The 1619 Project

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryDuring a brief zoom meeting with some friends of mine, one of my friends brought up the fact that he was reading the book The 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones. There is also a TV series by the same name about when slavery was brought into the English colonies in that time period. The book, like the TV series, was highly recommended by The New York Times. Basically, in a nutshell, both talk about when slavery was introduced into the English colonies and that America’s origins is entirely due to the institution of slavery. Um, I have problems with this analogy. There is no question that slavery became part of the fabric of early American colonial society, and there is no doubt that the institution survived into the formation of the early American Republic.

But there is a difference between it being a part of the fabric of the whole of America and being the institution that made America what it is. This is NOT the case. Take the date of 1619 itself. The first slaves were not actually imported into the English colonies. True, between 30 to 40 African slaves were brought into Virginia on that date aboard the two English ships the White Lion and the Treasurer. But these African slaves were initially brought out of what is now Angola by the Portuguese conquerors who made war against this African nation. These African slaves were on board the Portuguese slave ship Sao Joao Bautista. The two English shops had boarded the Portuguese ship and seized these African slaves and brought them to Virginia.

However, these Africans were not exactly slaves since at the time there were no laws in the colony of Virginia that said who could be a slave and who could not be. Nonetheless, the colonists did not exactly want to let these Africans go either, so they were sold for ordinary household items like soap. Later these Africans would become free. Laws governing slavery in Virginia and other English colonies in the North America would be a gradual process which would define who were slaves and make slavery (especially for Africans and those of African origin) hereditary. This took decades, and did not happen in 1619. Besides, what slaves did exist in the English colonies in the early 17th Century were primarily Native Americans taken in time of war, not Africans. Importing Africans at the time would have been a costly affair.

Of course, it does not justify slavery, but nevertheless slavery became part of some of the English colonies in the Americas. It remained an integral part of certain states until it was completely abolished in 1865 with the end of the U.S. Civil War. Ending slavery in the United States proved to be a very bloody and costly affair. What I object to is saying that the United States is an inherently racist country, and its whole foundation was built on slavery. Nothing could be more false. If any of this was true then would have slavery ended, and would Americans have fought a very bloody war to end it? The big problem I have with the whole 1619 project is that it has been founded on a fallacy trying to use facts, half-truths and outright lies for a narrative that is not true to historical fact. As I condemn the extreme right, so I condemn the radical left for trying to create a narrative of what they think America was and what it should be. I see it as an attempt, as a measure to deconstruct truth.

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