According to the 1619 Project's’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, America was founded on liberty, equality, and…slavery. The institution of slavery, she argues, was the foundation upon which the country achieved its economic and political greatness. It’s a claim that set the cultural world on fire when the 1619 Project was published in the New York Times in 2019 and now, as she compiles and expands upon that project in a new book, controversy has erupted once again.
Why the 1619 Project triggered a US culture war?
America, the saying goes, was founded on liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. That's what makes the US "exceptional."
Not for Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who believes the institutional foundation upon which the US achieved its economic and political greatness is... slavery.
Almost three years ago, she published the 1619 Project, a landmark piece of modern journalism that's as loved on one end of the US political spectrum as hated on the other. And surely enough in today's divided America, it sparked a full-blown culture war.
Hannah-Jones admits some of the criticism was fair. In fact, she’s just published an extended version of the project in book form in part to improve the original. But she rejects those who’ve tried to disqualify her and the project altogether.
A lot of the backlash against her can be traced to many Americans never learning in school that slavery was not at all accidental. "We chose it,” she says, “and it led to our success in many ways."
Even Black people, she recalls from growing up, are "erased" from US history from the Civil War until the civil rights movement.
Most Americans, in her opinion, fail to see the problem because they "are deeply, deeply invested in this mythology of exceptionalism." And to believe in that, Hannah-Jones says that "then you have to downplay the role of slavery" in a nation that's been "plagued by racism and inequality from our beginning."