When the House of Representatives held hearings on H.R. 40, it went poorly. Not so much because the concept of creating a “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans” was itself a bad idea, but because the concern that it would devolve into a cesspool of obsequiousness or being ripped to shreds as a racist, or self-loathing black person, happened almost immediately. Coleman Hughes spoke against it, for which he paid dearly.
In memory of the first ship of African slaves to land at the colonies, the New York Times has published the 1619 Project.
The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.
The project includes numerous essays telling American history through the eyes and understanding of black people. Nikole Hannah-Jones writes:
Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.
One fact proffered is that the motives of our founding were not pure, and not to obtain freedom from England for freedom’s sake, but to prevent England from ending slavery in the colonies. Even the Boston Massacre, for which the British soldiers were acquitted after being defended by John Adams, is “reframed.”
The very first person to die for this country in the American Revolution was a black man who himself was not free. Crispus Attucks was a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave his life for a new nation in which his own people would not enjoy the liberties laid out in the Declaration for another century.
Within hours of the publication of the 1619 Project, American history curriculum was being changed, with aids being offered to teachers to correct the erroneous history that had been taught up to now. And people of good faith read and considered the content of the reframed history, as well they should.
But those who questioned, even quibbled, without denying slavery, racism, or the impact it had on African Americans, were immediately tarred as racists and attacked. Maybe they deserved it. Maybe not. Even considering the possibility of not acquiescing to Jones’, et al., vision was unacceptable. This bodes poorly for any hope of “discussion,” if there is no option but to accept and adopt every word of this reframed America as beyond question.
Was this the beginning of the “reckoning” with slavery and racism that America needed but refused? If so, where did it go from here, and when did it end? Could it end? Should it end? So I asked the question**.
Will there ever be a Day Zero where we put the past of slavery and racism behind us and look forward? Can there be?
What will it take to make that happen?
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) August 19, 2019
The replies, as well as the quote-twits, were unsatisfying. Some construed this as suggesting that it would somehow eliminate history, drawing a poor analogy to Jews and the Holocaust. Some responses were mere social justice restatements of the question, providing a clear signal of virtue without any useful response.
There was a cynical response that racism was too facile a means of pushing the progressive agenda that it could never end as that would leave people without excuses, grievances and money-making opportunities. There was a cynical response that black people would let this white guy know when, and in the meantime he should shut up and do as he’s told.
None of this suggests that there is either interest or agreement that we can achieve some point of reconciliation with the past (not forget history, but get past it). It we were to have a commission to consider reparations, putting aside the enormous issues with the concept, would it matter if a generation from now a new cry for a reckoning is heard, new demands for reparations are made, and whatever is done now no longer counts?
No one speaks for all African Americans, just as no one speaks for any identitarian group, so it’s not as if there is one person who can give a hard answer like “admit you’re wrong, apologize sincerely and never do it again” will resolve the issue.
The problem, however, is that if the issue cannot be resolved, can never be faced by everyone, then there is a serious question about whether we’re attempting to do something useful for America or opening a Pandora’s box that will never close and never satisfy anyone or fix any problem. So I ask the question here: Is there any way to face our historical failings, whatever they are, and resolve them so that we can all, black and white, overcome racism and move forward?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.
** To some, merely asking the question was itself racist, or at least had some nefarious implication.