us/politics/trump-2020-trumpstock.html

    “In interviews, people in the crowd described a white America under threat as racial minorities typified by Mr. Obama, the country’s first black president, gain political power. They described Mr. Trump as an inspirational figure who is undoing Mr. Obama’s legacy and beating back the perceived threat of Muslim and Latino immigrants, whom they denounced in prejudiced terms.”Report

  12. Avatar Slade the Leveller
    Ignored
    says:

    Looking at the list of contributors, one doesn’t see any historians. Yet, historians are taking the NYT Magazine to task.

    Here is what Jake Silverstein, the editor has to say about the project:

    Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day.

    I’ve only read one of the articles included in the project (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html), and it certainly isn’t history, but it does attempt to place the author’s personal experiences into a historical context. It’s a good essay.

    Like it or not, the history of America is inextricably linked to its oppression of its non-white peoples. We’re going to have to come to grips with this someday, and one would hope that readers of this series would keep this in mind.

    I’ll read the rest, mainly to see if the rest of the content is as good as the issue I’ve linked here. I can’t help but imagine critics of the project reading the articles, and having it slowly dawn on them that the writers were talking about them.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Slade the Leveller
      Ignored
      says:

      Adam Serwer is very much not a historian and has a resume which reads like someone who’d be very comfortable writing in that project.

      He is currently a staff writer at The Atlantic where his work focuses on politics. He has received awards from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), The Root, and the Society of Professional Journalists…

      His work there has focused on white supremacy, race in America, and the Trump administration.[15] Essays such as “The Nationalist’s Delusion” and “White Nationalism’s Deep American Roots” and “The Cruelty Is the Point”…

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_SerwerReport

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Dark Matter
        Ignored
        says:

        For a country whose entire culture, economy, and history were built around slavery and shaped by slavery, why did we end up so closely resembling Canada, England, Ireland, France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark, while having almost no resemblance to Libya, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Sudan, or the Congo? It’s easier to make the argument, based on that simple observation, that slavery had no significant impact on the story arc at all.Report

  13. Avatar Ozzzy!
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ll just leave this here. Shocking the timing on the mea not su mucha culpa.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/magazine/an-update-to-the-1619-project.htmlReport

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