Race: America at Its Best and Worst
By Robert Kuttner | Aug 21, 2019
Last Sunday, America’s paper of record devoted its entire Sunday magazine to its “1619 Project,” named for the year when slaves were first brought to the American colonies.
In introducing the book-length collection of essays and literary works, The New York Times editors wrote that Americans are mistaken to view 1776 as their founding. Rather, “the country’s very origin” is the system of chattel slavery.
Americans of goodwill are now prepared to come to a deeper reckoning with America’s original sin, the crime of slavery and all its continuing reverberations.
The utterly mainstream Times is sounding as necessarily radical on race as, say, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Decent America is finally taking the first steps toward a long overdue truth and reconciliation project.
But at the same time, the racist elements of America are more virulently racist than ever, stoked by the most explicitly racist president of the United States since slavery was abolished. America is more divided on race than at any time since the Civil War.
As our former writing fellow and now New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie writes in one of the essays, there is a direct line between the racist Senator John C. Calhoun, who proposed the doctrine of nullification to prevent federal authority from tampering with slavery, to the modern Republican Party which insists in the name of states’ rights that the white South must be protected from federal civil rights enforcement.
And all this operates in the shadow of our first African American president, who wanted nothing so much as to be a unifier. Race has long poisoned the best of America. We will at last come to a reckoning, or racism will destroy this republic.