The Patriotism of the 1619 Project

On August 20, 1619, a ship carrying about 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. 

If you have somehow missed the rollout of the New York Times 1619 project, I hope you will find time to get a printed copy, listen to the podcasts, or find  another way to catch up. This project – groundbreaking, truth-telling, and comprehensive – is a tremendously collaborative endeavor, created and led by brilliant journalist Nikole-Hannah Jones that offers a wide base of knowledge about America’s entanglement with enslavement, and how our systems have been designed to subjugate people, using the construct of race. The other great point made across the essays, the photos, the podcasts, and more is how deeply felt the patriotism is among black Americans who continue to patiently reach out to their fellow compatriots to try to explain what must be fixed.

Excerpts from Nikole-Hannah Jones’ August 14, 2019 NYT essay that introduced her 1619 Project:

They say our people were born on the water.

When it occurred, no one can say for certain. Perhaps it was in the second week, or the third, but surely by the fourth, when they had not seen their land or any land for so many days that they lost count. It was after fear had turned to despair, and despair to resignation, and resignation to an abiding understanding. The teal eternity of the Atlantic Ocean had severed them so completely from what had once been their home that it was as if nothing had ever existed before, as if everything and everyone they cherished had simply vanished from the earth. They were no longer Mbundu or Akan or Fulani. These men and women from many different nations, all shackled together in the suffocating hull of the ship, they were one people now.

What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?

..At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.


 

 

Sept 6 interview w/ Nikole-Hannah Jones:

…what I’m arguing is that our founding ideals were great and powerful. Had we in fact built a country based on those founding ideals, then we would have the most amazing country the earth has ever seen.  But black people took those ideals very literally, and have fought to make those ideals real. And because of that, I say that we are — as much as the white founders whom we recognize — that we are the founding fathers of this country. So yes, it is patriotism, but not that type of blind, performative patriotism that is simply about trying to camouflage the nation’s sins and not trying to fight for the true ideals. But the type of patriotism, I think, that says: If you love your country, you have to fight to make your country the country that it should be.

Does any particular piece of criticism or praise stick out to you?

The criticism has been all about the framing, because people can’t actually criticize the facts.There was some critique that I was centering black people and not spending time on Native and Indigenous people, and I understand it to a degree. I did not want to render Native people invisible, but this was a story about chattel slavery. But I think it also speaks to how little good, comprehensive, smart, empathetic coverage we have of the two most marginalized groups in America, which are Native people and black people.

 

The 1619 Project at the New York Times

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IN THE SHADOW OF STATUES

My copy is preordered.

 

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/575468/in-the-shadow-of-statues-by-mitch-landrieu/9780525559443/

Nice to be privileged enough to say no thanks

This past Saturday, the local anti-racism group Take “Em Down Nola held their response to the administration’s approval of armed thugs roaming Charlottesville for 2 days while inciting a man to kill peaceful protestor Heather Heyer. (As of now, no charges against the organizers of this armed encampment for their role in her death.)

The TeDNOla spent days carefully organizing a march in support of the peace activists in Charlottesville from Congo Square (the historic gathering place for people of color) to Jackson Square, once the main public square of the old city, and now the site of wealthy people’s second or third rarely-used abodes, a few tourist shops and one very good and a few not so good restaurants, as well as the workplace for struggling artists, readers and musicians and a whole bunch of 24/7 lively, illegal and informal activity.
it is also the home of the statue of Andrew Jackson, known for his defense of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and his presidency, but also known for his long brutality to Native Americans made into federal policy with the Indian Removal Act resulting in the destruction of many tribes and the Trail of Tears.

On the morning of the peaceful protest in New Orleans, Facebook erupted with disparaging comments about the foolishness of this protest, with many posts indicating that police had told French Quarter shopkeepers and workers that busloads of supremacists and Nazis were on their way, and warning of people climbing the gates of the park to pull down the statue (even though the size and weight of this particular statue clearly precluded a rope being tossed over and a firm yank resulting in its destruction, and the fact that the same group had gathered there previously and not damaged the statue.)

Back and forth about how “we have more important things to worry about” (as if one cannot hold separate issues and plans of action in one’s head on a Saturday), how this peaceful organized protest will result in property destruction and loss of income for FQ (an area where thousands of tourists crowd daily, guzzling sugary drinks until they are drunk enough to feel it proper to use front stoops as their bathrooms and destroy property willy-nilly), and comments of how we have “already dealt with this issue here” (we assume by “allowing” the mayor and council to remove 4 of the 7 statues to Confederates in the city) were posted without embarrassment.
Those well-meaning posters were, of course, white and often native to the area. That second point is important only because there is a firm belief among many that natives are the only ones who can decide on historical context. Those opinions pop up on every post or article about the symbols of the Confederacy and the Jim Crow era that are part of every neighborhood in this city. That native-only line in the sand has grown since the post-Katrina addition of thousands of new arrivals, who it must be said that many of them were clearly drawn here because of the potential to cash in on a rebuilding city with some amenities and a lot of poor people.

The tension between the natives, the long-ago arrived (seen as native by most if they have lived through a hurricane, follow the traditions of Carnival season and have either sent their kids to public schools or rebuilt a crumbling historic home with love and frequent trips to the Green Project) and the newly arrived are seemingly at an all-time high. Maybe the tension following the arrival of the Americans after the Lousiana Purchase was higher, but since that was a boom time for the city, it’s likely this one is worse.
That tension plays into any organizing against the symbols of white supremacy, and is mocked by many natives while any discussion of it as well past time for these to come down is usually met with questions about one’s hold on any Southern or New Orleans genealogy. Even the long-ago arrivals will often admit to being shocked back then at seeing so many ties to the short history of the Confederacy, even as they miss the irony of their later and longer tacit acceptance of it.

The disdain for public assembly over the continuing effect of state-sanctioned racism is certainly another indicator for the privilege that most whites refuse to acknowledge. Business returning to usual is the usual plea by those holed up at home, gnashing their teeth at “how exhausting this year has been already” missing the point as to how every year has been for the disenfranchised. That “business as usual” attitude is shown by belittling public activists through painting them as foolish and selfish and makes the divide even more permanent.

Yet most locals know that organizing against white supremacy through “channels” is not possible when the system itself is perpetuating the racism. It does that through known practices such as redlining whole areas against bank loans, creating pockets of poverty by allowing developers to build substandard housing “back of town” and only incentivizing job creation in tourist-rich areas. And by locking up more people of color than anywhere else in the world and using those prisons as profit-making opportunities. And by allowing unemployment to be close to 80% for adult men in certain areas of the city and across the South. No one who travels through the 7th, 8th or 9th ward of New Orleans or through small towns across Louisiana and Mississippi can miss the hopeless faces of men and women sitting on stoops, knowing from experience they are not welcome to anything of value.
So knowing that truth, how can they deride their neighbors taking to the public streets to counter the approval of a president who called armed supremacists “fine people” and who has not shown any sympathy for the murders of innocent people who were unfortunate enough to be in the path of racist murderers, whether police or any other?
The answer is a word I have used here already and is used often elsewhere: privilege.
That word is also a red flag for many whites who have not bothered to unpack what it means or to understand how prejudice and racism are two separate things. Who often use the inoperable term of “reverse racism” or blithely say they have never heard any black people say they didn’t like the statues, as if the thousands of marchers and years of protest have not happened right in front of them; as if their daily world includes a diverse cross-section of residents who feel comfortable in sharing their feelings of oppression with their white neighbors who wave gaily to them as they get in their air-conditioned personal tank or on their well-functioning 2-wheeler and go to their job or to their appointments to get their eyes checked or meet their friends for coffee at a place where the check may equal what that neighboring family of four spends for food for a week.

I know all of this because I operate in this world of privilege. I know it, and I work to rid myself of the thinking that allows me to think that I fairly came to the opportunities given to me. When I say that, it doesn’t mean that I think I don’t deserve opportunity; it only means I don’t deserve an unequal amount of opportunity. In most workplaces I have had in New Orleans (and in Northern cities too) the management is almost entirely white and the entry-level work held by people of color. Yet, often the go-to employees are the people of color; the employees who stay at that entry-level for decades after people like me have moved on to another opportunity. Privilege.

I live in the French Quarter, partly because my family also lives there and also because, over a 24 hour period, it is the most diverse public space in the region, even though I acknowledge that a large percentage of the resident population is among the whitest and richest, maybe only outdone by St. Charles Avenue. Privilege.

This is why I march and organize with my neighbors of color, no matter how inopportune the time or place. Yet, I can also go back to my regularly scheduled life and ignore this or that action, assuming that no retribution from my alliance with activists will befall me. That in that regularly scheduled life, that a police officer will not stop me and violate my rights because of their antipathy to the color of my skin driving on their city streets. Privilege.

The issue of the Jackson statue is seen as moot by many locals, even those who agree that Confederate statues must come down. (I believe it deserves censure and likely a takedown, but believe that the 3 remaining symbols of the Confederacy in statue form should be targeted first, as well as the names of white supremacists that litter our street names.) The lack of awareness of the connection of racism against Native Americans is even more embedded into white life, with disparaging images on sports teams logos remaining and the destruction of sacred land at Standing Rock and across the US including in Louisiana acceptable to most “business as usual” Americans. Privilege.

I ended Saturday proud of my activist friends and colleagues and ashamed of those I know who mocked the action. It gave me another example of the blanket of comfort that whiteness offers and of how we can choose to not take a stand. As I drifted off to sleep, smug in my social media postings about this day, I suddenly remembered my exchange that morning with an African-American woman I have known casually for about 15 years, known through some shared workplaces and colleagues. I have had detailed conversations with her about racism and privilege and had thoughtful and warm talks about the culture of this place we share, a place that neither of us were born and raised in. When I saw her that morning, she asked me how I was. I answered before considering: “tired. tired of this shit.”
She raised her eyebrows, looked at me with some amusement, a little anger and a tiny bit of pity. She answered,”Yeah well…” with a weak smile and walked away.

https://www.attn.com/stories/17287/farmers-post-about-racism-going-viral

“There is no anti-racist certification class”

On his blog, “Scott Woods Makes Lists,” poet Woods posted:

“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another, and so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”