Book Review–1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project

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One excellent guide through America’s agonized spasms is Peter W. Wood’s “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project.” Peter W. Wood has a Ph.D. in anthropology and was a tenured professor at Boston University. He is president of the National Association of Scholars.

Peter W. Wood’s book is a must-read

By: Danusha V. Goska

Recent years have seen eruptions of violence and hate in America: riots, looting, the tearing down of statues. Often those rioting are privileged white youth. One wonders, why are self-described “anti-racist” riots happening now? Today’s African Americans have power and wealth that would have been unimaginable to their ancestors. Americans have elected a black president, a black vice president, and there are many current and former black governors, senators, congressmen and women, SCOTUS justices, professors, journalists, entrepreneurs, millionaires and billionaires, bestselling authors, A-list film stars, influencers, trend-setters and adored entertainers and athletes. Interracial marriage is an accepted feature of American life; indeed, Prince Harry, Kim Kardashian, John Legend, Tiger Woods, Candace Owens, Clarence Thomas, George Lucas, Robert DeNiro, Serena Williams and Heidi Klum are just a few of the celebrities in current and former interracial love matches. Why then has race-informed rage inflamed so many?

One excellent guide through America’s agonized spasms is Peter W. Wood’s “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project.” Peter W. Wood has a Ph.D. in anthropology and was a tenured professor at Boston University. He is president of the National Association of Scholars. He has written an easy-to-read guide to the 1619 Project. Almost like a pop-up book, “1620” expands into an anthology if one follows the many references to online essays that Wood provides.

Wood is never anything but courteous and cool-headed, but he also refuses to walk on eggshells. His prose is direct and unapologetic. For example, Wood writes that the 1619 Project is “an effort to destroy America by teaching children that America never really existed, except as a lie told by white people in an effort to control black people. It eradicates American history and American values in one sweep.” This effort to destroy America by distorting American history is of great import. “American history is important because … We Americans have so little to substantiate our common identity.” Similarly, Wood cites numerous scholars who are equally plainspoken. Allen Guelzo, for example, said “The 1619 Project is not history; it is ignorance.” Gordon S. Wood called the project “perverse and distorted.”

At the same time, Wood acknowledges that taking on the 1619 Project is a quixotic quest. “Criticisms of the 1619 Project seem as futile as moths beating their wings against a porch light.” Nikole Hannah-Jones is a celebrity and is “exempt from ordinary forms of accountability.” Regarding the 1619 Project’s slickly-produced advertisement, aired during the Academy Awards, Wood wrote, “Historians publishing articles that detail the numerous inaccuracies in the Times’ pseudohistory are up against a famous, popular, and distinctive singer-actress and a soundtrack that dictates what your feelings should be. It is no contest.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones said it would be “an honor” for her to accept responsibility for the riots and looting in the summer of 2020, and to accept the name “The 1619 Riots.” Photo Credit: YouTube.com

The New York Times premiered the 1619 Project in August, 2019. The Project consists, inter alia, of newspaper and magazine articles, school curricula, live events, and a podcast. The 1619 Project, Wood notes, has, in a precious touch, its very own font. The goal of the 1619 Project is “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.” The 1619 Project is promoted by the National Education Association, The Zinn Education Project / Rethinking Schools, and The Pulitzer Center, among others.

Iowa-born, 45-year-old Nikole Hannah-Jones, the daughter of a black father and a Czech-American mother, is the driving force behind the 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones worked as a journalist with the Oregonian, the Raleigh News and Observer, and ProPublica before moving to the New York Times in 2015. Hannah-Jones said it would be “an honor” for her to accept responsibility for the riots and looting in the summer of 2020, and to accept the name “The 1619 Riots.” As Wood records in his book, Hannah-Jones has repeatedly contradicted herself, made comments she later denied making, and deleted extreme tweets, including one that accused her scholarly black critics of not caring about enslaved children. In response to these black critics, Hannah-Jones expressed contempt for them by tweeting a photograph of her pointing to her gold teeth. Hannah-Jones won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her introductory essay to the 1619 Project.

Wood summarizes the 1619 Project’s main points: America began, the 1619 Project argues, not with the traditionally celebrated date of July 4, 1776, commemorating the Declaration of Independence. Rather, America began when the White Lion, a pirate ship, brought “slaves” to Virginia in August 1619. Further, “the primary purpose of the colonists who declared independence from Britain in 1776 was to preserve American slavery from the danger of Britain’s outlawing it; the Southern plantation system of growing cotton with slave labor is the foundation of modern American capitalism; Lincoln was a racist who had no interest in conferring real citizenship on those who were enslaved … The nation’s history is best understood as a struggle by American blacks against white supremacy … Black Americans fought back alone against discrimination … without this struggle [by blacks] America would have no democracy at all.” Wood says that entire books could be written in opposition to any one of these main points. “The 1619 Project simply ignores the abolition movement … It likewise ignores the huge role of white Americans in the post-Civil War constitutional amendments, and in the civil rights movement.” Another claim of the 1619 Project is that slavery has been ignored by American historians. In fact, Wood writes, “One would be hard pressed to find another historical subject that has produced a greater volume of scholarship.”

1619 Project rhetoric implies that slavery was an American invention; in fact slavery has existed across the globe for thousands of years. It implies that 12.5 million Africans were shipped to America. In fact the real number is 388,000. The remainder were shipped to the Caribbean and Central and South America. The arrival of Africans in 1619 “inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years … it is the country’s very origin.” False on two points, Wood argues. The Africans who arrived in 1619 landed in a colony that was not comparable to the antebellum, plantation-era South. Rather, they landed in a colony where indentured workers could earn their way to freedom and go on to purchase their own slaves.

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