News and Commentary

1619 Project Founder: America ‘Not An Exceptional Nation’

“I don’t think we’re an exceptional nation.”
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: Official recipients for "The Case for School Desegregation Today-This American Life", (L-R) host and executive producer Ira Glass, reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones and producer Chana Joffe-Walt pose for photographs in the press room during the 75th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony held at Cipriani Wall Street on May 21, 2016 in New York City.
Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic

New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of the 1619 Project, said that the United States is “not an exceptional nation” and that the Founding Fathers actually “did not believe in democracy.”

Speaking at Mount Holyoke College’s Common Read Keynote event, Hannah-Jones said that the 1619 Project, which charges that America was founded to protect the institution of slavery, has been falsely portrayed as anti-American by people who have not read the project. Though she believes America has exceptional ideas, she does not believe those ideas translate into an exceptional nation.

“I don’t think we’re an exceptional nation. I think that’s ludicrous for any nation to make that claim, and we certainly cannot make that claim,” she said, as reported by Fox News. “We’re a nation founded on genocide, and chattel slavery, and classism, and gender discrimination. We’re not. We had exceptional ideas but we’re not an exceptional nation. But if you believe that, then your country can certainly withstand scrutiny.”

On history being taught in schools the way it’s taught, Hannah-Jones said that it does not focus on the truth, and instead services a political agenda, asserting that the United States founders never believed in democracy.

“It’s not about truth, it’s about giving us a shared sense of American exceptionalism and American identity and because of that you had to downplay genocide, you had to downplay what happened with chattel slavery, you had to downplay what happened to most marginalized groups,” she said.

As The Daily Wire reported earlier this week, President Trump threatened to withhold funding from schools that teach the 1619 Project as part of their curriculum. Historians have long criticized the 1619 Project for being a work of political propaganda and not a piece of legitimate history.

“These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing,’” the historians wrote in a letter to The New York Times. “They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only ‘white historians’ — has affirmed that displacement.”

In response to the backlash, Hannah-Jones said that the 1619 Project was meant to be an “origin story,” not actual history.

“The fight over the 1619 Project is not about history. It is about memory,” she tweeted. “I’ve always said that the 1619 Project is not a history. It is a work of journalism that explicitly seeks to challenge the national narrative and, therefore, the national memory. The project has always been as much about the present as it is the past.”

“The crazy thing is, the 1619 Project is using history and reporting to make an argument,” she continued. “It never pretended to be a history. We explicitly state our aims and produced a series of essays. Critique was always expected, but the need to discredit it speaks to something else.”

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