The 1619 Project is a work of journalism showing the throughline of race relations from slavery to the present in the US. It's not a curriculum or a hitjob on the American experiment, but rather a reconciling of the parts of history that aren't emphasized and the stories of those who were unstoried. The kneejerk assumption that this counternarrative is meant to indoctrinate rather than supplement the history people already are taught seems to me to be rooted in an ideology that doesn't concern itself with historical facts qua facts, but sees the narrative of history as being about the "winners", as if history was a zero-sum game where one story needs to gain prominence and others need to be denied breath. And if some other story exists, then?
After criticizing the "1619 Project," a "New York Times" project exploring slavery's legacy, Pres. Trump says he will sign an executive order establishing commission "to promote patriotic education. It will be called the '1776 Commission.'" https://t.co/JsAo4rBy2e pic.twitter.com/Cw6o7qH994— ABC News (@ABC) September 17, 2020
This is the instinct of the colonizer to deny a mother tongue or literacy in the common language, because stories are powerful. They inspire. They inform. This is the instinct of the tyrant, to decide to create a narrative where history leads up to his own dominance. This is also ignorance, because what you choose not to know is a blind spot and by such blind spots empires fall.
Trump likes "feel good language". He speaks the language of success. He thinks he can make coronavirus go away by wishing, and climate change goes away by calling it a hoax. He denies quite well-grounded US history regarding slavery because to him it "looks bad". His combover looks bad. His baggy pants look bad. Maybe he doesn't know what looks bad, because as a privileged person his entire life (as Bob Woodward tried to relate to him) people never called him out on what looks bad to the extent that he was ever appropriately shamed, like on his several dozen claims of sexual harassment or assault. He thinks he can make American history go away by declaring some of it "Un-American".
I know enough history to know there was a House Un-American Activities Commission that led to justifications for the Japanese internment camps and Hollywood blacklists (take that level of government intrusion, Mr. Barr, and shove it up your a-historic capacious ass). I know a bit about what McCarthyism was, and still, apparently, is, when the GOP's current president was mentored by Roy Cohn.
We make a lot of the quote from George Satayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We should think a little more about William Faulkner: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." People don't forget about a thing just because it doesn't come up--they know. They make choices based on what and how they know. We don't forget we have a racist heritage because we weren't taught it: we know it's there and choose to live it or can do the work and try not to. It seems to me like denying the 1619 project is like burying a body in an inch of dirt. It takes more than an inch of dirt from dissuading me from what I see with my own eyes--the systemic injustice all around me. By denying it--Trump draws attention to it. But I still see it, and remember their names.
But we don't live in the past, and that's great. I'm too much a citizen of the 21st century to want to really revisit history, and I don't think I understand 1776 or 1619 enough to want to. But I know those 1776 guys in a way--they wanted freedom, self-determination, representation of government, and to enjoy the democracy of English government as they understood it then, and weren't getting it. These white guys thought they should enjoy full English privilege, so they invented a United States to give them a new place to have privilege from since it was denied elsewhere. The 2020 Project I endorse is every American should have equal rights under the Constitution because it isn't just a good idea, it's the law.
And everyone who wants equality, liberty and brotherhood--can get on board with making the future great for once, no matter what it ever was before. Because we don't need a narrative, we need good people doing good government.
And if it ever needed to be said aloud--yes I think this kind of revisionism is the stuff of fascism. Trump is soaking in it. And it is as ever nonsense.