Last week, Senate MINORITY Leader Mitch McConnell held a press conference after he toured the Regional Biocontainment Lab at UofL. During the press conference, McConnell spoke about the 1619 Project. The year 1619 is a pivotal year for the United States because it was the year Africans were first brought to the colony of Virginia, beginning the worst crimes against humanity and America’s original sin. McConnell stated, “I think this is about American history and the most important dates in American history. And my view — and I think most Americans think — dates like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War are sort of the basic tenets of American history. There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notion that The New York Times laid out there that the year was one of those years. I think that issue that we all are concerned about — racial discrimination — it was our original sin. We’ve been working for 200-and-some-odd years to get past it. We’re still working on it, and I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.”
While Mitch’s comments shocked some, I was not shocked at all. Many white people think just like Mitch. They think you just “get past” slavery. They want to treat history like a buffet, skipping over the items that do not appeal to them and only dining on the parts of history that they enjoy. Many white people only like the pieces of history where they are painted as the victor or the benevolent white people coming to “save the savages from themselves.” They only want the parts of history that paint them in the best light. But history doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to cling to the parts you love and skip over the parts you don’t. Reading his comments, I wonder how the Civil War was seen as a pivotal moment in history but not the beginning of slavery? You do not have a Civil War without slavery. However, Mitch wants to skip over slavery and get to the Civil War part because many white people fought in the Civil War, and he can point to that and say, “See. See how good we are.” He wants to gloss over the part that LED to the Civil War. But history doesn’t work like that. To understand this nation, you must take in the totality of everything that made America what it is today, and the foundation of that is the year 1619 when the privateer The White Lion brought 20 Africans ashore to Jamestown, Virginia.
However, I understand Mitch’s desire to just skip over slavery. If I was directly related to slaveowners, I might want to skip over that part too, Mitch. Two of McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers, James McConnell and Richard Daley, owned at least 14 slaves in Limestone Country, Alabama. All but two of them were Black women. So perhaps Mitch wants to just skip over slavery because he is directly related to those that enslaved people. Perhaps Mitch is opposed to reparations because he may have to give up some of this family’s ill-gotten gains.
What Mitch and many white people need to understand is there is no America without slavery. Period. That is what many white people cannot comprehend. Black people built America. Much of the wealth this country has is rooted in slavery. Slavery is embedded into the very fabric of this nation. Many of the issues we see today are directly tied to America’s original sin. A sin that America has never atoned for.
White America has fought for years to conceal its true history. As I stated in my blog, “It’s Time We Had A White History Month,” entire organizations were established, such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the late 1800s, to construct and disperse the lie that slavery was benign, and slaves were happy. They worked to spread these lies in textbooks and continued recycling the lie to young children until the reality of slavery was whitewashed. Trying to continue the lie, Mitch and about 40 of his Republican colleagues wrote a letter asking Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to withdraw a set of proposed priorities for students to be taught the totality of American history. The letter stated, “that would push a politicized and divisive agenda. Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil.” Hello, Mitch: kidnapping, enslaving, raping, beating, torturing, dividing families, auctioning humans, murdering Black people is evil. And that is what this country did to Black people. There is no way to make the ugliness beautiful.
Mitch and others like him want to hide from the truth, but be assured, America, your sins will find you out. You can only conceal history for so long. The 1619 Project brought much of that truth to light, and they don’t like it. And I will tell you why they don’t like it. Because white people have to face themselves, and it is NOT pretty. You are not the victor. You are not the hero. You are not the knight coming in on a white horse to save the day. In fact, you are the villain in the story of America. And that is the part you don’t want to admit. The worst, egregious crimes against humanity have been committed by people that look just like you. And the lie you have told to the world, that it is everyone else but you, is coming to an end. Everyone can see you for what you are because of what you have done. When I study slavery, I always wonder what kind of person could do such a thing? What kind of human are you that you can hang a man from a tree and invite your children to watch? What kind of human are you that you can rape a Black woman and send her back into the fields? What kind of human are you that you can beat a Black man so much his body bears the scars forever? What kind of human are you that you construct a ship to hold humans as cargo? What kind of human are you that you divide up families and sell them to the highest bidder? That speaks to me about the heart of America is and helps me understand why America is what it is today.
Perhaps Mitch wants to gloss over the beginning of slavery in America and everything that came with it because he sees his slave-owning grandfathers when he looks at his face and knows exactly what he has descended from. That evil is in your bloodline, Mitch, and that is the part you wish to avoid. But you cannot outrun yourself, Mitch, and try as it may, America cannot outrun its history. The only way to fix it is to face it.