Recognizing the Courage of African American Dissidents

August 4, 2020 Updated: August 12, 2020


Our present idea of a “culture war” implies a conflict between those who support traditional virtues, well-ordered liberty, national sovereignty, and free-market economics with those who seek permanent socialist majorities, ever-evolving progressive “values,” and the surrender of economic independence to the global hegemony of the Chinese Communist Party and its international accomplices.

A favorite tactic of those on the progressive side of this “Kulturkampf” is to deny the best impulses of human beings and focus on the worst in people on the other side of a political debate. This has become a basic tactic of The New York Times and like-minded media outlets since the unexpected setback for the left in the 2016 U.S. election.

Nowhere has this strategy played out more perniciously than in the left’s ongoing gaslighting on the issue of race relations.

The 1619 Project

The most recent example of this divisive practice is the 1619 Project, ostensibly timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in Virginia, but conveniently playing out in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

The project was initiated in August 2019 by New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who has since been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her work. Hannah-Jones contends that virtually every facet of the American nation formed in 1776 has been irredeemably tainted by the years of slavery practiced in the southern states of the Republic.

For the most part, the 1619 contributors are an ideologically homogeneous group of progressive academics, journalists, and activists who are calling for a reexamination of the legacy of slavery in the United States.

Originally published as a New York Times Magazine special issue, the project has developed into a formative public educational program that includes special events, media productions, and plans to be embedded into the nation’s school curricula.

Supporting authors of the project basically argue that America’s founding democratic ideals were false from the beginning and that only African Americans have endeavored to turn them into a reality.

Epoch Times contributor Clifford Humphrey, a doctoral candidate at Hillsdale College, said last summer: “We should see the 1619 Project for what it is: part of a comprehensive attempt at political revolution. It seeks to transform the American republican regime, which is based on equal rights for individuals, into one defined by identity politics and the unequal treatment of identity groups.”

The 1776 Project

Following the rollout of the 1619 Project, a dissident group of African American academics and writers took steps to challenge what they consider to be the general historical inaccuracies and misleading premises contained in Hannah-Jones’s Pulitzer Prize-winning narrative.

Some of the high-profile black scholars involved include Robert Woodson, Carol M. Swain, Glenn Loury, Jason D. Hill, Wilfred Reilly, Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, and John Sibley Butler. Other contributors include journalists Coleman Hughes and Clarence Page.

Writing in the Washington Examiner in February 2020, Woodson described the 1776 Project as “an assembly of independent voices who uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery.”

The 76ers also seek to promote what they consider to be founding American values, such as entrepreneurship, self-determination, and mutual support.

They have pointed to past and present examples of prosperous black communities to challenge the claim that the destiny of black Americans is determined by what whites do now or did throughout history. They highlight black “achievers,” their contributions to the national economy, and the important stake that African Americans have in the nation’s life and destiny.

A Dark and Bloody Crossroads

This tale of two Americas presents itself at a time when most rational adults understand that the United States is entering a dark and bloody historical crossroads.

Quiet, hardworking, productive Americans have been getting up and going to work, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, while a long march of socialist intellectuals has been busy capturing virtually all the nation’s formative institutions and positions of power in the permanent state.

In 2016, middle America said “enough is enough” and elected a quintessential American capitalist to renew the nation to its former self. After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the left descended into a condition of apoplectic rage, which is why the United States currently finds itself in one of the most destabilizing and violent election campaigns in the nation’s history.

Prolonged riots, arson, looting, and murder in U.S. cities and calls for mail-in ballots are unlikely harbingers of a fair and orderly democratic vote in the fall of 2020.

Not a New Challenge for America

The challenge from the 1619 Project isn’t new. Division between Americans who remain devoted to the nation’s founding vision of a free-market economy in an open, democratic society, and those attracted to the empty promises of a more perfect world under socialist authority, goes back at least as far as the English translation of Marx’s “Das Kapital” in 1887.

From 19th-century socialists such as Edward and Francis Bellamy, to John Dewey (iconic founder of the “progressive school” movement), to the Christian socialist Reinhold Niebuhr (intellectual mentor of the first FBI director to lead an attempted bureau coup against a duly elected president), to the inspirational communist author John Steinbeck’s dark portrayal of capitalism in “The Grapes of Wrath,” to the post-1960s Marxist sophistry of public intellectuals such as Herbert Marcuse and Noam Chomsky, to the present darling of the left, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hannah-Jones, socialists have achieved enormous levels of influence in American culture.

Hannah-Jones’s timely piece of political mischief is simply the latest iteration of Marxist revolutionary propaganda that has wormed its way into an upper-class American Zeitgeist that polarizes citizens along the contrived dialectical fault lines of class, race, and gender.

Anti-Americanism Is Risk-Free

Over the past six decades, taking a position against the Enlightenment principles of the American Republic has become risk-free. In fact, anti-U.S. academics, journalists, community activists, educators, and entertainers are constantly rewarded with well-paid positions in schools and universities, literary prizes, media stardom, or political office.

Two years prior to coming up with the 1619 Project, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Hannah-Jones to be one of 24 recipients of its annual “genius grant,” which each year awards $625,000, no strings attached, to those that the U.S. radical chic deem to be “exceptionally creative people.”

Talk about a circular, self-congratulatory “woke” mindset! You can bet the farm that African American scholars such as Woodson, Steele, and their colleagues in the 1776 Project will wait a long time before foundations such as MacArthur discover “genius” in the positive things they have to say about America’s history.

African Americans Resisting the Left Is Heroic

For the black 76ers, taking a position in favor of America can be a dangerous undertaking. For their honest and ethical scholarship, there will be no six-figure “genius” awards. Their resistance to “critical race theory,” the Marxist trope that invokes “white privilege” to explain all forms of contemporary injustice, will invite “systemic” persecution from the most powerful forces on the U.S. left.

At the hands of the “cancel culture,” the lot of these brave African American dissidents is more likely to be professional insecurity, social marginalization, or worse. Writing in The Mail, British senior scholar John Gray, said, “It’s not an exaggeration to compare the methods used by the new ‘woke movement’ to those of Mao’s Red Guards who terrorized the Chinese people half a century ago.”

Those who say Gray’s contention is nothing more than hyperbole might pause to consider the abrupt and tragic demise of Bernell Trammell.

Late in July, Trammell, a 59-year-old African American resident of Milwaukee, was shot dead in broad daylight outside his store while sitting beside his hand-crafted “Trump 2020” signs. Local press outlets, contending for “Orwellian assertion of the week,” have reported that police are still looking for a possible motive for the crime.

Should the American republic overcome the destructive forces that have been raging through the summer of 2020 and rediscover its path toward peace, freedom, and prosperity, all of us would do well to remember the brave African American scholars who have supported the 1776 Project.

Such courageous men and women hold out a measure of hope for the future of America and the free world. As with the signatories of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, they have mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in defense of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

William Brooks is a Montreal writer and educator. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.