There is an old expression that states, “A hit dog will holler.” It means that an angry or defensive reaction to something is often a good indication that what was said was the truth and the “holleree” is exposing some consciousness of guilt.
The publishing of New York Times Magazine’s “The 1619 Project” caused quite a great deal of hollering, mainly from White historians, politicians and pundits such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, former President Donald Trump, former Fox News host Chris Wallace, and many more.
The conservative National Association of Scholars sought to have the project’s Pulitzer Prize revoked. Certainly, the project wasn’t perfect, but many of its detractors arguably did so in bad faith, with an eye on stubbornly holding onto a version of history more convenient to them and to White supremacy.
Spearheaded by New York Times Magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, “The 1619 Project” is a collection of essays that attempt to depart from conventional framings of American history by putting slavery and its associated derivations at the center of American history. It was first published in August of 2019 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia.
The essays drew a through line between slavery and American democracy, capitalism, the U.S. medical system, the racial wealth gap, and American music among other things.
The project has spawned a podcast, a book, related materials in NYT Magazine, and a school curriculum (met with vociferous pushback from the likes of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis), and now a six-part docu series on Hulu produced in part by Oprah Winfrey. The first two episodes premiered on Jan. 26 with two episodes released each week thereafter.
Not a mere rehash of the material in the originally published project, the Hulu series puts the biracial Hannah-Jones’ experiences and relationship to the material at its center. She traverses the United States, including to her own hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, talking to ordinary Americans, her own family members, and subject matter experts about America’s Black history and how it has always been interwoven into the dynamics of American society today.
We learn that Hannah-Jones’ own father, as well as a favorite uncle, both passed away at early ages due to the shortcomings of the American healthcare system and the particular ways it shortchanges Black men.
In a poignant scene, both Hannah-Jones and a favorite cousin are moved to tears at the tragedy of it all. The U.S. healthcare system as it relates to Black women is also indicted. Rooted in a system of slavery that depended on the expendability of Black bodies, the healthcare system is shown as indifferent, if not outright hostile, to Black lives.
The discussions of the concept of race and of capitalism are brutal. The viewer is made to understand that though conventional recounting of American history would have us believe that plantations were operated at a leisurely pace, they were in fact treated the same as the modern-day assembly line with the enslaved expected to work like machines.
Dehumanizing daily records kept score of their productivity. Pregnant enslaved women were forced to do backbreaking labor under the worst conditions right up to the day that they went into labor.
And speaking of labor, the Hulu series shows in stark terms that Black men and women were bred in the same exact way as animals, forced to mate whether or not a relationship existed between the two, and often beaten daily until there was evidence of pregnancy.
There’s naked acknowledgement of the harrowing Handmaid’s Tale-like existence that enslaved women endured in a society where they had no rights or protection, and how the concept of race was manipulated to support it.
The rape of enslaved women, with abandon and impunity, by plantation owners and their overseers served as a catalyst for laws put in place denoting that the race, and thus political and social status of the child, would follow that of the mother. This also had a direct impact on the creation of harmful myths about Black women’s sexuality that persist today.
Like the original published material, there is also an entry on American music. With the help of noted cultural critic Wesley Morris, musician and uber-producer Nile Rodgers, noted rapper Rapsody, and eclectic musician Brittany Howard, “The 1619 Project” illustrates that tactics used in the music industry put in place a system of cultural segregation that in turn perpetuated social segregation based on race.
The six-episode series, like the source material, spins a truth both ugly and beautiful at the same time: that the inhumane system of slavery was—and still is—at the heart and soul of all that is America.
The 1619 Project is available for streaming on Hulu.
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