Top positive review
4 reasons you should read this
Reviewed in the United States on November 16, 2021
I'm going to do something you normally don't do when writing a review: state my affiliations & biases up front. I am a white male, raised in rural Central New York by conservative middle class parents, who was a registered member of the Republican Party until 2016. I also have a deep love of history, especially that of the United States. While I have never shied away from the darker stories in American history, I have always felt pride at the history of this nation.
I came to the 1619 Project in a backwards way. I started by reading the criticisms of the many people who were negative about it. These included a long list of professors and historians, some of which I have read and respected (e.g. James McPherson). Next I decided it was time to find out what all this commotion was all about, so I read the collection of essays that made up the original 1619 Project. And finally, I ordered this book and read it on arrival.
I think everyone in the US should read this book, and here are my reason why:
#1: The Black story of America needs to be told - I was raised in the northeast with a public school education. In social studies, we talked about slavery, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement - which was the full extent of what we learned about the impact of Black Americans in our country. The 1619 Project shows there is a much richer story to be told. Yes, some of this history is hard to hear. It’s difficult to admit that many of the Founding Fathers ran forced labor camps, and used violence and fear to maintain order & profits. But how is it we can really understand the people who came before us without knowing the conflict that was core to their being?
#2: Don't believe all the criticism - Much of the criticism of the original 1619 Project focuses on two points: a) that slavery was a driving reason behind Colonists supporting the American Revolution, and b) the statement 1619 instead of 1776 is the founding year in our nation. Nikole Hannah-Jones spends much more time justifying these two comments via historical references in this book. But at the end of the day, these are only two of literally thousands of points she makes - so you can choose to believe it or not and still learn from this work. It is stunning that so much noise has been made about such small points.
#3 - Don't be afraid of the past - The 1619 Project has been tied to Critical Race Theory and claimed as an attempt to erase history and/or make white children feel bad for the past. But this book does not make any attempt to erase history, nor does it make me feel bad. Instead I felt empowered by hearing our history from the perspective of Black Americans. I believe you can be proud of the many accomplishments of George Washington, while still simultaneously confronting his role as a slaveholder. After all the Founding Fathers, like us, were human.
#4 - You cannot criticize what you do not know - If you read some of the reviews, you will see 1 star from people that are not verified as purchasing the book. I assume they read an article or watched a talking head to make their definitive conclusion about this book. Do you really want to be that shallow? I will defend your right to hold this belief… but only if you read it first. I am smarter for gaining a greater understanding of how African Americans have fundamentally shaped our nation, and you will be too.
In closing I will say this: if HNJ wanted to design an experiment that would prove systemic racism still exists in our society, I’m not sure she could have created a better one than publishing the 1619 Project and watching the reaction to it.