The 1619 Project

The back of a beaten slave.

The August 18th issue of the New York Times Magazine dedicates itself to slavery with The 1619 Project, featuring profound, investigative reporting style articles on the Negro living in America since we were brought to these shores 400 years ago.

Accounted for and recognized are the 20 enslaved people who were brought to the experimental country of the United States of America and delivered to a port in Virginia. In retrospect, do we celebrate or do we cry?

The 1619 Project is the brainchild of writer Nikole Hannah-Jones. Her article opens the pages and superbly sets the stage for the magazine to tell the “truth” about the enslaved through the lenses of various New York Times writers.

1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones

There is much to learn and this project is an attempt to set the record straight – that is, to discuss and describe factually the import, the impact, and the injustices surrounding the American Negro in this country.

There are discoveries to be made that are not necessarily common knowledge. Perhaps after reading these pages, you will think differently, White America. Hopefully, you are uncomfortable.

The importance of the 1619 Project is, it is time for White America to confront the racism that Black America has lived with daily since 1619?

Here are some of my impressions thinking about the project:
The African brought to these shores was transmuted into colored, then Negro, then Black, then African American, and always, nigger. We were a group of people with name changes to mark our identity as we made cultural/societal adjustments.

Families and tribes were totally destroyed. The kidnapped, enslaved African was thought of as a commodity rather than a human being. What White America did in marginalizing and destroying the human being was a case of evil, a case of brutal and systematic destruction grounded in exploitation and subjugation. Slaves were human machines on a production line.

Slave shackles that read “Negro woman or child only”.

What’s not discussed is white fear. The white male has been afraid of the Black male. His fear accounts for his violent treatment used to tame and control behavior to make the slave productive.

The slave was generally more physically apt than the white slaveowner and could overpower physically. So real efforts were made to reduce and control the mind to make the slaves feel inferior and afraid to even think about raising a hand against their “masters”.

Black women were regarded as sex objects used for pleasure, caretaking and production. In short order, America attacked the Black male, raped the Black woman, and told us to suppress the evil deeds. Blacks were supposed to be faithful and happy in servitude.

Home From The Wars

When the soldiers came home from Europe from World War II, the Black soldier was too often treated badly, from discrimination to severe beatings to lynchings, even as he wore his uniform. They tell the story of a Black solider blinded from a police beating just because he wanted to use the bathroom after a long bus ride in the South.

The American white male, particularly the southerner, was afraid of this man who had tasted European freedom and knew how to work with a gun as he wore the American solider uniform. This era of Americans has been labeled as “The Greatest Generation.”

There are two Americas – one white, one Black; one enslaved, one freed; one that enjoys American democracy and the other that has been trampled by it.

The peculiar institution of slavery is called America’s original sin. It is, but it is the sin that built the fabric, the culture, the industry of America. It is the sin of evil. It is the sin that made America white and Black, separately and together.

The democracy of America is a contradiction and hypocritical. It is the crux of Black leadership reacting, from slave revolts to Jesse Jackson politics and the voices of Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Black America’s free (slave) labor made White America wealthy in such a way that there will never be economic parity. The riches of cotton, rice, and tobacco are the base of American capitalism; it is an economy built on the backs of slaves. America gave us the blues and we created work songs and spirituals in the fields where we sang about hope and redemption.

The slave fields even gave us a structural work system that is in place today, called supervision. The “Wall’ of Wall Street is from slavery; perhaps this is where Trump gets his wall notion today.

The slave made America wealthy and reparations are realistic. We await the President that has the guts to put it in place, maybe by Executive Order. The same as Abraham Lincoln using Executive Order to free a people and save a nation.

Even as white politics attempts to rectify its evil ways, it comes up with ways of marginalization with set programs like affirmative action, where it is mandatory to give Blacks and other minorities a “piece” rather than a whole.

The looming question is, was Black America better with segregation than integration? In segregation, there were profitable businesses, booming neighborhoods, and strong families. With integration, did we get lost?

The Black American is the most American of Americans. White America created “The Negro Problem” and came up with solutions to include welfare programs that would at best leak survival modes for poverty, but not thriving modes for success.

Black America is a miracle of survival and fear as it has been worked, raped, scorned, murdured, and experimented with in the medical community over pain tolerance and skin thickness and injected with infections to determine human physical reaction.

The Black American has been denied humanness as labor was being performed as well as rape and cohabiting with the slave master; in today’s age, those white males would be considered pedophiles.

Birth Of A New People

Slavery bore a new people, not African or white, but American, who had a rainbow of skin tones and were far removed from Africans.

Black America has been trapped and dismissed and an afterthought. To this very day, we in some quarters are still considered “minority” and less than whole.

Black America is a freak. There is disgust, anger, and disappointment as we have created a new music and prayed in church to maintain dignity and sanity and progress as we celebrate Black History Month and other historical occasions that inch toward “freedom” with the benchmarks of being the first and the only Blacks in career categories.

Every Black generation from 1619 has had to confront racism, from the cutting off of limbs of the runaway slaves, to the new slavery of imprisonment of the feared young Black male.

Every Black generation has had leadership that spoke to ill treatment and challenged the powers of government for improvement and betterment. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged American democracy, morality, and soul in such a way that it was undeniable. He gets greater every year, as his voice is timeless as he addressed America’s creed of liberty and democracy as a theologian.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The biggest hoax White America has played on Black America is the idea of “inferiority.” This inferiority concept has plagued Black America internally and externally, leaving a people that has been doubted, with societal structures to prevent progress. An entire people has been held down and legally prevented from progress, with rules, regulations, societal norms and politics to be aborted.

Blacks have been enslaved and denied legally in this country for hundreds of years. A taste of freedom has come in the last 50, and while great achievements have been made, including a Black president, when the competition is open to all, there remains descreparies and inequalities of performance. We still await inclusion with diversity programs.

The Black American still fights for equal rights and justice. We await the full justice and privilege of the American democratic system. We have not enjoyed full citizenship at every level. It is still our fight and plight.

We have excelled in sports and entertainment. These have been the real windows of opportunity for individual success as both systems have been ruled as plantation-like structures as we watch the modern day gladiators and listen to the minstrels and the buffoonery.

We have come full circle, for now the impact, the influence, and the cruelty of slavery is being viewed through a white lens as we live in a chaotic world, where the political climate reaches back for white male supremacy.

The 1619 Project is to be applauded. The information is valuable. Scholarly Black studies departments have taught this point of view for years, particularly in Black institutions. Bravo to 1619 for taking the challenge of explanation and discussion of the “truth.”

The 1619 Project has packaged and journalized an American reality and brought it to mainstream with a broad distribution and perhaps confrontation. So maybe it ends in this day of Trump, as he attempts to restore White Supremacy.

And still we rise.

Hermene Hartman

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