A Critical Look at the 1619 Project | Glenn Loury & John McWhorter [The Glenn Show]

hey there John McWhorter welcome to the Glenn show I’m Glenn Lowry Brown University affiliated with the Watson Institute for International and public affairs which sponsors the Glitter show professor of economics here and I’m talking to John McWhorter who’s professor at Columbia University we are the black guys of black heads that TV and we are back so welcome back John it’s been thank you how are you doing more than a couple weeks I’m doing well I’m just back from eight days in Korea which is pretty interesting mm-hmm and I celebrated a birthday yesterday which I’m happy to be able to announce we don’t we won’t say which one but then everybody knows just what you did oh yes it’s my birthday thank you very much my wife by the way John my wife Lewan sends her regards I don’t know why she thinks you’re worth having regard said to bend you’re mine as well I’ll do that I’ll do that here we are school is back John with professors and the students are on campus I have my first tomorrow I gather you’ve already started I’ve done a couple already yep we’re back to actually earning our living and so yeah I know it’s kind of unreasonable that they would ask you to actually work you know most people seem to think that professors teach in the summer too like people always say are you gonna be teaching in the summer and the truth is very often we don’t teach in the summer but and it’s because one of the most and the end evil things about what we do is that we don’t have to work in the summer and we still get paid I like that yeah well it out.you your reputation you actually do have to work because you have to produce scholarship otherwise your colleagues sitting with their arms folded like this tapping their toes and wondering what the you’re doing taking therefore yeah what are you breathing my air you haven’t produced anything lately right grants by the way people who think you get tenure and it’s over it never ends the pressure is always there it’s a self enforced machine you want to maintain the esteem your colleagues and so you better get something done in the summertime what you guys want you do puppet is that that might be true in economics in linguistic depending on where you are you can get away with after tenure not producing as much I’ll bet in economics that’s that’s harder but in linguistics you can slide somewhat alright I do think it’s harder all I know it’s what I know and it replaced I’ve ever been it’s been full of neurotics wondering about how they’re going to get their paper published in the journal of political economy next of next quarter right and if you don’t yeah yeah yeah seminars you have to give talks otherwise people forget this week the graduate students won’t find you interesting anymore if you’re not every now and then saying something interesting and right I mean I find all that are fun you know I liked it in the summer you can actually write a paper I wrote a paper less I’m rain you go to conferences and it’s easier because you don’t have to miss classes and stuff like that yeah I mean I think if you’re in the right business all of that is something you look forward to but you don’t have to go to work every day in each school which is a different lifestyle for those three months yeah okay so we are back it is early September school is starting again and I have been having this interesting experience the last few weeks John and maybe you as well of getting queries from people asking me they’ve been saying it in the comment section of my podcast post which have nothing to do with the issue they’ve been sending me emails I’ve been getting messages at my Facebook page from people asking me will you please talk about the 16:19 project this is the undertaking at the New York Times Magazine devoting itself to a reformulation of the historical narrative of the United States of America that centers the year 1619 rather than the year 1776 as the sort of landmark fundamental founding of the country 1619 being a year as everybody knows when African slaves first imported to the colonies the British colonies here in the United States of course African slaves have been coming to the so-called New World Caribbean and South America for years but 1619 before the Mayflower some 20-odd enslaved persons landed in Virginia and we inaugurate the long brutal era of chattel slavery in the United States and the 1619 project as I understand it undertakes to tell the story of American of the creation of the American nation state the American economy the American polity the Constitution the the sort of core narrative for the country in terms of the unfolding dynamic that is initiated in 1619 and people asking me what do you think about this please talk about this at the Glenn show and I could think of no better interlocutor with home to pursue this subject what do we think about the 1619 project than you John so well you they’ve been asking me that too and I almost haven’t wanted to say anything because one I don’t want to get repetitious into I don’t want to be mean about the work that goes into a project like that I mean that’s that’s heavy duty journalism and the people who are putting it together I’m gonna have to say they’re part of something larger than they have any way to have a sense of it so it’s not a problem the individual writers the main theme of it seems to be that um slavery is what America has always been all about that the American historical story has to have slavery not just as one element in it not just as one important element but as the fulcrum that we need to have this whole shift in perspective this whole paradigm shift in perspective on what America is and that vision and the way that it’s wielded in these articles and in like-minded pieces is once again it’s religious I mean what’s going on is an idea that for example it really reminds me of the courses I used to teach here at Columbia and may again on say the Scholastic’s on the kind of philosophy where you’re sitting there waiting for the person to be a philosopher but I can’t quite happen yet because it’s 1200 AD and anybody who calls himself philosopher has to base everything on certain Christian tenets and so what you’re supposed to be all about is proving the existence of God and anything that strays from that and more forbid anything to questions that is simply not allowed and so it’s almost hard to teach this stuff because it can’t get away from that Thomas Aquinas is a very tough thing to teach it’s brilliant as he was this is that the idea that slavery is all that we need to talk about and to be honest Glenn I find it it’s lazy I mean frankly with the medieval ‘s they couldn’t help it intellectual history had only gotten so far but the idea here is ignore what people are calling complexity ignore all these cross currents that people are detracting are distracting you with and instead think of this entire country this entire experiment everything that’s happened over these four hundred years all of it can be summed up in one word slavery that is the man with a hammer to whom everything is a nail and it’s simplistic thinking and none of this work to me provides a coherent justification for why we should go from the way we look at these things say thirty years ago to this new paradigm where we reduce everything to this moralizing and that’s what it is it’s not intellectual it’s moralizing about slavery and slavery alone and so I’m disappointed because I feel like it’s low rent low rent thinking disguised as higher wisdom well there he said it you realize of course John that there are a lot of white guys out there maybe a few girls too who are delighted to hear you say what you just said yeah I mean I interpret the number of queries that I got in my inbox from people and the number of comments that I saw at my podcast posts from people about would you please talk about what you please talk about this as a request for cover that is to say they’re asking that the black guys give them permission mm-hmm to dis the 16:19 project you see if we could more or less articulately more or less intelligently critique it as black guys then that means that the white guys and a few girls would not be racist for seeing the inadequacies of the 16:19 project so that’s that’s the duty that you’re doing are you comfortable are you comfortable playing that role John yes all those people are looking for us to give them cover however those people are correct that this 16:19 business is tragically oversimplified and they’re correct that if they say so in any kind of public forum or even private one often they’re gonna be called racists they are correct that that’s neither fair nor coherent and if what it takes is two black guys to say you know what you’re not crazy then I dare anybody to say that we don’t qualify as black in having the feelings that we do and as such yeah we have a responsibility to say yes there’s something wrong with this vastly oversimplified medieval way of looking at American history and proposing it as a new paradigm and in advance on previous ways of thought so yeah sorry the fact that they may be exploiting us doesn’t mean that they are wrong on the issue well I want the audience to know that you remember that old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto when they are surrounded by Indians and they are about to go down to bow and arrow and the Lone Ranger says to Tonto what are we gonna do now and Tonto turns to the Lone Ranger says what you mean we white man the doctor do you maybe we use a different I am yet to utter a word of evaluations but about it yeah I thought H by yourself yeah let’s pretend we disagree okay but I wanna I want to chime in with a couple of things why now seems it is a question that I would like to ask we are in a certain moment you used the religious metaphor to characterize what woke sensibility would have to say about white supremacy which we know is at the root of American Empire which is at the foundation of inequality which is the basis of American capitalism Mathew Desmond the Pulitzer prize-winning sociologist at Princeton whose book evicted is a very fine contribution to contemporary literature it’s a study of housing and security in Milwaukee very fine Pulitzer Prize winning effort but his contribution to this project is to characterize American capitalism as being especially rapacious don’t you know that the American welfare state is puny that the extent to which we you know have minimum wage or we have union participation in the economic realm or we have security for health care or whatever is relatively scant in comparison to other advanced and wealthy democratic countries and the reason for that he says if slavery it’s the evolution of the American economic system out of what was a rampant and unrestrained exploitation of the labor of the of the African enslaved people that’s Matthew Desmond Nicola Hannah Jones pretty much says you know that the founding that is the conventional founding the one that you and I learned about in school the one that you know where 1776 Jefferson the Declaration of Independence you know that one the one that culminates in the constitution of 18 1787 the one that is the founding of the longest-running you know functioning democratic republic the one that is the instantiation of enlightenment ideals about governance and about the dignity of the human that actually got created in institutions on the ground the one that gave rise to the defeat of fascism in Asia and in Europe etc okay the one that was the home to wave after wave after wave of immigrant who have come here and made their lives the one that actually abolished slavery I mean isn’t it curious slavery is a common place in human history what’s unique what’s interesting what’s different is the abolition of slavery that is the fruit of the spirit of 1776 it would it would appear to me there’s it’s cetera we could go on in this vein I did have a point with that grant Wow which is maybe to just reaffirm your observation that it is a simplistic telling of the story but it is a very compelling way to look at the story for many people I have a colleague I’m not going to name him I have great respect for him he’s a distinguished academic and he was literally gushing to me over the telephone about this project about how deeply patriotic it was the Conservatives are attacking Hannah Jones and others for what they regard the Conservatives as a dissing of you know the American narrative and my friend was telling me oh no no no actually actually it’s it’s a deeply patriotic account from the bottom up viewed from the position of the african-american of the enslaved person of the freedmen of the disenfranchised in Jim Crow south of the you know hopeful hopeful ever hopeful civil rights movement that the promissory note of American freedom would finally be honored in the case of African Americans all this kind of stuff but but I didn’t really think it was very patriotic I didn’t think it was very honest in a way the word solipsistic EPP coming to my mind you know the topical position that you can’t be sure there’s any other mind in your own mind right they can’t be sure there’s any other story than this racial story that they want to tell and there are other stories I mean really American democracy in all of its glory and with all of its faults and flaws is best understood with a narrative that puts slavery at the center of it really mean so I was dubious about the intellectual merits of that of that move of the move that they’re making by but why now like this is my question boy a lot of this is I mean yes it’s true the United States it’s important from the historical perspective to realize that this was part of a much larger story that these were colonies it wasn’t just one these were colonies and these transatlantic colonies that a few European countries ceded all over the world were almost all founded in slavery of an utterly unforgivable and brutal nature and I think people will argue over whether there could be a United States if there had been slavery but it would be a different United States and they’re great many of those colonies know if there had been Plantation slavery they wouldn’t have existed there will be no Jamaica if there had not been Plantation slavery and so it’s an important point to make but what worries me is what people are intending from stressing the point because the fact is it’s been a while and yes slavery didn’t mean that racism was over or that it’s over now but it’s been a while this is a very large and very diverse nation in which an awful lot has happened since the beginning of the 1600s the history here is large and the idea of saying well really you can abstractly think that none of it would have been possible without the work that these slaves did this unpaid labor these slaves did and therefore we begin not in 1776 but with 1619 and that that’s how we should understand what this is if it’s logical but it’s a stretch and the question is why that stretched now and I think the answer is Donald Trump the ideas that we have in you and I never argue about whether he’s a racist but he certainly is not polite about however he feels about people who are not white and certainly there is Charlottesville and what he said about that there is a rise in the open expression of statements that one would call at least not exactly graceful about race and so obviously The Times has decided that they want to make a countervailing statement and so that America is all about slavery but the question is why and so all these people stand up and talk about this solipsistic talk about oh how patriotic all this is and how good I’m sure made that person to say that whoever it was audience I do not know even offstage here who Glenn is talking about and the question is okay let’s let’s suppose and I think that it’s rather weak to say that all of black problems trace to slavery but which is what the implication here is but why why do we need to know this and why do we need to think about this all the time and I think that really there can be only one reason no one that says it you know we’re supposed to we have to think of it this way and nobody explains what the payoff is supposed to be is it supposed to be that white people run around feeling guilty that’s so senseless that I’m gonna assume that that’s not the point there must be some larger point and the only logical point could be we are supposed to look at America being founded in slavery and therefore evaluate black people differently than we would evaluate other people we’re supposed to think about 1619 and therefore look at any disparities between the races and realize that the reason is not that there’s something wrong with black people but that 1619 heaven and there’s a map that I’m sure you’ve seen that shows where Plantation slavery was most concentrated and where today black people are the poorest and the idea is supposed to show that slavery is the reason that there’s so many poor black people in places a B and C can see the strike that kook you sneaks throughout the south so it’s that kind of reasoning and the problem is that’s not the most transparent point so Dean Becky or whoever it is is standing behind a podium and talking about how this lesson must be taught to America we must think about this and nobody says why I think the implied why is black people’s failures today and it’s funny Glenn you would say black people’s failures I would say disparities between blacks and whites I don’t think any black people have failed but all of that is due to this and the fact is it’s not it’s not it’s not a logical point I’m almost finished but you think very quickly for a long time man yeah the old black business districts in the early 20th century and what those go away racism increased in 1950 I don’t think so and then also how welfare started to be administered in the late 1960s there’s a story that nobody tells and finally also the change in ideology in the sixties all those things have a lot to do with the disparities that we see today it wasn’t only 1619 ok well you said a lot of things I think in response I might try to distinguish between what the 1619 project that the New York Times were a Dean Beck a is the there’s a senior editor what it says about the country what it says about the United States and distinguish between that and what it says about the conditions of african-americans which are calling the disparities one kind of claim our narrative and this is given voice in Nicole Hannah Jones’s lead essay is that there’s something hypocritical about the centering of freedom and the ideals of you know life liberty and the pursuit of happiness all persons are created equal Jefferson declarations and stuff like that it’s kind of hypocrisy there they said it but they didn’t mean it they were slaveholders when they were saying it it only applied to white male property owners we’ve been fighting for the last 200 years to write that ship there was a century or nearly a century three-quarters of a century after the founding of the country when slavery was being practiced and then another century after the Emancipation when the descendants of slaves were held outside the orbit of full citizenship so stop breaking your arm patting yourself on the back city on a hill let’s change that narrative because white supremacy lies at the core of and then we go on America is not all that it thought that it was of the self-congratulatory tone of American chauvinistic chest-thumping needs to be revised and then there’s also I think as you’ve put your finger on implications of this centering of slavery with respect to interpreting what you’re right I’m gonna call them failures interpreting the history of the last half-century the social history of african-americans since the civil rights movement because the fact of the matter is that emancipation was a big deal I’m talking about 1863 and then with the conclusion of the Civil War the enactment of the 13th 14th and 15th amendment that was a huge big deal that was freedom no it was not equal citizenship yes Jim Crow racism and subordination continued yeah I’ve heard about lynching those things happen terrorism it was terrible it was terrible but compared to channel slavery the capacity of people to shape their own lives to develop their skills to raise their families to create things like the black business districts that you were giving a voice to prefer to come to own lanta to give a toll to migrate out of the south into the urban manufacturing enclaves of the industrializing united states of the late 19th early 20th century compared to being hailed as channel that certainly was a landmark move and a move from I don’t know 1954 to 1970 if you will accept my bracketing of the civil rights movement in that time frame was I saw a monumental structural transformation of institutions in the United States now in the wake of that the disparities persist the over-represented tation amongst the impoverished the fractured families the huge test court gets the you know you could go down the list one after another after another social indicator of inequality the so-called wealth gap and so forth and so on what’s up with that you people a person might say an unkind person are enjoying the fruits of freedom and equal citizenship at least not perfectly so but very substantially so and yet and yeah okay Hannah Jones dismisses she says at one point in her article she says and this really blew my top she says yes there are these statistics and they are these disparities and they are as predictable as anything given the horrific characters like really it was predictable that 70% of black babies would be born to a woman was not married it was predictable that the homicide rate amongst african-americans young men would be ten times higher than it is amongst white it was predictable that a majority of african-american students in one school system after another test below basic proficiency in reading and in mathematics all these things were predictable really they were necessary consequences of this history I don’t believe that for a moment and what that says about black people is horrific in my view it says we are simply the products of an oppressive history and any flaws you find in our social functioning are to be attributed to what Tolu white people white supremacy it smacks of somebody who we will leave nameless in this conversation but you know who I’m talking about and this house this whole shtick this whole apologia that’s what it is it’s apologia it is giving an account of failure that’s what it is it’s laying off the responsibility for failure on structured okay and you know I find that deeply philosophically unsatisfying onion go ahead well I just want to bolster something you were saying to make it clear to the that predictable line is particularly weak in that that’s not the way black America was 50 years ago 80% you know latter day stuff yeah a lot of the gap stuff is latter day stuff its post-world War two stuff it’s not baked into the cake from slavery and no account is given you mentioned the structure of the American welfare state and the incentives that that create you might also want to talk about the drifts in in African American culture and how its influenced patterns of behavior that are that are disadvantageous I suppose again there’s enough blame to go around and yes racism and exclusion will have to be a part of the story but that there the whole story that you know that that’s impossible there stay but the only thing I’m going to say is if I were Irish I would resent having the American story centered on slavery I would say no it was more than that I would say something about my ancestors migrating to the country under duress and whatnot and finding an opportunity and helping to build the country sorta if I were Jewish I mean think about this think about other groups adopting the same chauvinistic solipsistic moral high-ground high-handedness the whole country is built on our backs there are a lot of but for that you wouldn’t have had this there are a lot of things like that what about the settlement of the West what about the people who moved out in Concord and settled the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains and then west of the Mississippi River and then etcetera what about the Southern and Eastern European immigrants what about the Jews imagine imagine a narrative in which you say this country is founded on the excellent achievements of and then put your group put your favorite group in there and then they tick off if it hadn’t been for our forefather who did this or I hadn’t done that you wouldn’t have this or you have that mm-hmm what kind of way is that to talk to your fellow countrymen really they owe their freedom and prosperity to your suffering that’s your account and you expect to do politics with it and of course expect to compromise with them in to create institutions that actually solve problems that you all have in common that’s you begin the conversation with this kind of supercilious smugness and you expect everybody to just lay down and not in affirmation and yeah the thing is the answer from any of these people would be yes yeah I think they’re an awful lot of smart accomplished black people for example who really do want it to be that way that they’re supposed to be a sense that everybody out Al’s to them when it comes to moral issues that anything that goes wrong for them has to be understood partly as the result of 1619 etc and what worries me about this sort of thing is that it’s symptomatic of a thread in the American social fabric and it’s the sort of thing where you know just like if you ask a white person if they’re a racist that’s not gonna get at the trees you’re not gonna ask a black guy about this you’re not gonna ask a black guy do you feel like you’re owed a pass because of black people’s history and slavery and Jim Crow most people would say no but I’m sure psychological experiments could be done that will reveal a kind of truth that you see and I’m beginning to use the New York subway for a lot of my examples and some people say they’re just anecdotes but I insist no they are no more just anecdotes than the typical sort of thing that somebody on the Left will say about a white person and nowadays it’s white people who are talking about white people this way if some anecdote about some white guy who’s you know manspreading in some shopping mall or something is about real life well then the sorts of things that I see being on the streets of New York City every day of my life they they do mean something because I’ve been experiencing this for a long time that’s the other day I was in a crowded subway car where you know seats are only opening up so much and there was a guy next to me black guy probably about 27 and you know he clearly thinks that the rules different for him and importantly this is no quote unquote he’s not a criminal he’s not dangerous he’s not a terrible person but you could already see a certain look on his face this sort of don’t tread on me look on his face which most other people don’t have but in his case I think he’s internalized I don’t call it a failure he’s internalized what he what he subconsciously thinks of as a black man’s default demeanor which is frankly this demeanor of you now you might say that he lives in a neighborhood where he has to adopt that demeanor in order not to be picked on okay so I’ll give him some sympathy for that although I say also again he didn’t seem dangerous seems just frankly is ordinariness is what worries me but anyway we’re standing there and a seat opens up now the unspoken etiquette in the subway is that seats go to older people to pregnant people or if you are young or in my case youngish man you internalize a sense that if there’s say even a 35 or 40 year old woman with a couple of shopping bags she gets the seat yeah if you are a healthy male your senses you only take that seat if there’s no one else who’s kind of you know lower on the physical totem pole than you now there all sorts of people like that around a woman Chinese woman clearly doesn’t speak English who’s standing there with all her bags this guy shoves his way over gently and takes the seat now why doesn’t he know that pecking order he’s probably lived in New York his whole life I learned this after about two weeks in New York City and it’s fine with me but more to the point here’s how he sits and folks if you can’t hear it I’m sorry but imagine me hanging on the bars as if I’m doing pull-ups so he takes his hands and he puts them on the bar and slowly hangs himself down into the seat which means that he has to take up space you have to have your arms spread and everybody backs up and he’s got this baleful expression on his face and he plops down into that seat and then he just sits why did he have to sit that way everybody else when they sit down kind of pulls in their shoulders and sits daintily into the seat cause it’s crowded yeah the seats are too small anyway he’s got to get on there and hang from it like he’s in a gym and slowly what he’s saying and I’m sure that none of this was planned was y’all gotta watch out for me and some of it is masculinity he’s making himself bigger like he’s some kind of bird doing some sort of courtship and to be honest I’ve seen a lot of black guys get into the subway seat like that you got a hang from the bars why and the fact of the matter is where he gets this and the man who he’s subconsciously mimicking who conduct themselves that way in the Train all of them feel like they get a pass they feel like they don’t have to behave the way everybody else pays why would they feel that way they crazy no they don’t crazy they think that because the cops don’t like black people I think that’s the first thing we get and then in general you would get well with the way the United States treats black people we can do whatever we goddamn won this 16:19 business helps infect the country with that because those men may get a certain sense of self-protection and certain sense of having their say by behaving this way but it makes everybody else eat them and you can’t help wondering what kind of job anybody like that is likely to hold down beyond the level of stocking shelves you know anybody who conducts himself that way probably wouldn’t last delivering for FreshDirect you know he’s got that chip on his shoulder but he’s not gonna get anywhere in life I think that this 16 19 Series in creating this idea that black people are not subject to standards and that’s what it effectively does that black people get a pass ends up making too many black people worse and of course Daquan or whatever his name is he doesn’t read the New York Times so these are indirect matters but it’s a thread of society that says that black people don’t have to try as hard okay so here’s a rebuttal or I’m gonna try okay I’m gonna try mmm he’s angry mmm got a chip on his shoulder and he’s mad he’s angry because he has had to from day one deal with white supremacy and racism John I’m gonna actually use those words he’s had to deal with it whether it be a cop who is it rude and wraps him up somewhere mm-hmm disrespect a store manager who follows him around thinks he’s a thief somebody on that subway who looked at him askance just because he’s a black man or everything else in between he goes to his kids school the teachers and the principals don’t treat him like the other parents they presume that he’s stupid and doesn’t have anything to offer etc he’s angry he’s angry about the job where he should have gotten a promotion that went to a guy who had the right melanin content in his skin and it didn’t go to him he’s an angry black man and he’s got very good reason to be angry by the way you’re saying that he feels entitled what about all the black men all these generations who have had to suffer at the hands of dangled from trees because of lynch mobs we’ve had their skin stripped from them being dragged behind a pickup truck etc he has a right to be angry to put it on him first of all you abuse him then when he reacts sullenly you blame him classical blaming the victim John I’m really surprised that you okay tone aha see you make you the person who says that it was not you you’re making him sound like he’s Walter younger like he’s I’m imagining this black guy in a black-and-white movie in 1960 white people need to know that Walter Lee younger is the is the protagonist in a Raisin in the Sun the Lorraine Hansberry great play a very frustrated african-american man yeah those reasons and you know nobody would ask why Walter Lee is angry well because it was 1955 Chicago is why I don’t think that this guy now is living that life I think that very few people are looking at in dirty and I should say to everybody that he was out of the corner of my eye I was not looking him up and down all that he came to my consciousness very gradually but I don’t think anybody’s without him excuse me you dared not look him up and down if you’d look him up and down you’re inviting a conflict oh he would seem to start yelling I don’t think frankly that anybody at a PTA meeting presumes that he’s stupid I think that most of the people the white people at PTA meetings today would feel it upon themselves because they do read the New York Times to treat him with a kind of deference they probably would not give to a young white man I think that he has picked up a lot of demeanor the way any human being picks up demeanor from the peers closest to him and I think a lot of his attitude isn’t outdated in the in the bed-stuy context that he probably grew up in and he has no way of helping that in a way but nothing a society that really wanted to help this person would not support him in this sort of thing by promulgating this narrative that black people are never truly responsible for themselves now I don’t know how he’s been treated by the cops but I know that it’s at the point where with the way he conducts himself it would be much easier for things to go wrong between him and the cops and me and again I don’t blame him but I do see that that is the case that with that demeanor notice I don’t say attitude because that makes it sound like he’s trying but with that baked-in demeanor of his of don’t tread on me no matter what’s going on you’ve got to treat me different he’s never gonna get anywhere and he could get killed and so he I look at and I think wow you’re a lost cause you’re part of why people like Glenn and me have trouble with the ideology in society I don’t think it’s his fault but we elite people in promulgating narratives like this one that you and I don’t like we end up putting into the water the sort of thing that teaches people like him that it’s unblocked to really try to that to be black is to not be subject to the rules that everybody else’s and that no matter how much you justify it no matter how innocent this guy is it gets us nowhere fast but but here’s the reply that’s going to come from the people with the with the three names they’re going to say no no no black men and women for from the very beginning have been tried they tried to be landowners and had their land stolen from him they tried to be sure keepers and they were dispossessed they tried to participate in the political process and they would disenfranchise they went and fought wars for the country and came home and Hannah Jones makes a point out of this in her essay and we treated with disdain they could not earn the standing of equal citizenship even by being willing to surrender their lives on the battlefield in every war since the Civil War african-americans have fought on behalf of the Union on behalf of the flag on behalf of the country they’ve served and and yet they have men and women been denied so now with the fruit of that and we have to take this on because the claim is given all of that disenfranchisement marginalization and exclusion repression oppression discrimination now now we see quote-unquote failure that is you know we see the family disorganization and OBC behavioral problems to the young men and we see academic performance lagging or whatever it said we see and and you know you you take this reality of today out of the historical context and you put the responsibility for it on the shoulders of the people who have suffered the most don’t you know that there’s not a room you could go in whether it’s a newsroom a corporate office suite a sports franchise or some place you could go where the privilege attendant to whiteness is evident and where the exclusion is associated with with blackness is is also a part of the mix Hannah Jones calls our attention to the fact that because everything else good in America is the fruit of african-american suffering so too was the liberalization of the immigration laws in the mid-1960s the fruit of the civil rights movement in African America struggling and she says ironically they are asian-americans today who are going to try deny a seed at Harvard University I don’t think she names the University but she alludes to it based upon a civil rights claim that doesn’t have any resonance at all in American history but for the fact that African Americans made it first so African Americans man the barricades demanding non-european racist immigration policy in general public policy which allows Asian immigrants to come to the country in flourish and now those Asian immigrants who say don’t discriminate against me because I’m not black are ungrateful in effect they’re hypocrites and you know I mean it that’s that I’m sorry I’m arguing with myself I meant to be the devil’s advocate that’s the idea the idea is we’ve suffered them the idea is the perfection of this democracy of Obama says a more perfect union a more perfect union the perfection of this democracy step-by fitful step has been eat out as a consequence of african-americans striving to get their birthright here in this country and yeah it’s not such a pretty picture in the socio-economic landscape in many black communities but that’s readily understandable including this woman’s anger an alienation and sullenness readily enough know that that person’s view of American social history is is is unfortunately too edited roughly the idea seems to be that there was Plessy vs. Ferguson I’m trying to think of what it is Booker T Washington’s along and tries to set us back and he’s an Uncle Tom and he eats at the White House and they break the the crockery after he leaves that he ate off of and so I guess that’s part of it and then I guess the idea is that black people fought in World War one and two and pretty soon there’s the Montgomery bus boycott and you know a philip Randolph is in there somewhere but I get the feeling for a lot of people in the first about four decades of the 20th century the only thing to remember is the Tulsa riots and the idea that that happened in a lot of other places too so I guess for a lot of people I don’t think it’s new on them to know that any major city with a black population had a thriving black business district and a small but stable black middle-class and some black people who were almost rich I guess everybody knows that but I think people assume in a shorthand fashion that all of those places were just raised down by the Ku Klux Klan or something like that when really what happened is that those districts faded away after desegregation efforts started having some effect even in the 50s as opposed to the 60s when unfortunately the disaster resources of the white versions of all those stores that you could go to in the black districts ended up attracting black people as well now you can say that that’s unfortunate I wish I could grown up able to go to one of those all-black shopping districts all black banks and theaters etc but to say that it was racism that did those districts in as if something white people did or white hatred is what took care of the Shaw district in Washington DC or old black Los Angeles or old black San Francisco it’s simply it’s simply bad history or one other example is desegregation happens in the late 60s and talked about busing a lot of black kids wind up in white schools where because white people are still kind of backwards a lot of white people didn’t really want them there a lot of white teachers didn’t want them there the attitudes that those black kids encounter turn to generation of black kids against school thinking of it as something white that mean has been passed on even in schools where the whites have become much more enlightened because memes have a way of sticking for various reasons I won’t get into that is where the idea comes from and you know this this guy on the train may have been part of it that school is not quite a black thing unless roughly you’re studying black history or something like that that school is for white people that’s when it starts it starts in the late 60s as the result of racism then that was in the wake of the desegregation that we’re now calling Joe Biden a racist for having bet against because of the busing in other words just complex so the idea that black people being discriminated against is that the root of everything and you won’t might want to ask Anna Jones why are you so unconcerned with the fact that so many black students can’t get into Harvard without a special dispensation you know instead of being angry at the Asians or thinking hey civil rights was supposed to be for us why aren’t you thinking about how to make it so that we don’t need help to get into the top schools just like those Asian immigrants tones or priorities reflect this general meme of hers and I just don’t see it as sophisticated as a lot of these people think they think they know more history than some of the rest of us but their vision of how black history went is as if only for us history is this kind of simplistic fourth grade level diorama when really we’re all grown-ups and we’re supposed to realize that stuff is complicated and it’s complicated in a way that simply doesn’t lend itself to anything as tempting as narcotic as ambrosial as the notion that America is all slavery that’s you know it’s not gonna work it’s too it’s it’s too good that’s just not the way life goes yeah a couple of things you mentioned Donald Trump very briefly and I’m not gonna get into an argument with you about whether or not he’s a racist that I don’t regard that as a productive use of our time but but but I do think that the the fissures and schisms that we have in our political life associated with the rise of Donald Trump is related to the of the question why now about the 16:19 project it’s currently this pat political argument that some people on the right are making they had the Russia hoax it didn’t work out for them now they have to use the racism hoax in order to marginalize Donald Trump it’s partly that but I think even more fundamentally it’s that the supporters of Donald Trump have to be understood as somehow the latter day the modern day instantiation of this age-old defining American flaw which is white supremacy the the you know these battles going over all of these issues like immigration and the border where the leverage it seems to me on the progressive side a lot of it comes from the ability to characterize a oppositional limitation kind of ideas and attitudes about immigration to characterize them is as racist as you want this to be a country that’s safe for white people and whenever I hear that argument I cringe a little bit as a black person because I know that the moral force of that argument is dependent upon the actual experiences of African Americans that is I say America is a white supremacist nation without the narrative of African American enslavement and suppression during second-class citizenship of Jim Crow that argument doesn’t I don’t think carry a whole lot of weight but on behalf of a liberal immigration policy people are appropriating the moral credibility of African American claims on behalf of a larger allegation that larger allegation being that you know people of color are becoming slowly but surely a majority of the country and the soon to be marginalized white population which is used to lording it over everybody else is in a reactive mode that reactive mode is at least partly reflected in the election of Donald Trump and that election is inconsistent with American values for all of the visas that we could imagine what do you think about that well you know I once again the whole issue of the racism of the trumpian electorate I find it vastly oversimplified and uncharitable there’s a whole language that were encouraged to use on race where we talk about whole races of people as if they were one person there’s a kind of a poetry in it but it’s weak science and often it’s just we logic and so the idea that whites are used to being in control which ones I immediately picture a white woman pushing a shopping cart she’s got a kid is she used to being in control which whites so then is it whites in power and so imagining a white person in a suit in Washington DC who’s the administer function system shipment of a set but a bet above about that person you know the sort of person you and I meet sometimes at a conference that person questing for power if they are then most of them are incredibly good actors I think that what we’re talking about is this aggregate notion of whiteness which nobody who uses that kind of language could actually define they just will wink at you but I don’t know what that means and so with this trumpian electorate yeah just even the idea that you know I I disagree with you that Trump I do think that we could put Trump under the umbrella of the word racist he’s not gonna burn a cross on anybody’s long but in terms of why you would vote for somebody like that the idea that this is something that I get from a lot of very smart people Obama was president for two terms and now white America wants to get back at that by having Trump Trump is in because of that and whose agency are we talking about especially given that many of those people voted for Obama anyway and it’s as if somehow all of a sudden life becomes an Arthur Miller play or Tony Kushner blood but we’re not in a play and so I think that that way of looking at things is an attempt I guess it’s an attempt at being a historian with vision you think about the whole nation and you try to draw patterns but when you forget what individual people are like what you’re doing is singing and that’s different from analysis and so yeah it makes me impatient in a lot of this writing because you’re allowed to dehumanize ordinary unexceptionable black people unexceptional white that died said that all wrong ordinary unexceptional whites you just talk about them like objects but then with a black person everything is individual so I talk about the guy on the train and a certain kind of person things don’t generalize as if we don’t all know that that person is a type you know I’m thinking of as a type it’s not that there was this one weird person I saw on the train one day last week but no we’re supposed to be individual you see black kids in Chicago shooting each other over sneakers every summer and it’s in every city including this summer and you’re supposed to think that’s not about being black that’s not a generalization that’s just those particular kids and yet we’re supposed to look at the white woman in the supermarket and think she’s part of this general thing called whiteness and only white people are we allowed to talk about that way and somehow that’s allowed this is back to Thomas Aquinas this is medieval thought especially in that if you question any of it outside of certain circles you are considered not fit for society yeah except and I’ve been pushing this for a while I think they’re bluffing I mean in I think there’s there’s a two level discourse going on there’s what said in polite society and we all know what is provide to say and so we we genuflect and we obey and then there’s what’s said in closer closer spaces when we’re talking to people who we can trust whether it be within the family or within the close friendship networks or whatever like that and I don’t think you take the issue of homicide and race you know black on so-called black on black crime kids getting killed in st. Louis there’s that’s the recent one in the last few weeks you know a lot of kids under 12 years old have gotten shot to death on the streets of st. Louis and we know what the line is the line is that this is a result of it might be to police it might be inequality it might be segregation and it might be a whatever these are structural factors that are at play but it’s also far buried each other it’s contemptible barbarity the slaughter of innocent children in the handful and the dozens on the streets of American cities its barbarity so you can’t call me a racist if I say that that kind of violent behavior contemptible violent behavior is nobody wants to live like that that it is discrediting in the extreme of the community that gives rise to it I don’t think people are confused about that around their kitchen tables I think they actually know that there’s a problem there in that community I don’t think they really believe the structure is responsible for all this aberrant behavior argument neither do I think they believe that the Asians are overrunning all of these hard to get into schools and getting all these high scores on the exam and so forth because of some kind of privilege people know that they’re working hard they know that they have a culture that values this kind of achievement they know usually you have to do is look at the statistic that their families are intact that there’s respect for the approval of the parents that they know that these people have earned this distinction I’ll tell you something else they know they know that this is a great country that allows that to happen that allows millions of people from other parts of the world to come and make their lives among us and then to show their mettle through achievement a great in open society you can’t name another one on the planet about which that is true so people are not confused about this uh and I fear I mean I fear that the lid is gonna blow off of these some of these I mean you see it in the comedians have you seen Dave Chappelle’s most recent being the statistics on it Nessa special bit yeah 99% of ordinary viewers in some poll said that they loved it but then the Rotten Tomatoes poll ie the smart media tied only three-eighths liked it that’s the sort of thing that we’re facing yeah talking about the reason that the public loved it’s because he was telling the truth by their lights and he had the courage to do so he conventions juicy Smollet they have you seen them have you seen Lydia that’s what he does and he says he said we didn’t believe that nigga we knew he was with any sense believe that nigga yeah there’s a lot of things like that job he’s a you know a cop is afraid he goes into a dark corridor around an alley and he’s chasing somebody thinks they might have a gun he’s afraid for his life the cop is not some kind of okay I’m done typing now but I mean he’s not some kind of Nazi who runs around trying to execute most people know that that’s the hardest job you can possibly have so when the Attorney General of the United States comes out and says as he did a few weeks ago in a speech a good speech that law enforcement is our first line of defense against chaos and disorder in society and we owe these people our gratitude a lot of Americans agree with that so the presumption that you can just dismiss that kind of thing as right-wing rhetoric is fit for breitbart.com or Sean Hannity but not relevant to voters in Ohio or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Nevada or whatever it might be I think I think what you’re touching on is that I think we’re we you and I are in the middle of a certain shift in the socio-historical current because there is a kind of non black person who I do not think is bluffing about the sort of thing and we’ve been in this territory before but if you talk about the kids who are shooting each other there’s a certain kind of over educated person who genuinely will sit there and tell you think about all the anger that’s in those kids after all they don’t have fathers and then they go to school and nobody teaches them anything and think about how the cops treat them and they really do think that that explains why these kids are shooting each other over sneaker and the sad thing is that to the extent that they’ve learned to think of black people that way when they would never think of their own children that way it’s racism of a different kind and yet they would never know it and I wouldn’t want to call it that way – athletically but they have a lowered expectation of black people that can only be explained as thinking that we are fundamentally inferior in terms of the schools that same person that same very ordinary person will say the reason that black kids can’t get into Harvard is because well think about how their teachers have lower expectations of them as if the black kids who even try to get into Harvard are from the schools that you see in stand by me as if they came on the ghetto streets and as if it was 1967 you know they have trained themselves to not think about the contradictory evidence they know deep down that there’s a certain cognitive dissonance but they would never face that dissonance enough to actually consider changing their conclusions they’ve been taught that thinking of black people as talented monkeys is a form of higher wisdom but I think that view is more on the ropes now than it was even 10 years ago there are more and more people who are brave enough to say that this mental equipoise that they’re supposed to wangle about why some black people do the things they do and how we’re supposed to respond to it doesn’t make any sense and a lot of them are beginning to realize that if they say so the sky isn’t necessarily gonna fall in because there’s no sky in the internet now of course the problem is that there’s a fine line between being sick of that kind of and you call that not only the intellectual dark web but there’s a circle of people kind of surrounding that especially in New York and DC a coalescing group of people of which I would definitely consider myself a far you know the kind of collect crowd although I don’t necessarily write for Colette Coleman as part of this crowd who were just saying come on let’s stop yeah that is definitely a crowd and I think that it’s healthy but there’s a fine line between that crowd and people who believe really that there is something wrong with black people and are looking for a reason to voice actual bonafide racism and we have to acknowledge that and I think that the fact that there is that fine line doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to push against the I don’t want to name the kind of person who crosses that fine line some people could probably fill in some gaps but the difference between those people and people like Coleman you me or you know on another side of things Barry Weiss or you know Megan down these people are not racists they are not what you may lose your feet on a olia is a perfect example yeah this this little world you know let me just say one thing John I think we need to get out I want to reiterate something slavery is a universal of human experience read Orlando Patterson’s books slavery and social death Regals our history our way back to antiquity slavery has been everywhere in human history what is different is mass abolition the decision of the British Navy to extirpate the transatlantic slave trade and the decision ultimately of the American Republic to rid itself of the peculiar institution of slavery that’s different that’s a fruit of the Enlightenment that’s a fruit of the very ideas that are given short shrift when 1776 is told to stand in line behind 1619 when you telling the history of America the Civil War barely gets mentioned in Hannah Jones’s essay hundreds of thousands of bodies brought across these battlefields in order to liberate the slaves that’s what the war was fought about no that doesn’t let America off the hook but the idea that Abraham Lincoln’s doings is not in some sense the historical completion of Thomas Jefferson’s doings seems to need to be just wrong it is the historical it’s the second founding of the American Republic and like it was very consciously aware of that all of this revision is history in which we try to manage Johnson makes a big thing out of a meeting that Lincoln has with some of American leaders of American African Americans where he entertains the idea that they might want to consider immigrating away from the United States at going back call Medina to talk as if to compromise what might they demand mental historical achievements of Lincoln in freeing the slaves and ultimately initiating the political process that culminates in the enactment of the Reconstruction Amendments it’s my my black people didn’t win our freedom by ourselves we want our freedom you want to talk about the civil rights movement yes there were black people on the barricades and there were a lot of white people on the barricades as well we didn’t just simply rest our freedom away from a unwilling and uneven recalcitrant white supremacist you know the country came to understand itself in different eras Martin Luther King’s leadership was premise on that very idea magnificent promissory note and all of that so yeah it’s an inadequate telling of American history you gonna let me have the last where do you want to say something I’m gonna say one little thing yours it yours is the last word anybody who is incapable of understanding how important and what a great man Abraham Lincoln was because by our standards he yeah was a racist he will thought black people to go back to Africa anybody who can’t see history as progressing step-by-step is not doing history these people seem to think that everything is the present and that worries me because we need our genuine historians but everything you’re saying is absolutely correct yes you have a less I’m glad that you’re at Columbia University imparting such wisdom as you are able to impart to the younger generation hopefully some of it is taking some of it is sticking John and I’ll talk about this stuff in class but hopefully some of them watch me here and back at you thank you all right sign it off it’s a good talk to you John next week maybe two weeks yeah a couple of weeks I think there will be a high demand for our services so yes let’s not keep them waiting take three

Zaid Jilani explains what’s wrong with the NYT’s 1619 Project

Journalist Zaid Jilani weighs in on the controversy over the Pulitzer Prize winning 1619 Project that caused a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American history between scholars and the authors of The New York Times Magazine’s issue on slavery.

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