Five criticisms the Columbia linguist made of the newspaper’s anti-racist ‘history’
In a bid to compete with Substack, the New York Times has launched several subscriber exclusive newsletters by expert authors, including one of the Times’s toughest critics.
That critic is John McWhorter. He is a linguist at Columbia University who happens to be African-American. He also happens to be an outspoken critic of many aspects of wokeness, including the Times’s most famous contribution to the canon.
Of the New York Times magazine’s controversial “1619 Project,” McWhorter wrote for the website 1776 Unites:
The data are in: The New York Times’ 1619 Project is founded on empirical sand. The fundamental claim that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery simply does not correspond with the facts, too conclusively for the point to be dismissed as mere hair-splitting. The issue is not differing interpretations of history, but an outright misinterpretation of it.
McWhorter said that the articles and accompanying school curriculum expound ideas “pernicious to a truly constructive black American identity.”
Here are five criticisms McWhorter made of the 1619 Project, spearheaded by Nikole Hannah-Jones, in that essay:
1. “The 1619 kind of perspective, for all of its elaborate terminology and moral passion vented in serious media organs and entertained by people with PhDs, demands that we abjure complexity. It is a call for dumbing ourselves down in the name of a moral crusade.”
2. “[T]he 1619 vision, in pretending that the roiling, complex history of the United States can be reduced to the fate of one group of people within it, abused, oppressed, and dismissed though they were for so very long, is lazy.”
3. “And never mind how often people of the 1619 mindset get even their history wrong. Their guiding idea is that to closely engage all of this ‘white’ history, and certainly to see anything in it to praise, is as if one were doing all of this while a slave was being whipped just beyond the corner of one’s eye.”
4. “[I]f the 1619 idea is an indirect way of calling for reparations for slavery, there are two problems. One is that this call has failed to bear real fruit for longer than most black people now have been alive. It renders the 1619 proposal old wine in what is now a battered and half-empty bottle. Second is that the proponents of the 1619 idea apparently lack the confidence in their reparational aims to even present them directly — or at best, are under an impression that hints, implications, and parentheticals can be an effective way of swaying a vast and diverse populace regarding a radical, controversial proposal.”
5. “[T]he 1619 Project is a kind of performance art. Facts, therefore, are less important than attitude. Hannah-Jones has predictably dismissed serious and comprehensive empirical critiques, as if for black thinkers, truth is somehow ranked second to fierceness and battle poses. For many, questioning the 1619 Project elicits irritation, of a kind that suggests personal insult rather than difference of opinion. This is because the 1619 Project is indeed all about personality, a certain persona that smart black people are encouraged to adopt as a modern version of being a civil rights warrior.”
Adam Pasick, the Times editor overseeing the newsletters, introduced McWhorter by saying, “John McWhorter, a Columbia University linguist, will explore how race and language shape our politics and culture.”
McWhorter’s first newsletter for the Times is titled, “How ‘Woke’ Became an Insult.” Unlike future newsletters, that one is free to people who aren’t subscribers.
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