First Principles

The Real Goals of ‘The 1619 Project’

Teaching young people they have no country, that there is neither God nor justice, but only their own anger to right wrongs leads not to civilized self-rule but to fanaticism and self-destruction.

From Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King Jr., many Americans have tried to bridge America’s racial divide. America’s newspaper of record believes it has discovered a new way.

No longer preaching faith in the Constitution or civic brotherhood, the New York Times hopes that—by creating enough hatred for the nation’s founding, its ideals, and for America’s majority group—justice and harmony will somehow emerge. This, anyway, is the idea behind its “1619 Project.”

Its lead essay, written by activist Nicole Hannah-Jones, falsifies important parts of American history with a view to engineering this new approach. While it has been roundly debunked by a chorus of renowned academics for gross factual and thematic inaccuracies, its most outlandish claim is that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery. The preeminent historian of the American Revolution, Gordon Wood, points out that he does not know “of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves.” Nor does anyone else. There is no historical record.

After months of embarrassing criticism, the Times finally issued a non-apology apology, which it comically calls an “Update.” What looks like a redaction is really a hardening of their original position—for they “still stand behind the basic point.”

Had the Times simply admitted its many errors, it could have begun to claw back what remains of its reputation for honest journalism. But it will not retract or apologize.

No longer really a newspaper, the Times more and more represents the postmodern age of propaganda; its goals of moral and political transformation, distinct from honest reporting, are barely hidden. And the 1619 Project seems to have at least three such goals.

Get Them When They’re Young

For at least a generation, many colleges and universities have taught students that America fundamentally is a white supremacist regime in need of deconstruction. By offering an accompanying school curricula, the 1619 Project explicitly targets middle- and high-schoolers, so far largely untouched by this propaganda. But since the 1619 Project’s publication last August, tens of thousands of students in all 50 states have been taught parts of its curriculum.

Last month, the administrators of Buffalo Public Schools announced their district will “infuse 1619 Project resources into the mainstream English and Social Studies . . . at grades 7-12.” Montgomery County, Maryland, and Chicago Public Schools have followed. Others will join them soon.

The overriding lesson is clear: young people must learn to despise their nation—its Constitution, ideals, economic system, and its Founders. They must resent and reject their past; possess an aggressive, contemptuous, and disobedient attitude toward the present; and strive forcefully to create a triumphant future where the enemies of old are punished, and the innocent finally rule. Teaching young people that they have no country, that there is neither God nor justice, but only their own anger to right wrongs leads not to civilized self-rule, but to fanaticism and self-destruction.

Hannah-Jones has spoken openly about the project’s second goal: “When my editor asks me, like, what’s your ultimate goal for the project, my ultimate goal is that there’ll be a reparations bill passed.”

In other words, as Americans learn to despise their country and their fellow citizens, they should demand a moral buyout, where moral debts are settled in cash. Of course, remaining unanswered is what will happen when neither equality nor moral wholeness emerges as a result of cash transfers?

Identity Politics Über Alles

But the real goal of the project, as Hannah-Jones explains, is to get “white people to give up whiteness.” This statement appears opaque at first, but follows the unmistakable logic of identity politics. Getting rid of “whiteness” means that whites must stop thinking of themselves as a group. To accomplish this, they must learn (or be compelled) to practice unreflective deference to the morally innocent—the marginalized. This means #believingher without facts, or taking the victim’s self-styled narrative (like the 1619 Project) as sacred and beyond rational scrutiny. As “whiteness” dissolves, however, all other marginalized groups must adhere even more strongly to their own group identities.

Since this final goal will surely require more than just propaganda, Hannah-Jones settles for reparations as a second-best arrangement. Obtaining reparations, after all, is “more realistic than, like, can we get white Americans to stop being white,” she notes. Nevertheless, Hannah-Jones seems to think that both reparations and the dissolution of whiteness should be attempted, even if neither is likely to occur.

America’s liberal elites, represented by and educated in the moral fashions of the Times, are remarkably short-sighted. It is not difficult to see that a new spirit of vengeance created by such “journalism” will lead neither to political stability nor to justice. Nor is it difficult to see why mainstream journalism has rightly fallen out of public favor.