We can’t talk about the political landscape in America without acknowledging how our history with slavery has contributed to it. Slavery has consequences that still impact the Black community in America and The New York Times wants to shed a light on that with their latest The 1619 Project in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of American slavery.
The year 1619 signifies the year 20-plus West Africans were kidnapped and brought to Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia and were enslaved. The New York Times felt it was important to highlight a barbaric system that lasted over 250 years and formed the basis for most intuitions and systems in America today. “The goal of the project is to deepen the understanding of American history (and the American present) by proposing a new point of origin for our national story. In the days and weeks to come, we will publish essays demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery,” the editors write.
The purpose of the project is essentially to help reframe the country’s history and understanding of American slavery. It’s an interactive project that was created by NYT reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones and features essays by The Times writers and editors as well as poems by Eve L. Ewing, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Tyehimba Jess, short fiction from Barry Jenkins and Jesmyn Ward; and a powerful photo essay featuring students who currently attend historically Black colleges and universities who have ancestors who were slaves. Issues like why America consumes more sugar than any other Western country and why violence is such a major part of the American criminal justice system are addressed in many of the works.
According to Pew Research, most U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of Black people in American society today. In fact, more than four-in-ten say that the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality. More than eight-in-ten Black adults say that the legacy of slavery affects the position of Black people in America today, including 59% who say it affects it a great deal. Studies show that Americans recognize and see the disadvantages of being Black and Hispanics in America. In fact, 56% say that being Black hurts a person’s ability to get ahead at least a little and 51% say the same is often the case for being Hispanic.
“This anniversary is the reason we even exist as a country,” Hannah-Jones said in her speech on the evening of the project’s launch. “We would not be a country. We would not be the United States were it not for slavery. When we think about the sheer wealth that the forced labor of those who were forced to come here from the continent of Africa produced for the colonies, it was this labor that made the struggling colonies wealthy. It was this labor that allowed the founding fathers to have both the wealth and the moxie to believe that they could break off from the most powerful empire in the history of the world. One of them, but certainly the most powerful empire at the time and start their own country.”
She then goes on to reveal how our current systems are still tied to the intuitions we have today. Enslaved people helped finance our war debts after the revolutionary wars, finance some of our prestigious universities and helped fuel the industrial revolution. Enslaved people also built and lay the railroad tracks in the south.
“Here in New York, Wall Street was named Wall Street because that was the wall upon which enslaved people were bought and sold. And the very reason we are the financial capital of the world is because it’s there the systems of banking and insurance and learning to collateralize rise up around the ensuring and the collateralizing and the mortgaging of Black human beings.”
Hannah-Jones wants Americans to understand how the legacy of slavery still lingers in America today and how it doesn’t just impact Black Americans — but everyone in this country. She wants folks to understand that even outside of the material wealth that enslaved people created for this country, is how Black people have played one of the most vital roles when it comes to making the U.S. an actual democracy. When the founding fathers created documents stating that all men are created equal, they were actually false because slave owners ran the country at the time. Those rights that were stated in the documents were not actually granted to Black people. Black people had to fight for those rights to actually become true. To ignore slavery’s very real impact on our politics and culture today is to ignore the reality of what our country is and the systems that have been put in place as a result of it.
Check out the interactive issue here and watch the video below.