This past summer I watched Hamilton the musical for the first time. I was in awe of the Black and Brown people playing our founding fathers and the history that the show made, but I was also aware of its historical inaccuracies. This was the thought that was running through my head as I listened to the podcast for the 1619 Project. I am not a historian, but I’ve always prided myself in trying to find the “truth” about what really happened over 400 years ago. This project, and specifically this podcast, hurt.
I have spent a lot of my life hyperaware that people view Black people as disposable, and I knew that this was something ingrained in American society, but to have so many Black accomplishments be shrouded in white indifference was really upsetting to read. One of the most powerful lines that I’d heard during the 1619 Project podcast was in reference to Thomas Jefferson as he’s writing the Constitution. There, he’s writing about how “all men are created equal” knowing that while writing this his own brother-in-law, the product of Jefferson’s father-in-law raping a slave, will spend his entire life in slavery working for Jefferson in some capacity.
One of the reasons I mentioned Hamilton in the beginning of this entry was because there is a certain kind of historical freedom that’s been taken wherein, we paint the founding fathers as these amazing men, and then I hear podcasts like this and it’s hard to reconcile the two. The founding fathers were terrible people. I know this, history knows this, and yet people will still argue about the amazing things they did. How do people reconcile Thomas Jefferson, George Washington or even Alexander Hamilton, with the truth, their actual history and connections to the horror that was slavery with the images that American history have given us? The idea that history, something so integral to our being and foundation as a country is something that isn’t regulated seems almost impossible, but it’s not. My Catholic school traded History classes for Religion classes, leaving me to scramble, grasping at the little facts I had within my reach, I can’t even begin to detail my gaps in Black History.
Racism isn’t a mistake, it’s a system.
There are so many historical figures that hold power and status in our history that don’t deserve it. I think about Susan B. Anthony and how every election people stick the “I voted” sticker on her tombstone. While not often talked about Anthony was incredibly racist, even going as far as saying she “would sooner cut off her right hand than ask the ballot for the black man and not for woman.” This quote haunts me because it shows White feminism in its truest form, but it also shows people’s ability to ignore racism or injustice when it doesn’t directly affect them. While some are able to remove Anthony’s racism from the progress that she ushered in, I am not afforded that same privilege. Racism isn’t a mistake, it’s a system. How do I reconcile the many historical advances of Black people while also somehow ignoring the reason for said advances? When Lincoln abolished slavery he did it under the guise of Black people leaving America, and while I’m obviously overjoyed that slavery is over, Lincoln is revered as this man who opposed slavery when that’s not actually true. It’s an injustice on many levels including the lack of truth in our history books but also the exclusion of all of these amazing Black people who did the work just for White people to get the credit. And it’s almost impossible to give Black people their dues, when our history is buried deep in places we cannot find them. The 1619 project hurt me in ways that I had never anticipated. Learning the truth about history is always hard, but really, I was hurting for all of the Black people who died fighting for the little freedom we have that I’ll never be able to name.
It angers me that I, and many others, were never given the opportunity to learn names. What were the names of the “black elite” that met with Lincoln that fateful night in 1862? What were the names of the first 20-25 Africans brought to American against their will to pick cotton? I can’t imagine being in either of these groups, and countless others, only to not be remembered because history thought so little of Black life that they never thought to get names. These are the people that I want celebrated and revered, and besides celebrating them Black people deserve to know the truth about our history, our ancestors, our family.