The 1619 Project

Yes, this is the big problem with the attack against “critical race theory”: the right wing is defining the theory so broadly it both distorts American History and makes teaching the truth impossible.

Here is an example from an article on the Florida law

The Florida law bans the teaching of “critical race theory” which it defines as follows:

Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons

I don’t know how you can look at hundreds of years of legal slavery, followed by the allowance of lynching and KKK intimidation, Jim Crow, segregation, red-lining, etc. and not see that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems. OF COURSE racism is baked deep into the structural cake of the US. Is it the predominant factor? Not in all cases, not nearly. Is it deeply entrenched in many areas of American life and law? Hell yes.

American history is a history of contradictions. Founders who both sought freedom and also held slaves. Legal reforms in the 19th and 20th Centuries that benefitted many while others were held to be “separate but equal”. These contradictions ARE American history and need to be taught. Anything else is propaganda.

I am, however, absolutely surprised the law basically defined CRT correctly. Not at all surprised the law then goes on to ban teaching pretty much everything that isn’t “rah rah America bestest and goodest”.

A reminder of the sort of thing that Florida’s law would make illegal:

Here’s a good article on Slate about the definition of “critical race theory” which both shows the way the right wing is exploiting the term and also shows some of the limits of the view point.

A key quote talking about what critical race theory actually means and how it’s been attacked by Republicans:

Ibram X. Kendi: Critical race theory emerged among lawyers and legal scholars who recognized that despite being in this post–civil rights America racial inequity and disparity still existed and persisted. For them and for critical race theorists, the aim was to examine those structures, those laws, those policies, so that we can uncover the structures of racism. And obviously, critical race theory has extended out to other disciplines. Personally, I think that Republicans specifically chose to attack critical race theory because they felt that they could define it more easily than other terms. Since they couldn’t come out and say, “Oh, those people who are challenging systemic racism are a problem.” They couldn’t say, “Those anti-racists are a problem.” So they’re defining critical race theory at the same time they are attacking it, and critical race theorists are like, “That’s not how we define it.”

What is the most troubling thing politicians and the media have gotten wrong about critical race theory?

Wow. Man, there’s so many. I would probably say the misconception that critical race theory is a theory that seeks to attack white people, as opposed to it is a theory and an intellectual tradition that seeks to attack structural racism. If you’re white and you’re being told by elected officials, or even the media, that critical race theories are out to go after white people, then I could understand how people would be concerned about that, but it’s a very different thing when critical race theorists are focused on challenging structural racism. I think that’s been very troubling.

Kendi draws a distinction between individually racist acts and structural racism. Then, IMO he goes somewhat too far when talking about one of the authors of the 1619 project:

I want to talk about Nikole Hannah-Jones . This is a situation where conservative forces use their money and resources to go after a Pulitzer Prize winner, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, the author of the 1619 Project, and deny her full tenure with her position at UNC–Chapel Hill. My question for you was, one, how would we define those particular attacks as either racist or racism? Because the critics say, “Oh, no, no, no, this is purely because of academic reasons.” And then second, as you’ve heard about this story, does it make you, as a scholar, worry about the future of academic freedom at colleges around the country?

So the attacks, whether it’s individual members of the board of trustees or the board of trustees collectively, or even those who are defending those trustees for not providing this incredibly talented and qualified journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure, those were individual attacks, and therefore, racist attacks. Then when we take a step back and we look at UNC, or we look at the nation and we see that Black women with tenure are rare, that’s a function of a system or structure that is leading to that sort of disparity.

I get what Kendi is saying in his answer, in that the individual attacks are different from the systemic issue, but here’s the thing: I wouldn’t say the attacks on Prof. Hannah-Jones are racist, but rather political. It’s my view that a white person saying what Hannah-Jones said would also have been targeted and that a Black person saying what the trustees wanted to hear would have been granted tenure. So this is ideological/political discrimination, not racial IMO. It also targeted a Black woman, so I get that.

Anyway, an interesting conversation that shows IMO both the ways in which the right wing is wrong about critical race theory while at the same time showing some limitations of the CRT POV.

Like the 1619 Project, CRT can be overstated, but the right wing is blowing it WAY out of proportion.

The MAGA crowd has decided that Greenfield is a Commie and also a bad Jew.

Critical Race Theory does have some negative history, with anti-Semitism creeping in from some quarters in the past, though this is more a function of individual writers and not the intellectual tradition itself. Part of the broader complexity of how race operates in this country, and its history of structural divide and conquer efforts by those in power. The splits we see between Asian-American and African-American communities, for instance, or Black and Jewish communities, are generally not anything organic to any of the groups, but are things that are mostly the result of economic and political dynamics that themselves were engineered to do exactly that–divide people who should be uniting.

Kendi, by the way, is a very solid source IMO for a lot of good info. His book Stamped From the Beginning is a great place to start.

I’ll just put this here because it’s topical and I love linking to Beau’s videos whenever I can.

I see the point you’re trying to make, but think it is erroneous.

During the French Revolution, the French “planter” (slaveholder) class attacked proponents of emancipation, both white and black. So did supporters of slavery before America’s Civil War. Does that mean that these disputes were political, and not racial? Hardly!

In the case of UNC, the Trustees broke with the general traditions of academic hiring to make a statement. Yes, it was in some sense a political statement. But it was also a racist one: The racism of the Board of Trustees warped their politics.

Or, if you’d prefer: The politics of the Board are based on a foundation of racism.

I don’t think Kendi goes too far here at all. He’s stating an opinion that the attacks were individual and therefore, racist. You disagree with that opinion, and that’s fine, but he’s free to call out events he sees as racist, especially as someone who experiences racism differently than you or I do.

It’s kind of the problem of “reverse intersectionality”. Intersectionality is entirely correct and of course it is - but not everyone is going to agree the connecting sinews are always bidirectional that theories like CRT seem to be more inclined to believe.

That’s the sort of thing you want to hear from the generals, I think. Well, unless you want lickspittles like those that permeated the German high command in WWII.

I’ll just say that the woman who created this project is bold, constantly under attack and quite upfront about the limitations of her work. One black woman isn’t going hundreds of years of primarily white men and some white women trying to misinform and hide American History. I heard her speak and engage with the public about her work, including Q&A sessions she did not shy away from, and you do have to wonder why the historians so concerned about the errors in this piece have done so little over the years to actually fix what is complete broken and inaccurate in the way historical lies are continued to be taught… today.

1619 is not the end of discussion, it’s just pushing to the forefront a discussion that has been actively ignored and buried by the bulk of the population for the sake of comfort.

Now we can sit back and watch as other people refusing to bear an ounce of discomfort for the sake of an overall good freak out over almost 70 year old academic theory like it was created yesterday in response to the 1619 project as they fill the courts full of laws to stop schools teaching something they don’t even teach in K-12 settings. It’s a miracle this woman and others behind the project even got as far as they did in that kind of environment.

The CRT moral panic is transparently bullshit solely for the purpose of generating money and (the “right” kind of) voter turnout. (This is obvious, I am not being insightful here.) It’s just that compared to all the previous ones (trans athletes, trans bathroom bills, migrant caravans, etc etc, going back to the gay agenda and so on) it seems… especially disingenuous. Like they’re not even trying anymore, like some daytime soap opera* that’s jumped the shark and the actors are all just phoning it in and reciting lines between cigarette breaks. Is it just me that feels that way, or do they really seem to be getting lazier about it?

*Disclaimer that I’m really doing a disservice to soap operas here, it takes a lot of hard work to churn out episodes 5 days a week year in, year out.

I guess we’ll find out at the midterms.

In Florida’s case they also use it to pass laws that “ban CRT” that actually ban teaching anything in history except Ra Ra America good!

Seriously, that’s what the law that just passed here did.

Yep. Because what they’re really afraid of is the truth. Because if you tell people, including children, that every time someone says if They would only make something of themselves and you know you can point to the Tulsa Massacre and show them what really happens when black people tried to succeed, and if you tell them red lining is whatever under the bridge, and you point to literal towns an settlements that were destroyed to make lakes for white suburbans and how appraisals, loans and even just bids for jobs are completely biased, and then you talk about how farmers are so important and should be respect but decades of on the books, not at all hidden polices were documented to deny black farmers any sort of assistance… then all the finger pointing just doesn’t work.

These so-called left historians had years, decades of being heard to try harder to fix what they knew was not right… they didn’t try hard enough. Now a black woman got further than any of them even dared to try, and they’re too ready to go after her because that’s easy right? It’s sure hell of a lot easier than continuing to watch our schools fail the US population with lies and it would be harder to acknowledge one project can’t fix it all.

Also, just from personal experience and discussions with other individuals who are not white, labeling something political is often a tactic just to shut someone up and say it’s not appropriate to discuss anymore. The only people who can really claim something is political are largely the majority group because it’s built in for them, the status quo is them so it’s always easy for them to claim they’re removing politics when what they’re really doing is not acknowledging the political standard was already established for them so they don’t’ have to actively push their case.

That’s a bit unfair, though I agree entirely with the gist of your posts. Radical, leftist, or just conscientious historians have been trying since at least the 1960s to rewrite the white supremacist narrative of American history. They’ve put their careers on the line in many cases, especially in the early days, though admittedly as in a lot of cases like this after a while the passion for truth sometimes gives way to more accommodationist impulses when the rewards of backing off become too enticing.

The things that interfered with actually changing the mainstream understanding of the narrative had little to do with lack of effort, and a lot to do with perhaps poorly chosen approaches, obsession with sometimes overly simplistic Cold War-era Marxism, and the usual sin of academics, overly complicated and obtuse writing. I mean, at one level you really can’t critique white supremacy and the American historical arc without also critiquing capitalism and property, and dealing with class conflict, but it took a new generation of scholars, usually scholars of color, to start convincing people that the crucial thing was to dissect structural racism first, before embarking on a broader but even more complex and divisive critique of American political economy.

The many, many Left and New Left historians that attacked mainstream American narratives though did a lot of the work necessary for today’s awakening. Their effort was not the problem; it was the utter and total refusal of both the historical profession at the highest levels and the academy across the board to take them seriously, and the utter cowardice of university administrators, chancellors, presidents, and governing boards who flatly refused to stand up to political pressure, from the McCarthy era to today.

Not to say that we couldn’t have done more, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to blanketly condemn historians for not trying. A lot of us have been teaching this stuff in our classrooms for decades; that has an impact, sometimes more than obscure articles in even more obscure journals, I think!

This is a really good essay looking at the 1619 project in the context of other founding myths grounded in conflict with winners and losers.

For my own part, I find neither narrative of American history—that of WASPs or blacks to be “original Americans” or “most American”—to be that offensive or even particularly incompatible: I’m happy to grant New England Puritans a formative role as well as the black freedom struggle. As a the descendant of immigrants, I am willing to be tolerant of a little ethnic pride or even a touch of chauvinism from time to time. But I purposely say “ethnic” and not “racial.” I think Hannah-Jones’s project can succeed so long as it presents African-Americans as a people , an ethnicity, with a particularly important history in our shared country, not as a race, which smacks of a certain biological fixity. Ethnic and ethos have the same root and I think it’s not wrong to say there’s a Puritan ethos and black ethos, represented in the freedom struggle, and they both contribute to make the country what it is. And there are of course other ethnicities and ethos as well.

But I do think ultimately Americans of all backgrounds should give up on being a nation and stop looking for a source of specifically national unity, because we are not really a nation: we are not in the end bound by a single ethnic background or historical memory. History is never going to provide a single, stable source of unity for the American people. We just have to accept that pluralism and even a certain degree of conflict are the inevitable price of living in our democratic society.