Historians Clash With the 1619 Project – The Atlantic

When the new york times magazine published its 1619 Project in August, people lined up on the street in New York City to get copies. Since then, the project—a historical analysis of how slavery shaped American political, social, and economic institutions—has spawned a podcast, a high-school curriculum, and an upcoming book. For Nikole Hannah-Jones, the reporter who conceived of the project, the response has been deeply gratifying.

“They had not seen this type of demand for a print product of The New York Times, they said, since 2008, when people wanted copies of Obama’s historic presidency edition,” Hannah-Jones told me. “I know when I talk to people, they have said that they feel like they are understanding the architecture of their country in a way that they had not.”

U.S. history is often taught and popularly understood through the eyes of its great men, who are seen as either heroic or tragic figures in a global struggle for human freedom. The 1619 Project, named for the date of the first arrival of Africans on American soil, sought to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Viewed from the perspective of those historically denied the rights enumerated in America’s founding documents, the story of the country’s great men necessarily looks very different.

The letter sent to the Times says, “We applaud all efforts to address the foundational centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” but then veers into harsh criticism of the 1619 Project. The letter refers to “matters of verifiable fact” that “cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing’” and says the project reflected “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” Wilentz and his fellow signatories didn’t just dispute the Times Magazine’s interpretation of past events, but demanded corrections.

In the age of social-media invective, a strongly worded letter might not seem particularly significant. But given the stature of the historians involved, the letter is a serious challenge to the credibility of the 1619 Project, which has drawn its share not just of admirers but also critics.

Nevertheless, some historians who declined to sign the letter wondered whether the letter was intended less to resolve factual disputes than to discredit laymen who had challenged an interpretation of American national identity that is cherished by liberals and conservatives alike.

“I think had any of the scholars who signed the letter contacted me or contacted the Times with concerns [before sending the letter], we would’ve taken those concerns very seriously,” Hannah-Jones said. “And instead there was kind of a campaign to kind of get people to sign on to a letter that was attempting really to discredit the entire project without having had a conversation.”

Source: Historians Clash With the 1619 Project – The Atlantic

Did Black People Own Slaves?

“How Many Slaves Did Blacks Own?

So what do the actual numbers of black slave owners and their slaves tell us? In 1830, the year most carefully studied by Carter G. Woodson, about 13.7 percent (319,599) of the black population was free. Of these, 3,776 free Negroes owned 12,907 slaves, out of a total of 2,009,043 slaves owned in the entire United States, so the numbers of slaves owned by black people over all was quite small by comparison with the number owned by white people. In his essay, ” ‘The Known World’ of Free Black Slaveholders,” Thomas J. Pressly, using Woodson’s statistics, calculated that 54 (or about 1 percent) of these black slave owners in 1830 owned between 20 and 84 slaves; 172 (about 4 percent) owned between 10 to 19 slaves; and 3,550 (about 94 percent) each owned between 1 and 9 slaves. Crucially, 42 percent owned just one slave.

Pressly also shows that the percentage of free black slave owners as the total number of free black heads of families was quite high in several states, namely 43 percent in South Carolina, 40 percent in Louisiana, 26 percent in Mississippi, 25 percent in Alabama and 20 percent in Georgia. So why did these free black people own these slaves?”

Source: Did Black People Own Slaves?

He Simply Doesn’t Care About People Like You: The Real Reason that the President of Emory’s Comments on Slavery and the 3/5th’s Clause Really Hurts (Some of You)

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2013

He Simply Doesn’t Care About People Like You: The Real Reason that the President of Emory’s Comments on Slavery and the 3/5th’s Clause Really Hurts (Some of You)


We have not had a “real talk” moment in quite some time.James Wagner, the President of Emory University’s suggestion, that the 3/5th’s compromise was noble, necessary, and an example of good governance to be admired is an appropriate moment to share some uncomfortable truths.

Wagner’s comments have attracted a good amount of attention. For many, it is shocking that an accomplished man of letters would so unapologetically “white wash” the history of slavery in the United States.

Yes, those of us who are are students of American history should be offended by a flattening of the historical record, and a very sympathetic view of the nobility of white elites to count black slaves as less than a full person in the service of maintaining an ignoble institution.

I get all of those sentiments.

Here is the painful reality that many of those in the out-group, the less than privileged, the Other, the marginalized, and the like have not yet figured out: James Wagner does not care about you. His comments on slavery were not a personal dig, stab, or barb. Black folks, our legacy, personhood, and the like are quite simply not choices on the decision tree which is used to teach lessons about politics, social life, history, the present, future, or the past by men like him.

You/we/us are footnotes and outliers.

People of color–and likely women, gays and lesbians, the “disabled”, and other folks who are not “normal” by the narrow definitions of hetero normative, able bodied, Whiteness–are also non-factors in the worlds of the truly race and class privileged in American society.

You/we/us spend much energy on these matters; They spend little to none at all.

I know that hurts. Privilege has, well for lack of a better turn of phrase, its own privileges.

It is best to accept such facts if you are to wage battle effectively on their terrain.

I will double down. The real damage done by colorblind and institutional racism in the post civil rights era is that seemingly race neutral decisions about policy and related matters are done with a calculi which ignores how said decisions will impact the life chances of people of color.

Here, the White Supremacists, the caricatures who make convenient bogeymen and women, are easy targets.

Why? Because they actually think about black and brown people a great deal. Moreover, those who are classic bigots are oddly obsessed with non-whites. There is a certain deep intimacy that comes with racism. It is love, fascination, and hate all rolled up into one ball.

The movers and shakers, the shot callers who have the ability to impact policy in ways that hurt the Other, do not usually care one iota about the latter. The privileged are not bad people, per se. The Other is simply not on their radar. For this reason, the elite–the top tier of the in-group–are so dangerous precisely because of an ability to sleep well at night because said agents can tell themselves that they are race neutral and good people, despite how their decision-making hurts those not in their circle.

Trust me, James Wagner is legitimately surprised by the reaction to his comments. In his eyes, he made a self-evident and obvious observation about American history. The apology is necessary for reasons of realpolitik and peace.

In all probability, Wagner has no idea what the fuss is about. Nor, does he really care. Why should he?

If you want to start playing that 3d Star Trek chess on these matters of race, politics, and justice in the Age Obama, it is essential that you start thinking about the agents who do the work of impersonal and institutional racism (as well as other types of social inequalities), not as demons or villains, but as self-interested actors who care little about people not like them.

Again, they are not “bad people.” They simply do not care about about people like you. The privileged classes are possessed of narcissism. The disadvantaged are also possessed of narcissism too, as they think that the world cares one bit about them. Sadly, it does not.

Remember, institutional racism is not personal. It is only business. If you accept that premise, then you can learn how to adapt, achieve, and overcome it. If you take institutional and impersonal racism personally, well then, you will just be beaten down and defeated every time.

I know that hurts. Someone had to say it.

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