The 1519 Project: Bret Stephens displayed a bit of cheek in Saturday's New York Times.
His famous newspaper is now involved in a major search involving—among other things—the brutal American past. In Saturday's column, he decided to go his paper exactly a hundred years better:
STEPHENS (8/24/19): When Hernán Cortés and his men landed on the coast of Mexico, in 1519, they encountered a world of utter barbarity: incessant warfare, endemic slavery, and human sacrifice on an immense scale. They, in turn, inflicted their own barbarities: massacres, epidemics, forced labor and religious intolerance.You read that year correctly! Cortés began his conquest of the Aztec empire in 1519 [sic], when he was 34.
Whether one barbarity was better than the other is not a particularly interesting debate. The conquest of Mexico was another chapter of history as it usually is, a contest for power with little hope for progress.
This occurred in the part of the world now known as Mexico. According to the leading authority on his life, Cortés "was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas."
Last weekend, in its Sunday magazine, the occasionally self-involved New York Times launched a self-described "major initiative." To review that edition, click here.
This major initiative is called "The 1619 Project." A sensitive observer could almost imagine a bit of overweening pride on the part of the New York Times as the routinely ludicrous newspaper built a framework around its new undertaking:
THE NEW YORK TIMES (8/18/19): In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.That text refers to a photograph of an ocean "horizon"—one which looks exactly like every other ocean horizon everywhere in the world. That said, those were the first words a reader encountered if he or she decided to tackle the Times' new quasi-journalistic project.
At any rate, finally! Finally, after all these years, someone was finally going "to tell our story truthfully!" And sure enough:
According to the New York Times, that truth-telling entity was going to be the New York Times itself!
After this initial reveal, editors from this occasionally silly newspaper extended their words of self-praise. Mercifully, these self-impressed souls went unnamed as they offered this description:
THE NEW YORK TIMES (continuing directly): The 1619 ProjectFinally! A persistently silly, incompetent newspaper had finally decided to "reframe our history!" Newly describing 1619 as the year of "our true founding," the persistently incompetent paper was going to reconstruct "the story we tell ourselves," the one "about who we are."
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.
We don't mean to prejudge the value of any work the Times will publish as part of this self-ballyhooed project. And of course, everyone but the persistently silly have long understood that our nation's brutal racial history lies at the heart of the American experience, such as it has been.
We don't mean to prejudge the value of any work the Times will publish. That said, we will suggest this:
When an entity like the Times undertakes a "major initiative" on so deeply important a topic, readers would be well-advised to check their wallets every step of the way.
Was Atlanta's traffic jam this morning a result of that brutal history? Did we put too much sugar in our coffee as a result of that history?
Everything is possible! But it's also true that everything can be "reframed," and made the object of our focus, to the possibly unhelpful exclusion of everything else.
At any rate, Stephens observed his employers' year of departure and saw them a century more. As he continued, he left no doubt—his citation of Cortes' year of entry into what is now Mexico was, at least in part, meant to be ironic:
STEPHENS (continuing directly): The Conquistadors and their successors also imported millions of African slaves. Seen in the overall context of the Western Hemisphere—or, for that matter, most of the pre-modern world—the arrival of more than 20 slaves in Virginia a century later was abominable, but not unique.The 1619 Project is named for the year when those first twenty enslaved persons arrived, against their will, on the shores of our own Virginia. But just for the record, and as Stephens notes, this was part of a hemisphere-wide—indeed, world-wide—system of "barbarities" which had already been underway for a long time at that point.
Does it matter if this constellation of barbarities was already well underway? Does it matter when people like Stephens place the events of 1619 (and beyond) in a wider historical context?
It's pretty much as you'd have it! Personally, we think it's unhelpful and unwise to approach this matter as the Times is doing, though our basic reasons for thinking that seem to be somewhat different from the reservations Stephens goes on to express.
In thinking that way about the Times' project, we could always be wrong. But then again, there was the latest front-page report in that Saturday morning Times, in the same edition which carried Stephens' column.
That front-page report wasn't part of The 1619 Project, except perhaps in spirit. It was the latest front-page report about New York City's public schools—a report which again suggested that "desegregation," and virtually nothing else, will affect the lives of the 1.1 million kids attending those schools today.
Just for the record, the kids attending those public schools weren't alive in 1619. They were all born in the past twenty years. In some cases, they have a younger brother or sister who was born on this very day.
Those brothers and sisters will attend Gotham's public schools too. They'll enter kindergarten in the late summer or fall of 2024, in what a sensate human might even think about calling "The 2024 Project."
What kinds of schools will those children attend? How much happiness will they find in those schools?
To what extent will they end up being equipped to play rewarding roles in the American future, to the extent that such a future exists? How much pleasure will they take from their the various things they do in public school classrooms? How much pleasure will they take from their personal reading?
We ask these questions because the New York Times won't. At that frequently fatuous newspaper, a traffic jam in Atlanta calls 1619 to mind, and the lives of 1.1 million Gotham kids are about only one thing—a "desegregation" which goes unexplained and, absent some sort of explanation, can't necessarily be imagined by sensible human beings.
The Times' ongoing treatment of this topic involves what may be the worst print journalism we have ever seen. It also involves a strange devotion to the past. Also, a refusal to come to terms with the future which rivals Mister Trump's persistently crazy claims concerning climate change.
On its front page this Saturday morning, the New York Times was humping some imagined form of "desegregation" again. Its lengthy report made no earthly sense, in all the standardized ways.
On its front page, the Times was discussing this unexplained god. On page A24, that annoying person, the columnist Stephens, was suggesting that his brutally woke employers may suffer from a type of tunnel vision concerning affairs of this type.
In our view, that front-page report validated the skepticism Stephens seemed to be shopping around. Babies are being born today. What will their histories be?
We'd call that The 2024 Project; it's a bit of a search for tomorrow. Will the tragically woke, obsessive Times ever clamber aboard that sputtering bus?
This project takes place in the future. It involves milk-drinking children born far from Atlanta on this very day.
Tomorrow: As (finally) seen in paragraph 32...