Harvard takes a leaf from the New York Times playbook
Both institutions have sought to 'reframe' American history in terms of slavery
Harvard University made news last week with its announcement that it has set up a $100 million fund to help ‘redress’ its historical ties to slavery. The fund comes on the heels of a report which found that the peculiar institution was ‘integral’ to Harvard’s rise and ‘essential’ to its ‘growth as an academic institution’.
That may very well be true, but it’s hardly the only injustice on which Harvard cut its teeth. The list of wrongs is long, ranging from a notorious collaboration with the Nazis, enthusiastic support of eugenics, centuries-long discrimination against women, and a troubled past with Jews. It even played a direct role in the Salem Witch trials, though the witches condemned to die by prominent Harvardians were men, not women.
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This prompts an important question: why this one issue, and not the others? Harvard’s president, Larry Bacow provided a complete and clear answer to this question. In an op-ed co-authored with another Harvard official, Bacow wrote that it was part of an effort to address ‘continuing inequities—tangible legacies of slavery—affecting communities in the United States and in the Caribbean, to which New England’s slavery economies were closely tied’.
This is what Bacow meant by invoking the ‘tangible legacies of slavery’. Far from an effort to redress historical wrongs, the donation comes in the context of this effort to cast America as a slave society, once removed.
This language and the concepts behind it are the distilled essence of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which, by attempting to ‘reframe’ American history in terms of slavery rather than liberty, sought to show nearly all the structures of American life are artefacts of a slave society.
But the response from the 1619 Project’s creator this week, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was just as telling: it’s not enough. “Well, one, you didn’t ask this, but that $100 million that Harvard has put aside, you know, it’s nice, but it’s way too low,” Hannah-Jones said at an event where she also took a moment to castigate the GOP as a “White party”.
This is the key point. The racialist culture wars that have erupted in America over the past few years are, as much as anything, about power. It’s no coincidence that this new power dynamic emerged in the wake of the 1619 Project’s deepest achievement — reworking the notion of truth from the classic enlightenment idea that it is an objective thing we approximate to the idea, created by Critical Race Theory, that it is whatever serves ‘to emancipate the oppressed’ — in other words, it is what serves power.
What’s remarkable is the extent to which these two elite, agenda-shaping institutions are in lockstep on this topic. That’s a testament to the success of the 1619 Project, but even more so, the messaging alignment shows that these institutions form part of a larger whole, a network of interlocking organisations that are virtually inseparable from an ideological perspective. It is a troubling development, and one we should follow closely.
Anyone who examines the history of the US objectively is bound to accept that for much of its history the widespread use of the law to discriminate against those with black ancestry belied the fine sentiments regarding the inalienable rights of which the constitution speaks. The most basic right to marry someone irrespective of their ancestry and skin colour was not established until Loving v Virginia in 1967.
However, the perpetuation of racial policies in the interest of equity unsurprisingly tends to sow division rather than enabling the US to move on from the deformation that slavery introduced into their society.
What is more annoying from a UK perspective is the introduction of racial classifications into the UK that has never been an institutionally race based society despite the establishment of slavery in the Caribbean colonies. The malign effects did not establish themselves in the UK .
What is more annoying from a UK perspective
American myopia is very frustrating; they could do with a few bestseller books on the ubiquity of slavery in nearly all countries, prior to the Americas colonisation period. At it’s peak, the Roman empire took in some 400,000, mostly white, new slaves a year; the Barbary pirates took a million or so Europeans in the C16-18th into enslavement in North Africa; and the ancient Egyptians, middle- Easterners slavery was widespread – it’s been said that there were three classes at the time – royalty, merchants, and slaves. It seems that where-ever there was a civilisation, there was slavery – mesoamerican, Asian, middle-East, European.
Just as young people think they invented sex, so young countries think that nothing happened before they did it.
The last sentence of this article rings true to me. Our institutions, originally designed to serve the public interest, have become extractive and predatory. They are no longer fit for purpose.
The notion of truth is postmodern Foucaultian in my view. I also lean into the analysis given by James Lindsay in his recent book Race Marxism, that the power dynamic is a consequence of a marxist interpretive frame.
race grifters gotta grift.
Stating that America’s history started in 1619 implies that those people living on the continent before 1619 are sub-human.
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