'The New York Times' cynically pits America against Blacks

Armstrong Williams | 3/12/2020, midnight
In a bold new project, The New York Times Magazine announced that it was reconceiving the foundational origins of the ...
Armstrong Williams

In a bold new project, The New York Times Magazine announced that it was reconceiving the foundational origins of the American experiment, placing them, not in the context of the American revolution of 1776, but in 1619, the date enslaved Angolans first arrived on the shores of colonial Jamestown, Virginia.

The 1619 Project, as it has been called, then attempted an auspicious narrative, linking almost all of America’s current institutions to slavery. Among its claims, it credits slavery for the present state of America’s prison system, suburban traffic congestion in Atlanta, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in American society, and even capitalism itself. Its various authors weave a tale of horror and woe that seems to belie the very perch upon which they sit, atop one of America’s most fabled news organizations–––itself a testament to the Constitutional freedoms that Americans uniquely enjoy.

Many who read the story were incredulous, including the founders of the 1776 Project, who are attempting to curb the narrative that Black America’s destiny has been shaped in the crucible of slavery and racism. Bob Woodson, the 1776 Project’s founder, objects to the argument that the “shadow of slavery and Jim Crow” hangs over the destiny of Black Americans. “Nothing is more lethal,” he says, “than to convey to people that they have an exemption from personal responsibility.” The 1776 Project’s organizers criticize Times Magazine’s characterization of America as a place in which all whites are villains and all Blacks are victims. It is easy, they argue, “to point to slavery and Jim Crow and then be done with your account of Black American history. But that is lazy thinking.”

In fact, African Americans have bitterly fought the narrative that Blacks are eternally constrained by the attitudes and structures of racism. Black History Month usually marks an occasion when African Americans celebrate the many victories they have achieved along the struggle for equality; they celebrate the genius of Black leaders, Black artists, statesman and scholars––in short it has become a celebration of Black excellence, not of Black subjugation.

By tracing all of America’s institutions back to slavery, the 1619 project misses the mark. Whether slaves were brought to American shores, and whether settlers fought wars of expansion against native American groups, are almost beside the point. Neither slavery nor conquest are unique to the American experiment. Indeed, those institutions existed on the African continent from whence slaves arrived; and they were present among the indigenous people of America as well. What sets America apart––what makes it a unique place among the community of nations––are certain aspirational ideals incorporated into a framework of laws and freedoms centered around the primacy of the individual vis-à-vis the state.

The French Revolution rose up in opposition to the stifling greed and cruelty of the ancient regime, in which rulers declared that whatever the king decided by edict was by definition what was good for the people. “L’Etat c’est moi,” (“The State is me”) declared the French monarch Louis XIV, who went on to usurp the throne for more than seventy years. Americans, many of whom had escaped the stultifying tyranny of feudal Europe, cast off the mantle of monarchy and declared that government is derived, not from the whims of the emperor, but from the will of the people.