The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History

From The New York Times:

On Jan. 28, 2019, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who has been a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine since 2015, came to one of our weekly ideas meetings with a very big idea. My notes from the meeting simply say, “NIKOLE: special issue on the 400th anniversary of African slaves coming to U.S.,” a milestone that was approaching that August. This wasn’t the first time Nikole had brought up 1619. As an investigative journalist who often focuses on racial inequalities in education, Nikole has frequently turned to history to explain the present. Sometimes, reading a draft of one of her articles, I’d ask if she might include even more history, to which she would remark that if I gave her more space, she would be happy to take it all the way back to 1619. This was a running joke, but it was also a reflection of how Nikole had been cultivating the idea for what became the 1619 Project for many years. Following that January meeting, she led an editorial process that over the next six months developed the idea into a special issue of the magazine, a special section of the newspaper and a multiepisode podcast series. Next week we are publishing a book that expands on the magazine issue and represents the fullest expression of her idea to date.

This book, which is called “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” arrives amid a prolonged debate over the version of the project we published two years ago. That project made a bold claim, which remains the central idea of the book: that the moment in August 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colonies that would become the United States could, in a sense, be considered the country’s origin.

The reasoning behind this is simple: Enslavement is not marginal to the history of the United States; it is inextricable. So many of our traditions and institutions were shaped by slavery, and so many of our persistent racial inequalities stem from its enduring legacy. Identifying the start of such a vast and complex system is a somewhat symbolic act. It was not until the late 1600s that slavery became codified with new laws in various colonies that firmly established the institution’s racial basis and dehumanizing structure. But 1619 marks the earliest beginnings of what would become this system. (It also could be said to mark the earliest beginnings of what would become American democracy: In July of that year, just weeks before the White Lion arrived in Point Comfort with its human cargo, the Virginia General Assembly was called to order, the first elected legislative body in English America.)

But the argument for 1619 as our origin point goes beyond the centrality of slavery; 1619 was also the year that a heroic and generative process commenced, one by which enslaved Africans and their free descendants would profoundly alter the direction and character of the country, having an impact on everything from politics to popular culture. “Around us the history of the land has centered for thrice a hundred years,” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1903, and it is difficult to argue against extending his point through the century to follow, one that featured a Black civil rights struggle that transformed American democracy and the birth of numerous Black art forms that have profoundly influenced global culture. The 1619 Project made the provocative case that the start of the African presence in the English North American colonies could be considered the moment of inception of the United States of America.

. . . .

Initially, the magazine issue was greeted with an enthusiastic response unlike any we had seen before. The weekend it was available in print, Aug. 18 and 19, readers all over the country complained of having to visit multiple newsstands before they could find a copy. A week later, when The Times made tens of thousands of copies available for sale online, they sold out in hours. Copies of the issue began to appear on eBay at ridiculous markups. Portions of Nikole’s opening essay from the project, which would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, were cited in the halls of Congress; candidates in what was then a large field of potential Democratic nominees for president referred to it on the stump and the debate stage; 1619 Project book clubs seemed to materialize overnight. All of this happened in the first month.

Substantive criticisms of the project began a few months later. Five historians, led by the Princeton scholar Sean Wilentz, sent a letter that asked The Times to issue “prominent corrections” for what they claimed were the project’s “errors and distortions.” We took this letter very seriously. The criticism focused mostly on Nikole’s introductory essay and within that essay zeroed in on her argument about the role of slavery in the American Revolution: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology,” Nikole wrote, “is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

. . . .

Though we recognized that the role of slavery is a matter of ongoing debate among historians of the revolution, we did not agree that this line or the other passages in question required “prominent corrections,” as I explained in a letter of response. Ultimately, however, we issued a clarification, accompanied by a lengthy editors’ note: By saying that protecting slavery was “one of the primary reasons,” Nikole did not mean to imply that it was a primary reason for every one of the colonists, who were, after all, a geographically and culturally diverse lot with varying interests; rather, she meant that one of the primary reasons driving some of them, particularly those from the Southern colonies, was the protection of slavery from British meddling. We clarified this by adding “some of” to Nikole’s original sentence so that it read: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

We published the letter from the five historians, along with my response, a few days before Christmas. Dozens of media outlets covered the exchange, and the coverage set certain corners of social media ablaze — which fueled more stories, which led others to weigh in. The editor of The American Historical Review, the journal of the American Historical Association, the nation’s oldest professional association of historians, noted in an editor’s letter that the controversy was “all anyone asked me about at the A.H.A.’s annual meeting during the first week of January.” The debate was still raging two months later, when everyone’s world changed abruptly.

. . . .

Almost immediately, present and past converged: 2020 seemed to be offering a demonstration of the 1619 Project’s themes. The racial disparities in Covid infections and deaths made painfully apparent the ongoing inequalities that the project had highlighted. Then, in May, a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, and decades of pent-up frustration erupted in what is believed to be the largest protest movement in American history. In demonstrations around the country, we saw the language and ideas of the 1619 Project on cardboard signs amid huge crowds of mostly peaceful protesters gathering in cities and small towns.

It was around this time that Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced a bill called the Saving American History Act, which would “prohibit federal funds from being made available to teach the 1619 Project curriculum in elementary schools and secondary schools, and for other purposes.” Cotton, who just weeks earlier published a column in The New York Times’s Opinion section calling for federal troops to subdue demonstrations, stated that the project “threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.” (The “curriculum” Cotton’s legislation referred to was a set of educational materials put together not by The Times but by the Pulitzer Center, a nonprofit organization that supports global journalism and, in certain instances, helps teachers bring that work into classrooms. Since 2007, the Pulitzer Center, which has no relationship to the Pulitzer Prizes, has created lesson plans around dozens of works of journalism, including three different projects from The Times Magazine. To date, thousands of educators in all 50 states have made use of the Pulitzer Center’s educational materials based on the 1619 Project to supplement — not replace — their standard social studies and history curriculums.)

. . . .

This barely mattered. In the United States, the real decisions over education are left to local governments and state legislatures, and the Republican Party has been steadily gaining control of legislatures in the last decade. Today the party holds full power in 30 state houses, and as the 2021 sessions got underway, Republican lawmakers from South Carolina to Idaho proposed laws echoing the language and intent of Cotton’s bill and Trump’s commission. By the end of the summer, 27 states had introduced strikingly similar versions of a “divisive concepts” bill, which swirled together misrepresentations of critical race theory and the 1619 Project with extreme examples of the diversity training that had proliferated since the previous summer. The list of these divisive concepts, which the laws would prohibit from being discussed in classrooms, included such ideas as “one race, ethnic group or sex is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another race, ethnic group or sex” and “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race, ethnic group or sex,” as Arizona House Bill 2898 put it. To be clear, these notions aren’t found in the 1619 Project or in any but the most fringe writings by adherents of critical race theory, but the legislation aimed at something broader. “The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States,” the A.H.A. and three other associations declared in a statement in June. “But the ideal of informed citizenship necessitates an educated public.” Eventually, more than 150 professional organizations would sign this letter, including the Society of Civil War Historians, the National Education Association, the Midwestern History Association and the Organization of American Historians.

. . . .

A curious feature of this argument on behalf of the historical record is how ahistorical it is. In privileging “actual fact” over “narrative,” the governor, and many others, seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them. This conception denies history its own history — the dynamic, contested and frankly pretty thrilling process by which an understanding of the past is formed and reformed. The study of this is known as historiography, and a knowledge of American historiography, in particular the way our historical profession evolved to take fuller account of the role of slavery and racism in our past, is critical to understanding the debates of the past two years.

The earliest attempts to record the nation’s history took the form of accounts of military campaigns, summaries of state and federal legislative activity, dispatches from the frontier and other narrowly focused reports. In the 19th century, these were replaced by a master narrative of the colonial and founding era, best exemplified by “the father of American history,” George Bancroft, in his “History of the United States, From the Discovery of the American Continent.” Published in 10 volumes from the 1830s through the 1870s, Bancroft’s opus is generally seen as the first comprehensive history of the country, and its influence was incalculable. Bancroft’s ambition was to synthesize American history into a grand and glorious epic. He viewed the European colonists who settled the continent as acting out a divine plan and the revolution as an almost purely philosophical act, undertaken to model self-government for all the world.

. . . .

As the Cold War dawned, it became clear that this school could not provide the necessary inspiration for an America that envisioned itself a defender of global freedom and democracy. The Beardian approach was beaten back by the counter-Progressive or “Consensus” school, which emphasized the founders’ shared values and played down class conflict. Among Consensus historians, a keen sense of national purpose was evident, as well as an eagerness to disavow the whiff of Marxism in the progressive narrative and re-establish the founders’ idealism. In 1950, the Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison lamented that the Progressives were “robbing the people of their heroes” and “insulting their folk-memory of the great figures whom they admired.” Seven years later, one of his former students, Edmund S. Morgan, published “The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789,” a key text of this era (described by one reviewer at the time as having the “brilliant hue of the era of Eisenhower prosperity”). Morgan stressed the revolution as a “search for principles” that led to a nation committed to liberty and equality.

. . .

By the 1960s, the pendulum was ready to swing the other way. A group of scholars identified variously as Neo-Progressive historians, New Left historians or social historians challenged the old paradigm, turning their focus to the lives of common people in colonial society and U.S. history more broadly. Earlier generations primarily studied elites, who left a copious archive of written material. Because the subjects of the new history — laborers, seamen, enslaved people, women, Indigenous people — produced relatively little writing of their own, many of these scholars turned instead to large data sets like tax lists, real estate inventories and other public records to illuminate the lives of what were sometimes called the “inarticulate masses.” This novel approach set aside “the central assumption of traditional history, what might be called the doctrine of implicit importance,” wrote the historian Jack P. Greene in a 1975 article in The Times. “From the perspective supplied by the new history, it has become clear that the experience of women, children, servants, slaves and other neglected groups are quite as integral to a comprehensive understanding of the past as that of lawyers, lords and ministers of state.”

An explosion of new research resulted, transforming the field of American history. One of the most significant developments was an increased attention to Black history and the role of slavery. For more than a century, a profession dominated by white men had mostly consigned these subjects to the sidelines. Bancroft had seen slavery as problematic — “an anomaly in a democratic country” — but mostly because it empowered a Southern planter elite he considered corrupt, lazy and aristocratic. Beard and the other Progressives hadn’t focused much on slavery, either. Until the 1950s, the institution was treated in canonical works of American history as an aberration best addressed minimally if at all. When it was taken up for close study, as in Ulrich B. Phillips’s 1918 book, “American Negro Slavery,” it was seen as an inefficient enterprise sustained by benevolent masters to whom enslaved people felt mostly gratitude. That began to change in the 1950s and 1960s, as works by Herbert Aptheker, Stanley Elkins, Philip S. Foner, John Hope Franklin, Eugene D. Genovese, Benjamin Quarles, Kenneth M. Stampp, C. Vann Woodward and many others transformed the mainstream view of slavery.

. Among the converts was Edmund Morgan himself, who noted in a 1972 address that “American historians interested in tracing the rise of liberty, democracy and the common man have been challenged in the past two decades by other historians, interested in tracing the history of oppression, exploitation and racism. The challenge has been salutary, because it has made us examine more directly than historians have hitherto been willing to do the role of slavery in our early history. Colonial historians, in particular, when writing about the origin and development of American institutions, have found it possible until recently to deal with slavery as an exception to everything they had to say. I am speaking about myself but also about most of my generation.”

To be more precise, Morgan might have said that white historians had “found it possible” to hold slavery and the creation of American democracy entirely apart. Black historians, working outside the mainstream for a hundred years, tended to see the matter more clearly. For during this whole evolution in American history, from Bancroft through the 1960s, there was another scholarly tradition unfolding, one that only rarely gained entry into white-dominated academic spaces.

The antebellum historians William C. Nell and William Wells Brown wrote scholarly accounts of Black participation in the American Revolution. But the first work by a Black author generally considered part of what was then the emerging field of professional history was George Washington Williams’s “History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers and as Citizens,” published in 1882.

Williams was an innovator. He had to be. In writing his landmark book, he pioneered several research methodologies that would later re-emerge among the social historians — the use of oral history, the aggregation of statistical data, even the use of newspapers as primary sources. His view of the centrality of slavery was also far ahead of its time:

No event in the history of North America has carried with it to its last analysis such terrible forces. It touched the brightest features of social life, and they faded under the contact of its poisonous breath. It affected legislation, local and national; it made and destroyed statesmen; it prostrated and bullied honest public sentiment; it strangled the voice of the press, and awed the pulpit into silent acquiescence; it organized the judiciary of States, and wrote decisions for judges; it gave States their political being, and afterwards dragged them by the fore-hair through the stormy sea of civil war; laid the parricidal fingers of Treason against the fair throat of Liberty, — and through all time to come no event will be more sincerely deplored than the introduction of slavery into the colony of Virginia during the last days of the month of August in the year 1619!

Like so many Black historians, Williams was writing against the grain, not only in his insistence on the influence of slavery in shaping American institutions but in something even more basic: his assumption of Black humanity. This challenge he faced is made clear from the first chapter of Volume I: “It is proposed, in the first place, to call the attention to the absurd charge that the Negro does not belong to the human family.” In a nation backtracking on the promise of Reconstruction, this was an inherently political statement. Just one year after “History of the Negro Race” was published, the U.S. Supreme Court would invalidate as unconstitutional the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which barred racial discrimination in public accommodations and transportation. A country that denied Black people the rights of citizens could not also see them as significant historical actors.

“History is a science, a social science, but it’s also politics,” the historian Martha S. Jones, who contributed a chapter in the new 1619 book, told me. “And Black historians have always known that. They always know the stakes. In a world that would brand Africans as people without a history, Williams understood the political consequence of the assertion that Black people have history and might even be driving it.”

We can see evidence of this in the decades of Jim Crow that followed Reconstruction, when Black people were not only prevented from voting and denied access to a wide array of public accommodations but also, for the most part, kept out of the mainstream history profession. Nevertheless, a rich Black scholarly tradition continued to unfold in publications like The Journal of Negro History, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1916, and in the work of scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, Helen G. Edmonds, Lorenzo Greene, Luther P. Jackson, Rayford Logan, Benjamin Quarles and Charles H. Wesley. Quarles’s book “The Negro in the American Revolution,” published in 1961, was an important part of that decade’s historiographical reassessments. It was the first to thoroughly explore an often-overlooked feature of that war: that substantially more Black people were drawn to the British side than the Patriot cause, believing this the better path to freedom. Quarles’s work posed profound questions about the traditional narrative of the founding era. While acknowledging that for some white people the ideals of the Revolution had “exposed the inconsistencies” of chattel slavery in a nation founded on equality, he also observed a deeply uncomfortable fact: “They were far outnumbered by those who detected no ideological inconsistency. These white Americans, not considering themselves counterrevolutionary, would never have dreamed of repudiating the theory of natural rights. Instead they skirted the dilemma by maintaining that blacks were an outgroup rather than members of the body politic.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

From Wikipedia:

A straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.

The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and the subsequent refutation of that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the opponent’s proposition. Straw man arguments have been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly regarding highly charged emotional subjects.

. . . .

The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:

  • Person 1 asserts proposition X.
  • Person 2 argues against a superficially similar proposition Y, falsely, as if an argument against Y were an argument against X.

This reasoning is a fallacy of relevance: it fails to address the proposition in question by misrepresenting the opposing position.

For example:

  • Quoting an opponent’s words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).
  • Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then denying that person’s arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.
  • Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
    Exaggerating (sometimes grossly exaggerating) an opponent’s argument, then attacking this exaggerated version.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

The straw men in the NYT Magazine article come thick and fast. Here’s just one example:

In privileging “actual fact” over “narrative,” the governor, and many others, seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them.

PG has no problem understanding what an “actual fact” is, but “narrative” is the ultimate squishy concept.

If Jane’s narrative is different than Susan’s narrative, what exactly does that show?

It might mean that one of them is operating from a false premise.

If Jane contends that the sun circles around the earth, Jane has a problem with fact regardless of how many narratives she spins about why this is the truth: because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, it’s clear that the sun has a relatively circular orbit around the earth. And the sun manifests the same behavior every single day. It’s path is there for everyone to see.

Jane says, “That’s my narrative. Don’t go privileging your “actual fact” about the sun over my narrative about the sun.

The fact is that, at the time of the Constitutional Congress, representatives from some states were adamantly opposed to slavery and had passed state legislation outlawing the practice and other states were adamantly in favor of slavery. Some states had never had slavery while the institution had been established early (see 1619).

The Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower never had slaves. In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. However, during the years 1781 to 1783, in three related cases known today as “the Quock Walker case,” the Supreme Judicial Court applied the principle of judicial review to abolish slavery.

In 1780, while the Revolutionary War was still being fought, Pennsylvania passed the Gradual Abolition of Slavery Act. There were a number of slave owners in the state at the time. Part of this law focused on the emancipation of children born into slavery after a certain period of laboring for their masters. Females would obtain their freedom at 18 years of age. Males would be freed at the age of 21.

Those who were pro-slavery could point to a long line of historic examples of enslaved people as their narrative about why there was nothing wrong with slavery. Large numbers of Semitic slaves were held as slaves in Egypt for at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. Yes, Moses led a lot of them out of slavery, but that required multiple miraculous interventions from God, not because Moses had a better narrative.

In 1780, PG suspects that the majority of the nations, tribes, etc., on the earth included some form of slavery. As PG pointed out earlier today, the British Empire had practiced slavery for quite a long time all around the world.

The Northern states were a minority in the world in abhorring slavery and believing that it should be illegal. That may be a narrative, but it’s also a historic fact.

For PG, the current use of the terms, “privilege” or “privileging” are the recognized way of avoiding facts.

“White privilege” is certainly a real advantage for some white people, but privileging African-Americans in hiring and college admission decisions is privileging them regardless of whether their ancestors were slaves or not. This privilege is extended to the sons or daughters African-American investment bankers or those who trace their ancestry to hereditary African kings and queens who themselves owned large numbers of slaves, in some cases, European slaves.

Nobody born and living in the United States today has owned slaves. No African-American born and living in the United States has ever been a slave.

PG cringes whenever he hears current discussion of privilege or various narratives. For him, it is ultimately just a method for persuading or controlling people by those to whom American society or parts of American society have granted some sort of manufactured moral power.

74 thoughts on “The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History”

  1. Thank you for clarifying what troubled me about the narrative in the article. I’ve saved your commentary to refer to as and when needed. I state for the record that this it is totally not authoritative or the last word on the subject, just cliff notes for a basic understanding of the subject.

  2. “White privilege” is a very real advantage for ALL white people, whether they use it or not. It is extremely rare that any African American can even trace their ancestry to hereditary African kings and queens because of the constructs of slavery and recordkeeping. Do yourself a favor. If you haven’t already, I encourage everyone to read the book Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, which lays out in great detail the caste system in the United States, India, and Germany. It is an eye-opening explanation of why black and white people feel as they do.

    • Oh, wow, I am “privileged” because I can trace my ancestry!

      Mine, in almost all cases, traces back to German peasants, common mercenary soldiers, and such like, at its furthest extent. The only semi-famous one is a preacher that was one of the founders of the Yale Divinity School – when I visited there once, he is a name on a plaque in their hall. That maybe a dozen people have even noticed the existence of, much less can tell you any of the names on it.

      More recently, I have several ancestors who donned Union blue to eliminate the blot of slavery on this nation. Many didn’t return to their farms, or did so missing various anatomical parts.

      PG, trying to be polite here, so I’ll stop writing now. But it is VERY difficult when this garbage shows up.

      • Oh, wow, I am “privileged” because I can trace my ancestry!

        Subscribe to Ancestry.Com and increase your privilege.

        • Unlikely. They probably have no more (and could be less) than my mother and older sister dug up over many years. They made several trips to Europe (both the mainland and the Isles), getting into parish records and graveyards, once they nailed down the original emigrants to the New World.

          (By the way, I am one of those who is not related to anyone on the Mayflower, although some did come over not all that long afterwards. Unless something happened behind a woodpile, of course. I will someday do one of the DNA tests; I’m just not all that interested. Wouldn’t tell me anything new about the character of those from whom I am descended.)

      • So a white male orphan abandoned at birth at at the door of a police station in Appalachia has more privilege than Obama’s daughters? pull the other one, it has bells on.

        There is far more privilege in being born to a two parent family than anything related to skin color

        • @David Lang – Are you able to comprehend that a *black* male orphan abandoned at birth at the door of a police station in Appalachia might – just might – have a slight disadvantage compared to a white one?

          • I accept that no two people are alike, and that any two people are going to be treated differently. So it’s obvious that comparing any two people, there is a chance that one will have disadvantages compared to another

            I do not accept that the color of their skin tells you more about their relative advantages/disadvantages than anything else.

            the education, wealth, marriage status, etc (including culture, do they value education for example) of their parents is a far better indicator of a child’s success than the color of their skin

            • @David Lang – If you do not accept that race affects the way someone is treated, then we cannot have a discussion.

              • Everything about a person affects how they are treated.

                Height, weight, skin color, hair color, eye color, fitness, accent, vocabulary, hair style, clothing style and quality, skin quality, etc.

                And the effect of each characteristic is going to be different for different people.

                now, you have to make the case that perceived race is a definitive characteristic, not just assert that it is the case and declare that anyone who disagrees with you can’t be talked to.

            • Without evaluating a “definitive reply” simply because the data isn’t verified and reliable:

              The one does not say a damned thing about the other. This is basic quantum physics.


              “White privilege” is not necessarily applicable to every single individual with the same vector. This is easily illustrated by analogy (with all of the problems that arise from arguing from analogy, and I’m more familiar with them and the body-count consequences than I want to be just after Remembrance Day) to the hydrogen-atom problem.

              One can infer a great deal about the energy level of a specific electron orbiting a proton — that is, a bare hydrogen atom — from general characteristics of the environment of that atom. The ambient temperature and pressure; known external radiation; concentration of negative ions in its environment; and so on. But that great deal ignores outliers and highly-detailed results, such that at any one moment that electron could be in any energy level otherwise allowed by the laws of physics. Those general characteristics have only probabilistic results.

              The converse is also true. Presuming that we did know the complete energy state of an electron, we can infer probabilities regarding the environment the atom is in. More measurements over time increase our confidence in those probabilities — but with one exception, they are not determinative. And that one exception is one we really, really don’t want: An energy state of absolute zero (which means, necessarily, the heat-death of at least that atom and probably the entire universe, and yes the math really is that indeterminate).

              And all of this is pretending that that hydrogen atom exists with only a single electron, in an environment that will not encourage any reaction with any other particle/waveform. Trust me when I say that even two electrons surrounding an isolated proton is sufficiently complex that there is no general solution (and provably so).

              My point is that the “individual impact of white privilege” and “white privilege effect on groupings of individuals” are not congruent questions that can be considered through inferences drawn from the “other” question. (Pun intended.) That’s the fundamental logical flaw of these arguments: They presume that the equivalent of Newtonian physics (the broad scope of “white privilege”) applies equally — or even in some predictable manner — to the quantum physics of individual particles… and, more damagingly, vice versa.

              The problem with Mr Lang’s statement is in one word, in the second-to-last paragraph, and it’s a problem that arises throughout the study of history and culture and humanity: Because “the color of their skin [does not] tell[] you more about their relative advantages/disadvantages than anything else” (emphasis added), many people reject “the color of their skin” as a critical factor that is important enough to effect a result. This is an implicit demand that we should study the dominant factor, and the dominant factor only. As a lifelong outlier (the word “nerd” is a badge of honor), I reject that premise and method of reasoning.

              Humanity is never simple enough for a single factor to have led from state A to state B over time. The 1619 Project does not, as I have actually read its materials, make that claim; only those who would reject it entirely make that claim.

              • Wave function of humanity, huh?
                Interesting thought.
                (Very Foundation Trilogy.)
                Worth considering.

                Still leaves the question of scale for the deterministic assertions, no? What’s the scale where you can make a valid statement?

                • I don’t know. I don’t pretend to be that smart. Or have data that would back me up if I were.

                  I don’t know exactly where the boundary conditions (not implying that I think it’s a clear boundary!) are, just that it’s quite apparent that the boundary region is somewhere between “Herman Cain’s personal experience” and “the collective experience of forty-six million Americans of substantial and acknowledged sub-Saharan-African ancestry.” And the circumlocution there is part of the point.

                  One of the things that really [insert profane description of anger here] me is the general-in-society, and all too often on teh intertubes, tendency for people to argue from their personal experience and/or self-interest as if it’s universal (and proof that they’re the smartest person in the room; trust me that the smartest person in the room is usually trying to learn something, too, not convert the heathens, and you reallyreallyreally don’t want to get me started on either “preaching to the faithful” or theocrats, especially not on this subject given my experiences and expertise from my first profession).

                  And, in the end, that’s the real purpose of the 1619 Project: To bring some unconsidered evidence and understanding — evidence and understanding of a kind often decried because it implies that someone’s ancestors might have been bigots — into wider circulation. That’s the [string of expletives that would have appalled Richard Nixon deleted] purpose of the First Amendment, of historical scholarship, of education: Learn from others’ mistakes before they become your own.

                • Agreed to your peeve.
                  Folks who argue from personal experience (or worse, ideology) yet refuse to accept other people’s actual life experiences are a problem. To their own causes most often.
                  Mine is people who pretend to absolutely *know* the unknowable which says they are either medacious or stupid. I have time for neither.

                  As to 1619 itself, I make no pretense of knowing the intent of its promoters but I would suggest their pugnacious presentation is more inline with political than academic intent. If they are greeted in certain circles by absolutist rejection it is because they created it with their own overrraching, absolutist assertions. Proclamations from on high are rarely well received and while the core subject is worthy of exploration and documentation that approach dors not foster rational dialogue. If anything, it delays the day when such dialogue can be carried out.

                  How things are done and presented matters at least as much as what is presented.

                  Consider, for example, the BBC report I linked earlier about the distribution of single parent families and the measurable effects on the children. Very careful to qualify the data, ascribe no intent to anybody, and simply let the numbers speak for themselves.

                  In contrast, we have the Fleischman and Pons report on room temperature fusion. A very real effect, reproducible to an extent and supported by quantum chemistry principles, delegitimized by their breathless presentation and exagerated presentation that not only stirred kneejerk reaction from the plasma physics community but undercut the phenomemon they identified when the magnitude and conditions of the reproducible effects proved to be much lower than tbeir self promoting hype. With the result that they ended up delegitimizing the study of a very real phenomenon for a generation or more.

                  Presentation matters and as the saying goes, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

    • I’m white, and I can trace my ancestry for precisely zero generations – closed adoption. What does that do to my ‘privilege’?

      Anyhow, what in the name of anything holy does it matter if you can trace your ancestry back to ‘hereditary kings and queens’, in Africa or out of it? You’re living in a country that has no king or queen, you’re not a king or queen yourself, and it makes no particle of difference in your life if one of your ancestors once held a title that doesn’t even exist anymore. The Irish, it’s said, can all trace their lineage back to kings and queens if you go back far enough. That did not save any Irishman in the 1840s from being oppressed by the English, starved in the Potato Famine, or, if he fled for his life to the United States, being treated almost as subhuman by the people he found there.

      • Ah, thank you, Tom. I did forget about my Irish heritage there.

        Although a “King” squatting in a pile of rocks not much bigger than my house, and lording it over a “Royal Domain” that could be ridden across in somewhat less than a day’s time, I do find rather easy to overlook.

      • Good points, Tom.

        If you were born in the United States, there is supposedly a one-in-seven chance that one of your ancestors was a passenger on the Mayflower.

        And, perhaps, one of your other ancestors was African as well.

        One of the things that genealogical DNA tests demonstrate is that a great many Americans have ancestors who were born in surprising places.

    • L – Thanks for your comments.

      In past lives, I’ve lived among a lot of impoverished white people and, working as a voluntary attorney for Legal Aid in a low income rural area, represented a whole lot of officially impoverished white people.

      None of these people seemed to have much in the way of White privilege.

      The year I applied for college, I inadvertently saw my parents’ financial information form, a required document to qualify for financial assistance. With both parents working full-time, their total income was less than half the cost of attending any of the universities I was considering for one year.

      I attended a terrible rural high school. Less than 10% of my small graduating class graduated from college. Only about 15% even applied to a four-year college or university. In no meaningful way did my high school classes prepare me for college-level work. This was a typical pattern for the graduating classes before and after I graduated as well.

      Did I benefit from white privilege? What about my white classmates who either didn’t apply or didn’t finish college?

      I attended a so-called elite university where there were a whole lot of privileged whites and a number of poor whites present only because of generous scholarships and student loans. The university student body included a number of African Americans who were from wealthy families and others who were there due to generous scholarships and student loans.

      During the entire time I was in college, including summers, I had to work to support myself. My freshman year, I had a college library job that limited me to 12.5 hours per week. I worked full-time and often overtime every summer. My sophomore year, I worked about 20-25 hours per week off campus when school was in session. Junior and Senior years were 30-35 hours per week working on and off campus while taking classes. This all took place while I was living in the cheapest off-campus housing I could find. While showing me one of my future places of abode, one landlord told me, “Don’t ever plug anything into that electric socket or it will blow all the fuses and the whole building will go dark.”

      I enjoyed my college years, but if anyone had asked me for evidence of white privilege, I couldn’t have named any. I knew several African-American students who had more money to spend than I did.

      What about Asian privilege? Is that something to worry about? Asians are certainly subject to discrimination in college admissions. There are at least a couple of civil rights lawsuits against prominent universities alleging racial discrimination in the admission offices.

      My son has a good Asian friend whose family fled Communist South Vietnam on a small boat with other refugees when he was a small boy. They were permitted to take only a very small bag of clothing. After a couple of days, the boat’s motor quit working. After several days drifting in the South China Sea with no help in sight, an American Navy aircraft carrier appeared on the horizon and the boat’s occupants were rescued before they would certainly have died.

      After living in a refugee camp for several months, they were resettled in a small apartment in Southern California. No one in the family spoke English. But they learned. My son’s friend graduated with a degree in finance from an excellent business school, then continued to medical school where he became a physician and has been earning a physician-level income in Southern California. He buys a new and expensive sports car every couple of years.

      Did my son’s friend unfairly benefit from Asian privilege?

      I do understand that, due to the effects of slavery, many African-Americans can’t trace their ancestors back beyond the post-Civil War period, but some are able do so.

      We often think of African-Americans as all being descendants of slaves. However, there are also descendants of African-Americans who came to the United States after the Civil War.

      A long time ago, in Chicago, I worked with an African-American who was born in Nigeria to wealthy parents and held an MBA from the University of Chicago, an elite university by any standards. He surprised me when he said he was not very impressed with the dominant African-American black culture in Chicago. He was single and looking for African-American women who held standards similar to his own to date.

      Did my friend suffer from the after-effects of slavery? I don’t think so.

      My point is, when people are classified in racial groups as privileged or non-priveleged, that’s a stereotype that may be correct for some and but is definitely not for others.

      In the minds of some who are focused on racial privilege, it is all-important, so important, it transcends other elements that may give an individual member of any racial group a great advantage or a great disadvantage. It’s all about the individual’s race. Whites are privileged and Blacks are not. Every white person should be embarrassed and ashamed by benefiting by a racial privilege and every black person is entitled to feel upset and angry by being limited by the lack of a race-based privilege.

      And this system of privilege is deeply embedded in everything America has been and is today. The arrival of a handful of African slaves in Virginia in 1619, more than 20 years ago, inevitably set the course of American values, government and development that continues to this day.

      Even the most costly war in the history of the nation fought specifically to free the slaves or to defend slavery, a war that left between between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers dead (equivalent to the death of more than 7 million in 2021 based upon America’s current population) along with an undetermined number of civilian casualties, doesn’t expiate the population of America today, even when no living American has ever owned an African slave, from what began in 1619, over 400 years ago.

      • PG – With the deepest respect, I think you are quite wrong in your interpretation. All white people benefit from white privilege. That does *not* mean every white person is vastly more affluent or otherwise more fortunate than every person of colour. It just means that being white confers certain automatic benefits, compared to not being white.

        • I definitely benefited from my parents.

          1. Both finished high school.
          2. Both had gainful employment before I was born.
          3. They married before I was born.
          4. They stayed together for 70 years.

          Children born to these types have a huge advantage over those who are not. We can see this in any color defined grouping. It’s a choice.

          • Whoa?
            You think that makes you special? 😉


            Come on!
            85% of Asian kids are living with both parents today, vs 7% with a single mother
            74% of the “privileged” vs 13% with a single mother
            62% of hispanics vs 23% with a single motber
            36% of black americans vs 47% with a single mother

            (Oddly, single fathers are uniformly distributed at a mere 4% per tribe.)

            Overall, 67% of all kids in the US are equally “privileged” parent-wise. Used to be much lower back when childrearing was taken seriously by most everybody and couples would stay together “for tbe kids”. As is Daniel Patrick Moynihan was called names for warning of this emerging *social* problem 50 years back.

          • @Elliott123 – Sorry if I’m being stupid (it wouldn’t be the first time!) but why are you making this comment in response to me? (I mean, of course I’m delighted for you and your lovely parents, but… why?)

                • As Felix highlights, there is a distinct difference in the number of blacks vs whites who benefit from such situations.

                  Does that difference indicate white privilege?

              • @Elliott123 – Looks like our wires got crossed. I repeat: Why would the fact that you made that comment in response to me be an example of white privilege?

                • Because nobody has listed any other advantage?
                  Specifics matter more than theoretics and handwaving. Absent specifics, one is forced to guess.

                  Looking at differences between ethnic groups, what else can be demonstrably trotted out? Sociologists have demostrated that the best predictor of a child’s success is a stable two parent household hrowing up.

                  Here, from the BBC:


                  In the nature vs nurture debate, economic succrss leans heavily towards nurture.

                  Again: how about some specifics? Preferably more robust than anecdata?

                  While we’re at it, might I suggrst life is not zero-sum, that it is possible to be disadvantaged without it being a result of somebody else being favored. Lose-lose is possible. So is (and yes, I *will* go there) self inflicted.

                  As most successful immigrants will tell you, succeeding in a new society is a function of the willingness to assimilate or at least pretend to folow tbe rules. A lot of “rebellious” behavior is counterproductive. It is an allowable choice. (Within reason.) Just don’t expect automatic success.

                  Suggested: track down the PBS DOCUMENTARY on SHAKER HEIGHTS kids and “acting white”, from the 90’s.

                  Life is complicated.
                  Let’s not make it worse by ignoring the other 300M folks out there.

        • With no respect whatsoever – back up your assertion.

          Myself, I can list several benefits that whites, in general, enjoy – not a single one of them having any relation to their deficiency of melanin.

          I can also list several liabilities that blacks, in general, suffer under – not a single one of them having any relation to their abundance of melanin, either.

        • Anyone using the term “white privilege” should remember that the term was popularised by Peggy McIntosh (in her 1989 “White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack” paper). So a very wealthy and highly privileged white women produced a list of privileges (26 of them IIRC) she supposedly benefited from due to her skin hue and claimed that these extended to all whites. In reality almost all of her items actually flowed from her wealth and her class and she simply had no idea how the poor and the lower classes lived.

          Whilst obviously nonsense to anyone living outside her wealthy Ivy League bubble, the idea was eagerly taken up by some “progressive” circles and has proved a useful tool for the wealthy and privileged to feel good whilst berated the poor and unprivileged. Unsurprisingly, the reaction on the part of the less wealthy whites to these lectures has typically been less than sympathetic.

          • It’s a useful concept to promote ideology and dependency culture.
            So is the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. Tell people they can’t do well on their own, that they have to be propped up by the right party or tbey’ll be doomed. That in a society that celebrates achievement they will never be more tban also-rans so they shouldn’t bother trying.

            (Sometimes I woncdr what life might be like if tbose folks actually got tbeir utopia.)

            Fortunately, not everybody buys that narrative. Some deny it aggresively:

            • Because it demonstrates that the term from the outset has been totally confused with wealth and class privilege and is now regularly used by the wealthy and privileged to denigrate the white lower classes. It reflects the fact that the thoughts of many in the US are so dominated by race that they can no longer see people as individuals and can also ignore the huge class differences that divide the population. You could open up Peggy’s knapsack, cross out all the items that result from her wealth and class privilege and actually talk about the few left over. This would at least make clear what privileges you are claiming apply due to the hue of people’s skin and leave your readers to judge whether they actually have significance compared with, for example, simple matters like how much money they have.

              But I’m an outsider here and it is probably foolish of me to hope that Americans will abandon their obsession with race and try to treat people as individuals. (And apologies to the American readers for what I know is a gross generalisation, but I sometimes despair at the way your country represents itself in political discourse and general online discussions.)

              • @Mike Hall – OK, I see where you’re coming from. Thank you for engaging! I totally disagree with you, but that’s all right. 🙂 (Also, in case it matters… I’m not American.)

              • @Elliot123 @FelixTorres – Sorry, were you asking *me* to “list the top ten white privileges”? If so, you do not understand the term “white privilege”. Please do some basic research. I’m more than happy to help you along once you’ve covered the ABC.

                • there are a lot of things that have been claimed to be related to ‘whiteness’ that have nothing to do with skin color

                  working hard
                  showing up on time

                  (from the Smithsonian no less)

                  so if you are claiming that the poor kid from the mountains has privilege over Obama’s daughters due to the color of his skin, you need to specify what advantages you think he has.

                • @Elliott123 @David Lang – Looks like nesting is at an end, so I’ll throw this in the general direction of the thread. Keeping things *very* simple for those who are just starting out: White privilege is (as I understand it) an umbrella term for all the ways in which white people have things made easier for them in life *because* they are white. There are lots of great articles and discussions available online. Again, I’m more than happy to engage further once you’ve done some basic (*very* basic!) research.

                • Well, now. You want to e ducate me on what life in america is? Hmm…
                  No thanks.
                  I’ve been around enough.
                  I’ve work with black americans and immigtant blacks, vietnamese and haitians, and oh-so many puertoricans (guess why?), plus cubans, dominicans, spaniards, peruvians, argentineans, germans, and canadians. Different levels of melanin each but oddly none let it define them. Some rich, some poor. Good people all of them. We must move in different circles.

                  You say you’re not American? So where are you getting your *education* in american living? The media perchance? The internet? IdiotPoliticians™?

                  Mine is from living.
                  I thick this thread has run its course: toodles.

              • I can’t say whether this is one of the top ten, but “not being at risk for random police ‘intervention’ driving a Mercedes at 3am in an upper/upper-middle-class almost-entirely-white suburb” counts. That happened to a law-professor colleague of mine about fifteen years ago. It happened to one of my eldest son’s coworkers about fifteen days ago. And precisely because I’m not a member of this particular studied population, it’s intellectually dishonest to demand that I impose my values and rank-order the “importance” of discriminatory acts to those upon whom those acts are imposed. The same goes for the other denizens here.

                The question is offensive, and not in a borderline manner. Have you no decency, sir? Or even empathy?

  3. PG, you are correct that there is an awful lot of straw floating around the NYT’s project. My view is that the 1619 Project is fundamentally unbalanced by its ideological commitments, and its cavalier rhetoric about facts is to be regretted. However, I think you somewhat overstate your opposing case.

    The factual record – subject to appropriate verification – must be sacrosanct and any narrative that is inconsistent with it has to be rejected. In this period though the number of “facts” is overwhelming, and the historian is forced to be selective, and their selection is going to drive the narrative they are telling, and there is always going to be a narrative – a collection of facts by themselves are not history, just the necessary inputs for future historians. So, there are always going to be competing narratives, all of which may be consistent with the factual record (at least as it is now known, though the competition will drive research to extract more facts from the records).

    For example, in your earlier posting you emphasise Jefferson’s passionate assault on slavery and the slave trade in his first draft of The Declaration of Independence and point out that this was many years prior to the British Empire’s abolition of slavery. Another historian may instead concentrate on his behaviour rather than his words and draw a different conclusion as to his character. My own view is that the preservation of slavery was not amongst Jefferson’s motives for rebellion, but that passionate words are of limited value if you do not follow through with actions and that, when it came to the crunch, Jefferson put the success of the revolution and then the ratification of the Constitution (and maybe his own economic wellbeing) ahead of any thought of general abolition.

    Another example comes to mind from your use of the recent – and excellent – research into the recipients of compensation for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. One current UK narrative is to express horror that this was paid at all. Another, to which I subscribe, is that this was a necessity if abolition was to get through Parliament (and that it may also have been required to avoid the economic disruption that might result from the confiscation of a portion of the population’s wealth). So instead of regretting the payment I’m rather proud that my ancestors were willing to pay – or anyway borrow – so much (5% or so of GDP, 40% of government revenue IIRC) to facilitate abolition.

    Turning back to the Founding Fathers, being British I was never raised to regard them with particular respect and – possibly because of this – I’ve always believed that the preservation of slavery was one of the motives of some of the rebels, in some of the states (my impression being that this was particularly the case in Virginia and that it was often the “second line” and less high minded part of the rebel leadership that felt this way). I see this as a natural development, especially as the news of the Somerset case quickly crossed the Atlantic and suggested a threat to the status quo. So, whilst I reject the 1619 Project as a whole, I think it is important that the good points it makes should not be ignored.

    Your Constitution though is another matter. The compromises that were made to persuade the South – and other areas – to agree to ratification were not pretty, and I’m not sure that this is always acknowledged.

    • Mike, I can agree with you that recitations of raw facts is not history. They must be weighed against other facts, placed into context with the time period, and then interpreted by a minimally biased investigator (nobody is absolutely unbiased).

      But they must be facts. The “1619 Project” is, unfortunately, absolutely riddled with falsehoods. Beginning with their main premise, that the first slaves were sold on a dock in 1619. What was sold on that dock were indentures – a limited period of servitude, after which the person involved was to be as free as any paying passenger who came off of the ships, and which did not extend to their progeny. The persons of African origin were not in any worse (or better) position than those of European origin (who were the majority of the indentured at the time, and for at least a half century after) whose indentures were also sold on that dock.

      Another note – facts, in order to form a basis for historical inquiry, not only have to be true – they have to be complete and accurate. For example, the “40% of government revenues” that you quote is incomplete and therefore not accurate. The complete and actual figure is something less than 5% of government revenues over the time period in which compensation was paid. Still admirable, don’t get me wrong – but certainly not as impressive. Not to mention the other fact that the abolition of slavery in the home country did very little, if anything, to change the conditions of laborers in the wider Empire – the Caribbean, Egypt, India, China, etc. Didn’t quite avoid bloody conflict, either, as in the South African possessions of the Crown.

      • “complete and accurate” opens another whole can of worms as getting agreement on exactly what this means in each particular case is often hard (or impossible). I’ve found that my approach of “I’m right, your wrong”, whilst both true and satisfying does not often convince.

        As for your point about my “40% of government revenues”, I have to stand by what I said: it was provided, alongside the GDP percentage, to illustrate the size of the total payment (as I think neither the actual sum nor its conversion to modern day values using one of the many possible “inflation/growth” adjustments is helpful). I don’t find the conversion to a percentage over the time period in which compensation was paid of particular value as it’s depends on the speed of the administration, which I don’t think of great relevance (especially given that the money to pay was mostly borrowed and the impact on future revenues was limited to the interest and was a declining proportion of government expenditure until those securities were retired in 2015). I don’t ask that you agree with me, just recognise that your comment has resulted in a few worms crawling out of the can.

        Regarding Somerset, I agree that it did nothing for the slaves outside the UK (or indeed in Scotland, at least until the Joseph Knight case in 1778), though I’m not sure why you mention Egypt and China. My point was only that the fact – or rather the reporting – of the Somerset decision had influences outside England, notable in Virginia where it raises hopes in the minds of slaves and fear in those of their masters. As to South Africa, I presume that your theory is that abolition motivated the Great Trek and can thus take the ultimate blame for the later Boer Wars?

        • The money assertion is the same as my saying that the Civil War cost 1,872% of the government revenues in 1860 (Union States only). Quite true – but immensely misleading. The actual cost over the period in which it was paid was just a bit over 20% of revenues.

          I did not say anything about “slaves” in the British possessions in Egypt and China – I said “laborers.” But if you believe that the conditions of the free laborers in those possessions at the time were any better than a legal slave, you have some catching up to do with your own history.

          Abolition was a motivation for the Great Trek. But my point was that the Empire had its own share of hard heads with whom a peaceful solution was no more possible than with our own in the Southern States.

          In fact, when laws in some of the Northern States abolished slavery, there were similar compensation schemes for the owners – and quite a bit earlier than on the other side of the pond. See the 1804 Gradual Abolition Act in New Jersey, for example, nearly three decades before Royal Assent was granted to abolition in England. Now, you did beat us out by an entire year in stopping the importation of new slaves, although that eventuality was anticipated two decades before that as one of those compromises that you believe are so evil in the original Constitution.

          From Thomas Jefferson’s Annual Message to Congress in 1806:

          I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe.

          • We’ll have to agree to disagree about the presentation of the financial figures: I stand by my figures as an appropriate and a more useful illustration of the expenditure.

            I never used the word “evil” about your constitution, though I do understand why many people now regard as evil the parts that effectively institutionalised and protected slavery (without ever mentioning that word). I regard this as necessary if the document was to be ratified and the United States created. I have no strong views as to whether it should have been ratified in that form.

            You quote some more passionate words from Jefferson condemning slavery but I never denied that he expressed these views or that he honestly believed them. However, I stand by my own view that passionate words are of limited value when not followed by actions in favour of those sentiments. This is of course not uncommon amongst politicians; consider for example Pitt’s 1792 speech to the House of Commons condemning the slave trade: for all his passion and genuine beliefs the need for political compromise stopped him taking any action in the 14 years before his death.

            As for labourers, my impression was that we were talking about 1833 when Britain had no possessions in Egypt or China. Hence my puzzlement.

    • The compromises that were made to persuade the South – and other areas – to agree to ratification were not pretty, and I’m not sure that this is always acknowledged.

      Always acknowledged? Of course not. Many don’t know anything about ratification. Turn on the TV, and many don’t know anything about the Constitution.

      But it is certainly widely acknowledge by those familiar with the history of the times. It’s an amazing thing to game out. Try it. Can’t leave the game without a workable solution.

      • Do the rules require the United States as part of the solution? For that matter, what is “workable”? Its a big continent, plenty of room for thirteen separate states.

        • Plenty of room for all but it’s no “fun” living your life in peace if you can’t tell others how to live theirs. Live and let live is not an option for absolutists. Take note of the last 40+ years of the steady federalization of everything. (Particularly the otherwise useless Dept. of Education.) Ratber the opposite of the UK trend of devolution.

          (If you’re advocating for the breakup of tbe republic, a bloody war was already fought to determine that “the United States is” rather than “the United States are”. Odds are tbe next one won’t be about succession but about abolishing the Constitution. Whether it gets bloody or not is TBD.)

          • Not advocating, just wondering what the rules are if we loop back in time to redo the 1780s. If the USA is a required outcome the game is somewhat constrained and I don’t see any result other than a constitution that protects slavery in the South – so changes only around the edges. Take out that requirement and the AH boys can have a fun time.

            • Ah, well. A United States was unavoidable, out of fear of Britain if nothing else.
              (With reason: look what hsppened to the Boers.)

              Still, the USA we know wasn’t the first try.
              The first try was a EU style confederation.
              Did not work. Period.

              Remember, there were no meaningful borders, no common rules on commerce or anything. Not much law. The word that comes to mind is “balkanized”. After the Shays rebellion even the most independence-minded states realized a more solid union was needed.

              For a thought experiment how would have “the shores of Tripoli” have played out without a central government able to raise an actual navy? 1812?1845? The Confederation Congress could declare war but not maintain an army for one thing. And without the Commerce Clause the states would’ve been engaged in protectionist economic war. A good example would be the history of South America, especially the fate of Gran Colombia.

              Instead of the one civil war the odds would’ve been a dozen small wars spread across the states all century. Britain would likely take over by mid century. 😉

              Also, remember that Virginia was the California of the day. That was why the Senate and electoral college were instituted, to protect tbe smaller states from being dominated by the big ones. Without federalism Virgina, Maryland, and the Carolinas could’ve steamrolled New York, Pennsylvania and New England. Slavery without restraints.

              (Today, the tenth amendment is the last remaining bulwark against creeping federalization and the parlamentization of congress. The constitution is the new fault line.)

        • In my opinion, they do include the rule of not being reabsorbed by the British Empire – or conquered by the Spanish Empire.

          Benjamin Franklin’s adage was just as relevant after independence as it was before it.

          • Britain was seen in the US as the big bad for the rest of tbe 19th century. Past history. Plus India, South Africa, Egypt, etc.
            Then tbe 20th rolled on.
            Go figure. 😀

      • A bit of useful irony here:

        Exactly how much bigger than South Carolina must a late-eighteenth-century “colony” have been to be large enough to be a nation? There was no hope for being small enough to be an insane asylum.

        And the irony is the source of that statement… but then, I had bloody well better have a sense of irony and sardonic amusment about the misdeeds of one’s ancestors, as one side of the family consisted almost entirely of Prussian and Westfalian nobility (with a leavening of neomonopolistic merchants married in for their money during “tough times”).

  4. I’m not going to try to definitively evaluate the 1619 Project. It is a laboratory experiment in a laboratory with which I’m only generally familiar, not to a scholarly level: Pre-Seven-Years’-War history of the US. A more-direct analogy is to consider whether a chemist whose specialty area is organometallic synthesis should be opining on the appropriate equipment (and budget) for the Large Hadron Collider. That said, Senator Cotton’s approach is that of the theologian who denies the existence of subatomic particles in the first place: Because they don’t exist, no means of study focusing on them is legitimate, let alone any analysis of what data does exist… and we shouldn’t be even looking because those particles don’t exist.

    The fundamental problem with “actual facts” and “historical narratives” and everything else can be illustrated with two shameful episodes not that long in the American past. The incident at My Lai (and our understanding is still evolving) involved a knowing a willful suppression of inconvenient facts because those facts subverted the convenient narrative. The Tonkin Gulf situation involved not so much willful suppression of facts as inept, tunnel-visioned interpretations of facts and failure to even recognize the inconsistencies precisely because the narrative had already been formed.

    I don’t think the 1619 Project is definitive. Neither do I think we definitively know the facts… and one reason that I can say that is that I had reason to do a full title search on the land underneath the house I live in, and discovered that it had a nineteenth-century “no Chinese” clause in it that had been inserted before any of my ancestors were even on this continent. It gives me pause; and it especially gives me pause when, for the 1619 Project, we’re dealing with people who didn’t keep verifiable and complete written records in the first place. None of the protagonists of A Raisin in the Sun had been enslaved, either…

    That the 1619 Project can in fact form a coherent narrative based on the factual basis it can uncover and verify is, more than anything else, a demonstration of the need for more study… and less arrogant self-confidence that, in a society of near-universal literacy today, we really have a firm grasp of the “actual facts” in the first place. And in that sense, I don’t support teaching the 1619 Project as undisputed fact, as incontrovertible narrative, because it isn’t; I support even less, however, the willful blindness of any predetermination that because it’s flawed in some aspect it’s entirely unworthy of even reference (which is what the text of Senator Cotton’s proposed statute would do). Eppur si muove — and it’s worth remembering that Galileo himself had the actual mechanics incorrect.

    • The fundamental problem with “actual facts” and “historical narratives” and everything else can be illustrated with two shameful episodes not that long in the American past.

      More recent than My Lai or Tonkin is the bogus Steele Dossier, passed off as actual facts.

      • Without defending the many errors in the Steele Dossier, it is completely noncomparable. My Lai and Tonkin Gulf had body counts and reflected actual years-long government policy based on knowing and willful suppression of facts, brains, or both.* Dragging the Steele Dossier in by comparison is a particularly insulting-to-veterans (especially those of us who’ve had to give death notifications) form of “whataboutism.”

        The Steele Dossier concerned, primarily, personal misconduct by people connected to a campaign for office. There are a lot of errors, and there is a lot of overinterpretation in support of a preconceived narrative, and the qualifications of those doing the work “behind” the Dossier were both dubious and inapplicable to begin with (a background in “intelligence activities” is not universal support for understanding much of anything else). Regardless of whether the Dossier is “proof” of anything, though, there are parts of it sufficiently well documented to have justified further inquiry (despite the parts that… didn’t).

        * N.B. I am restricted from free discussion of just how bad those incidents were, and just how pervasive their errors were (well beyond public knowledge thereof). I respectfully suggest not going there, and particularly not on PG’s forum.

  5. I have but one question: when does the past end?
    When does the future arrive with u icorns and fuzzy bunnies?
    It’s been 150 years. Will it take another 150? A thousand?

    What’s the end game here?
    What conditions are required to end the strife?
    Will reparations end talk of race and move tbe country forward?
    Will self-inflicted Lebanization?
    Will genocide?
    Something in between?

    Does either side even know?
    (MLK had one but it’s been disavowed even by his direct descendants.)
    Any serious campaign needs a clear goal and end point.
    Vague claims without focus only raise the temperature without moving the needle.
    So, where is this going?

    Some folks aren’t thinking things through.
    Not taking even a half step back to see where they are taking things.

    We’re talking humans here.
    Humans do genocide pretty often.
    And just as often the intended victims fight back.
    In fact, they always fight when the pressure gets high enough.

    Numbers vary but there are 4M families out there who find the whole concept of “white privilege” seriously offensive. If you make everything about race, everything *will* be about race and tbat is not wise when a large plurarility of the demonized is embedded in scotsIrish culture. Who don’t have affirmative action or set asides or big media and coastal elites rooting them on.
    I’d be leery of pushing them too far, too fast.
    (Think Hatfelds and McCoys.)
    (Or Timothy McVeigh.)
    As David Banner said, you woukdn’t like them when tbey’re angry.
    Tone down tbe rhetoric before it is too late.
    And it’s already later than the IdiotPoliticians think.

    The whole scenario playing out is perfect fodder for fiction but the world out there is all too real, filled with real people and real people have breaking points.

    I see no good ending to this story.

    • Race is a social construct. Not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, the Irish weren’t considered “white”… and, conversely, all non-Russian Slavs were, well, just Slavs. (Yeah, that really went over well in the Balkans in the 1990s, didn’t it?) And that’s before getting into “Chinese”… or pondering just what “anti-Semitic” really encompasses if one takes it at its word(s).

      N.B. My surname is courtesy of Ellis Island. It has not a damned thing to do with my actual ancestry; sprechen Sie kein französisch hier, bitte.

      • Race is indeed a social construct. But populations are real. Physical characteristics often have a high correlation to membership in a given population.

  6. PG – and everyone else – the first legal slave (i.e., required to serve for his lifetime, and his progeny also) was John Casor in 1654. (There were, I believe, two or three African indentured servants sentenced to personal lifetime servitude, not extending to progeny, beginning in 1640 – for the commission of criminal acts. That was a fairly draconian punishment, but applied also to many convicted indentured servants of European origin.)

    Oh, a note for completeness – originally, the determination of the status of a child was dependent on the status of the mother, not the father. However, this was a legal distinction that made no practical difference, and was later changed in most legal codes of the time. Which was a change from what is probably one of the oldest bits of legal precedent – if you read the complete Mosaic law as written in the Torah, you will find it; probably in the Code of Hammurabi also, although I haven’t checked. It was quite convenient for the (male) owners of (female) slaves; no chance of repercussions from a bit of “fun.”

    • Ah, but 1654 isn’t as “useful” as 1619 because you have to wait another generation to reach the nice, round, 400 years.

      • Nor is it “useful” that the winner in that case was an African who had completed his indenture – and didn’t want to give up his servant. Absolutely kills anything “racist” about it.

        What research has been done in the spotty records around that decision seems to indicate the motivation of pure greed among the local elite. Quite a few indentures were nearing the end of their terms, and the holders of them really didn’t want to fill their contractual obligation to provide their former servants with land of their own. (Former indentures were typically given the very worst land the owner could find, which was the origin of many a “systemically” poor farming family in that region. But even garbage land was apparently getting in short supply around then.)

  7. Thanks to everyone for adding to the conversation on both threads.

    I have a folder and a box of books labeled, “One Drop Rule”. I need to pull out and read them again.

    I read the 1619 project when it came out and noticed that they did not mention earlier articles/series that looked at the different aspect. I don’t have my list out but I noticed that every five to ten years there would be a major series that was deeply shocking. None of the series ever referred to the earlier shocking series.

    I find that the most interesting aspect of the whole issue.

    – That wave after wave of articles come out, and do not move the conversation further.

    BTW, I had completely forgotten the 1619 project, just as I forgot all of the others that came out prior to them.

    The 1619 project was clearly more fiction that fact, a classic narrative to sow division.

    – Notice how, each time the “press” reports on things like the 1619 project, the people opposing it are always labeled as “racist”.

    There is an entire industry to keep everyone stirred up, that has been built over decades. It’s not just people pushing things like the 1619 project, it’s also the editors, pundits, and paid trolls that keep things stirred up, and prevent real discussion of the facts.

    – Cui bono, Who benefits?

    This is like when I was in high school. There was one little kid who enjoyed getting older, bigger kids, attacking each other. Just for the Lulz. That same concept has been weaponized.

    Read Evil Geniuses by Kurt Andersen, for more information.

  8. I disagree with all of you. America began when I arrived at Kennedy Airport in 1972. I don’t know how you all existed without me?
    And yes, I was a slave of Marxism-Socialism but was free at last when I stepped on the American soil.

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