I perceive the 1619 Project as journalists’ attempt at telling history. It is not “academic” history, but it is certainly one way of telling a story. There are several things that did concern me as I read the arguments and counterarguments between the staff writers and the historians.
It is undeniable that there are “factual errors” or selected evidences that supported the Project’s claims. But these claims were not what concerned the critics the most; it was the “pessimism about white America” that had put them off. The articles by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Matthew Desmond gave eye-widening claims that I was never aware of. But the way these claims were written made it subject to negative reactions and criticisms. For example, “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” This isn’t language normally used for writing history because it is very confrontational. Another example would be where Hannah-Jones described plantation slavery as “a system so grotesque that Nazi Germany would later take inspiration from it for its own racist policies.” She also connected the plantations to “forced-labor camps.” The choice of metaphors and “subjective” use of language made these claims look like opinion pieces in disguise of writing history. But interestingly, when Niles Niemuth was criticizing Hannah-Jones about her reference to racism and DNA, he also mentioned “German geneticists” providing “a pseudo-scientific justification for Nazi-anti-Semitism and racism.” One can make references to the same things to make different arguments.
I agree with Adam Serwer’s point that the claims given by the 1619 Project suggests “anti-black racism is more intractable problem than most Americans are willing to admit.” The fact that the 1619 Project was not “academically” written, and didn’t have solid evidence to defend its claims made it susceptible towards these criticisms. The project deserved most of the criticisms, but the five historians and other critics are really just denying the Project’s “pessimism on white America.” I find it discouraging that they are criticizing the Project in such a roundabout way.
The need to “conceive of and understand our (American) history as ‘progress’” made an impression on me. The point doesn’t only apply to Americans writing American history. I believe this is our natural tendency as a species. We would like to believe that we have evolved and are a generally better species than the homo sapiens. It is a similar thing for Americans (and those concerned about American history) to believe that racial justice has been fought for, and slowly achieved, and achievable in the future. But it isn’t the case that we, as a species, have always shown progress in history. Have things really improved, or did the problem disguise itself in another form?
Not only is it hard to agree with these claims that overturned America’s foundation, not everyone can agree with the political consequences of these claims. One can definitely view the 1619 Project as a “politically motivated falsification of history” by the Democratic party.” But you can also see the Project as a challenging but enlightening perspective of American history.
Therefore, I think there is no “apolitical” history. If you think about the causations of “historical events,” there could only be so many explanations, such as economic and political factors. It brings us back to the question of whether Slavery was racial or economic. The 1619 Project and its critics can agree that racism is a consequence of the economic benefits from slavery. The people profited from slavery received political power. History cannot be separated from these reoccurring themes, and thus it is nearly impossible to exclude history from the present’s political environment. The dispute over interpretations or intentions of history is unpreventable, especially in an environment where different voices are encouraged. If you think about if there is only one authoritative voice telling only one version of history, then that “history” is likely propaganda. That’s why I think the 1619 Project is definitely history. It is just one way of telling the story of America.