Telling the truth to our children
I write in response to Alan Rapoport’s opinion piece about The 1619 Project in the January 2022 Heights Observer. He asserts that “many qualified scholars” have questioned the veracity of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s work. I have searched many online sources to locate the “many” but have found only a few. Even those few, for the most part, do not question the entire project, just certain interpretations made by Hannah-Jones. The major dispute seems to be over the notion that we fought the Revolutionary War to maintain slavery. My understanding is that she reworked that section before her book was published. (However, I would note that a paragraph opposing slavery was omitted from the Declaration of Independence, an indication of the institution’s strong hold on the colonies.)
It is fascinating that Mr. Rapoport fears a “one-sided, biased, and ideological approach” in The 1619 Project. I took American History in high school and in college. The details presented by Hannah-Jones and many other scholars about the history of enslaved peoples and their descendants rarely, if ever, appeared in my textbooks or in lectures.
James W. Loewen wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, after an extensive study of high school texts. His conclusion was that the “history” we present in classrooms is a watered-down and altered account of what really happened.
Every day, our children enter classrooms where we should be committed to ensure they are learning the full truth of history. What seems to be happening in those classrooms is indoctrination (Rapoport’s word) to a sanitized version of who we are as a nation and what we have done here and abroad. I do not approve of indoctrination in any form. Neither do I approve of giving an incomplete and white-washed history to our children. The 1619 Project is a necessary corrective to what we have been all too ready to accept as the truth because we want to believe that we always do the right thing.
I was taken aback by Mr. Rapoport’s complaint that the project classifies people according to skin color. When is the last time you filled out any form that did not ask your race? When is the last time you were anywhere and did not notice the color of the people around you? We are not a color-blind society, nor should we be. We need to know our history and know how we have come to be racially divided. We need to know how race has been and continues to be used in government and social policies that provide whites with innumerable advantages while disadvantaging people of color. To deny this means it will continue. This is not just about past actions; this is also about what is happening today.
I’m not even certain how to respond to his comments about a forum on pedophilia. It is a false equivalency. History is not the same thing as a psychiatric disorder. I hope that he did not mean to make an equivalency between people who want to explore history and those who physically and emotionally damage and use children for their gratification.
I am grateful to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library for its continuing excellence. The 1619 Project programs are a laudable proof of that excellence.
Cynthia Lehman is a committed volunteer working on a number of issues, including racial equity, reducing gun violence, and education.