Historian rebuts NYT’s skewed narrative

Wilfred McClay uses a Commentary column to critique the New York Times‘ new slant on American history.

The New York Times seems to have made a grand splash with the August debut of its 1619 Project, which it unveiled to the world as an audacious effort to “reframe” all of American history as little more than the lengthened shadow of slavery. …

… Considered strictly as an exercise in historical understanding, and in deepening the public’s understanding of a profound issue in our national past, the Project represents a giant missed opportunity. It passes over the complex truth in favor of an exaggeration bordering on travesty. And if it has any influence, that influence will be as likely as not to damage the nation and distort its self-understanding in truly harmful ways—ways that will perhaps be most harmful of all to Americans of African descent, who do not need to be supplied with yet another reason to feel cut off from the promise of American life.

None of which is to deny that it is entirely fitting and proper to observe, with solemnity and respect, and no small measure of remorse, the 400th anniversary of this event. Nor can anyone familiar with the record of American history deny that slavery is one of that history’s central themes in our nation’s past—a brutal institution that existed in contradiction to the nation’s highest ideals, whose consequences we have had to work very hard to overcome, and have yet to overcome completely.

But to acknowledge that slavery and its effects have been woven deeply and indelibly into the fabric of American society, and will always be a part of the American story, is one thing. To say that they represent the predominant forces shaping American life down to the present—that is quite another.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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