City Journal last month released a survey that asked eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds whether they had been taught six concepts related to critical race theory. These included: “America is a systemically racist country,” “White people have white privilege,” “White people have unconscious biases that negatively affect non-white people,” “America is built on stolen land,” “America is a patriarchal society,” and “Gender is an identity choice.”
Each of these was answered in the affirmative by a majority of participants, of whom more than 80 percent attended public schools.
That’s curious given that public educators and their defenders in corporate media have been claiming for years that CRT is not taught in schools. “Teaching critical race theory isn’t happening in classrooms, teachers say in survey,” reported NBC in July 2021. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson in June 2021 called the controversy over CRT “manufactured,” while his colleague Karen Attiah the same month called it “hot air.”
Since then, the narrative has evolved into “well, various themes associated with CRT may be taught in public schools, but not CRT itself.” A November 2021 report from PBS, for example, explained, “There is little to no evidence that critical race theory itself is being taught to K-12 public school students, though some ideas central to it… have been.”
That’s naïve if not disingenuous. Few high-schoolers know the names of the philosophical schools of utilitarianism and scientific materialism, but most of them are trained in their premises.
There’s an added dimension to this, given that the 1619 Project’s curriculum has been disseminated across the country to public schools responsible for teaching millions of students. There are other CRT-friendly public school curricula: the Southern Poverty Law Center for years has been pushing its “Teaching Hard History” program, which has been adopted by many school districts, including in my home state of Virginia.
Concerned parents need guides to effectively respond to these anti-racist curricula, and thankfully scholar Mary Grabar has written one, called Debunking The 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America. Grabar, who has crossed swords with 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones so many times that NHJ blocked her on Twitter, offers a careful rebuke to the problematic (and often erroneous) claims of CRT. Grabar explains: “We must understand The 1619 Project: its divisive aims and its dishonest methods, its sweeping historical misjudgments and its blatant errors of fact. And we must drive its lies and its poisonous race-baiting out of public institutions, beginning with the official curricula of our schools.”
The early chapters of the book deal with the historical inaccuracies and irresponsible reductionism of the many articles that appeared in the original essays published in the New York Times Magazine. (Tellingly, a lot of the language from the project was deleted or changed following public backlash and critiques from respected professional historians, who said the authors had replaced history with ideology.) For example, put on the defensive by a backlash to her claims that 1619, and not 1776, is America’s true founding, NHJ at one point claimed the 1619 Project “does not argue that 1619 is our true founding.” Yet Hannah-Jones herself had previously tweeted, “I argue that 1619 is our true founding.”
The blatant historical errors have been well covered elsewhere, so I’ll just name a few. The 1619 Project argues that the colonies declared independence “to protect the institution of slavery,” though there’s just about no historical evidence to substantiate that. It asserts that American slavery was “unlike anything that had existed in the world before,” though any cursory survey of the ancient world, medieval and post-medieval Africa, and the Ottoman Empire puts that idea to rest. Slave traders from the Barbary Coast alone enslaved and brutalized more than one million Southern Europeans between 1500 and 1800. And NHJ fundamentally misreads the effect of the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, which, far from “enshrining” the idea that blacks were a “slave race,” likely expedited the peculiar institution’s demise, given that the Civil War began only four years later.
Debunking the 1619 Project contains other information that is perhaps less well known. This includes the fact that, contra NHJ’s claims of intellectual novelty, black Americans have been discussing and memorializing the arrival of a Portuguese slave ship at Jamestown in 1619 for well over a century. There’s also the complicated fact that many blacks profitably participated as slave owners in the antebellum Southern economy (Grabar doesn’t mention it, but so did many Native Americans). That by no means excuses the sins of white slaveholders, but it certainly muddles the Manichean narrative preached by anti-racist ideologues.
Yet there’s another component to this story beyond just bad history: the self-serving exploitation of the remarkably lucrative grievance industry by NHJ and other fellow anti-racist pseudo-intellectuals. She now charges about $25,000 per speaking engagement (between September 2019 and February 2021, she made about thirty-three appearances on college campuses, many of them remotely). She not long ago earned a staggering $55,000 for a single speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo in turn charges $30,000 for a sixty-to-ninety-minute speech.
Americans, many motivated by misplaced white guilt, are paying grievance industry celebrities to inculcate a spirit of resentment, cynicism, and victimhood across an entire generation of American youth. The data compiled by City Journal demonstrates that. So does peer-reviewed research on what social studies classrooms are teaching their students.
Consider one article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Social Studies Research. The authors observe a teacher who provokes a class discussion on the failure of Galveston, Texas, to heed warnings from Cuba before a 1900 hurricane wrecked the city. “That was just racist that we didn’t listen to them,” say the students. “Good answers,” the teacher tells them.