REVIEW: What I Learned Watching 'The 1619 Project' on Hulu (Episode 2)

Nikole Hannah-Jones explains 'Race'

February 4, 2023

Author's note / Disclaimer / Trigger warning: I haven't read The 1619 Project. Not the award-winning essay collection by Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times. Or the best-selling anthology from Random House. Or the award-winning, best-selling children's book for adults. I haven't listened to the podcast, and don't intend to. Not when there are so many better ways to spend one's precious time.

The same is true for the vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of black Americans. That's obvious, right? Same goes for the vast majority of internet users with strong opinions about whether The 1619 Project should be taught in public schools, and certainly the vast majority of pundits and politicians denouncing or defending it on television. This is often what passes for public discourse in the digital age—a shouting match among the passionately uninformed, while the people who know better (or value their sanity or simply don't care) tune out and say nothing.

What I do know is that America's élite universities are among the most radical purveyors of anti-anti-segregationist racial sensitivity nonsense, and among the quickest to quash even the slightest dissent in the ranks. In this context, the fact that several history professors from Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Northwestern felt strongly enough to criticize The 1619 Project for its historical "errors and distortions" is profoundly damning. I'll take their word for it. 

I also know that anyone—Nikole Hannah-Jones, for example—who charges a public library $900 per minute to tell an audience of bourgeois liberals that the United States is "one of the most unequal societies in the history of the world" might not value historical accuracy as much as other things. Ditto a cultural establishment that promotes her work on numerous platforms and showers her with awards. Perhaps we are meant to take her seriously, but not literally? 

A serious person wouldn't say something so absurd in a public setting and claim it was "a fact." (Or admit to believing in "the zodiac.") But that's just how most Democratic politicians, journalists, and other professional left-wing activists who demand to be taken seriously communicate these days. The world is ending. Democracy is dying. "Jim Crow on steroids." No wonder so many of their kids have turned to domestic terrorism

They teach this bullshit in universities, applaud it at corporate-sponsored diversity summits, and it's available now for streaming on Hulu, a jointly owned subsidiary of NBC Universal and The Walt Disney Company. Because I'm being paid to do it, I watched The 1619 Project documentary series.

Here's what I learned in Episode 2:

The stated goal of The 1619 Project was to "reframe" American history by putting "the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center" of the story. "Race," the second episode in the Oprah Winfrey-produced Hulu docuseries, explores the unique and deeply problematic history of racial classification in America.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the award-winning journalist, describes her mixed-racing uprising as the child of a white mother and a black father. She contrasts the divergent lives of her maternal grandfather, who was "designated male and white," with her paternal grandmother, who was "designated female and black," and proceeds to interview a "reproductive justice scholar" about the concept of race in American and how it is "actually very silly." Indeed.

The story begins with chattel slavery and ends with a successful lawsuit striking down a requirement that couples list their race on marriage license applications in the state of Virginia. The requirement traces back to Walter Plecker, a state bureaucrat and hardcore eugenics-era racist who probably cornered people at parties to discuss his independent phrenology research. Reports describe him as a "bone-thin" "miserly taskmaster" who ate an apple for lunch every day, a "very rigid man" who never smiled, and a "rabid racist, killed by auto."

Plecker has a lot in common with the professional diversity consultants who adore The 1619 Project. In addition to being humorless scolds you'd never want to see at a party, they actively promote racial segregation in the name of equality equity. In 2020, Democrats in California tried to repeal the part of the state constitution that says government entities "shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin." Midway through the episode, I was served an ad for BLK, "the #1 dating and lifestyle app for the black community."

Hannah-Jones suggests we bring about "healing and justice" by "liberating our society [from] these [racial] categories that harm us all." The reproductive justice scholar agrees that we should strive to create a culture "truly based in caring, and in humanity, and in valuing human beings equally." That sounds great, but it's hard to reconcile with our cultural establishment's ongoing obsession with separating human beings into categories and ranking them according to privilege, with race being the overriding factor. Black children from Baltimore get lumped in with Nigerian heirs and heiresses.

Having spent the last hour denouncing an arcane racial classification system, Episode 2 ends with a quote from the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist lesbian socialist organization that denounced the Civil Rights Movement as sexist and homophobic and is believed to have coined the term "identity politics." They were truly ahead of their time.

REVIEW: What I Learned Watching 'The 1619 Project' on Hulu (Episode 1)