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Conservatives Terrified New York Times 1619 Project Will Remind Black People Slavery Existed

Post-Racial America

Nikole Hannah-Jones

We've dragged the New York Times a lot recently, but we have nothing but love for the 1619 Project. Spearheaded by Times magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the sweeping, ambitious work marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved people in America. It details how slaves contributed to America's greatness while never materially benefitting from their backbreaking labor. As William Faulker said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." There's a bloody line in American history that extends from slavery to segregation up through mass incarceration and the election of Donald Trump.

The 1619 Project is something of an event for black people. It felt like everyone on Black Twitter and beyond was reading it. Folks were even partying with the print magazine edition like it was 1999. But we can't enjoy anything by ourselves for long without white people freaking out and calling the cops. Newt Gingrich reacted to the 1619 Project like it was his wife and she was dying of cancer.

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The author of To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine won't tolerate obvious propaganda. He's horrified that the Times would openly try to brainwash its readers into believing slavery both existed and sucked ass. "Propaganda" more accurately reflects how white Americans have controlled the narrative of slavery. We were born in 1970s South Carolina, and we recall learning about the "lost cause" and benevolent slave masters. Actual quote from a teacher: "Slave owners rarely beat their slaves. Slaves were valuable. Would you beat your car?" Comparing humans to automobiles is the sort of depersonalization that was a key element to propaganda. White children were conditioned to feel no shame for their cultural inheritance and black children were conditioned to respect and admire our oppressors -- not just the founding fathers but the Confederate generals our schools and roads were named after.

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Conservatives claim to love history. It's why they object to removing the memorial to Confederate General Negroasskickerson. You'd think they'd appreciate the 1619 Project -- or you would if you were incredibly naive and thought conservatives were capable of intellectual honesty. Conservatives appreciate "history" that makes the world simple not complex. "Slavery is bad" seems like a simple message to digest, but it has complex implications. It means America was not always a wonderful place, especially for minorities. It was a white supremacist nightmare state until ... well, we're hopeful we'll turn a corner very soon. When white people write dystopian novels such as 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale, they imagine a totalitarian society devoid of freedom and hope. Their dread future is our recent past.

Beto O'Rourke is honest enough to accept America's reality. His former political rival Ted Cruz reprises a past where people who dared confront racism were "stirring up trouble."

The New York Times is not why people don't want to talk to Ted Cruz.Twitter

Discussing slavery and its continued impact on modern society is not "deliberately stoking the fires of racial tension and hatred." Cruz literally said after Charlottesville that cities shouldn't "sanitize" history by removing Confederate statues. Is he stupid enough to think the memorial to Confederate war hero Beauregard N-Word Sayer somehow promotes "unity"? Most of those statues were originally erected during the Civil Rights Movement as a warning to black people to remember our place. That is why conservatives resist removing them now.

Cruz harped on a weird comment Times executive editor Dean Baquet -- who admittedly says a lot of weird shit -- made at a recent town hall regarding the paper's mostly weak-ass coverage of the grand wizard in chief.

BAQUET: This is a really hard story, newsrooms haven't confronted one like this since the 1960s. It got trickier after [inaudible] … went from being a story about whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia and obstruction of justice to being a more head-on story about the president's character. We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well. Now we have to regroup, and shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story.

Seems like a bad idea to build a newsroom to cover one story. But whatever. Right-wing media chose to interpret Baquet's questionable editorial competence as a deliberate attempt to divide the nation in order to sell papers. Russia didn't stick, so now the Times is making much ado of Trump's racism, which is easy when the president's a racist.

This asshole againTwitter

Baquet did not "in effect" say what Cruz claimed he did. We could just as honestly suggest Cruz said (IN EFFECT) "I like to get off on weird Twitter porn," but we'd never do that. But the "racism is the new Russia" narrative has already gained traction online. Not so ironically, conservatives back in the day tried to blame the entire civil rights movement on Russian influence.

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Cruz and conservative writer Byron York seized on the 1619 Project's stated goal to "reframe" history through the lens of slavery. They consider this Pravda-style reporting because they have a facile view of history. We've all learned about America from the perspective of white men. The idea that any other perspective has value or is just as valid is practically un-American, which is why they keep comparing it to the tactics of our Cold War enemy. Gingrich went so far as to call Times columnist Mara Gay a liar for suggesting that "everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery." This is a historical opinion Gay can back up with facts. Gingrich can only mansplain to Gay with his bruised white ego. America's wealth and power came from slavery. Enslaved people innovated American cuisine and most of American music traces back to slavery. We know it hurts to feel like you've contributed nothing important to civilization. That's what black people were taught for generations while learning actual lies about George Washington and cherry trees. We were trained to believe in the inherent honesty of a man who held our ancestors in bondage. That isn't history. It's active mental abuse.

Cruz and Gingrich are weasels but they're models of stability compared to Erick Erickson, who claimed that Hannah-Jones -- a black woman -- helped promoted a "Neo-Confederate world view" where everything's about race. Erickson has moved on from obsessing over Pete Buttigieg's sex life to sounding alarms over the upcoming race war. (We'd tried so hard to keep it on the down low. Thanks, New York Times!)

This is why white people didn't let enslaved people read. You start with some light Jane Austen and end with full-scale revolution. The 1619 Project is sure to inspire young black people in ways that will freak out conservatives. We remember when we saw Malcolm X our first few weeks in college. We were blown away and rushed out to read everything about the "bad" black leader. That's when we started to reconsider the whole "slaves are like cars" argument. But we didn't take up arms against white people and we never will. Relax, guys: If we haven't killed your asses by now, we'll probably never get around to it. If the 1619 Project inspires a true revolution, the only casualty will be white supremacy.

[New York Times / Slate]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.

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