What does it mean to be American? Since I was young I always wondered what the answer to that question was, and after reading “The 1619 Project ” by Hannah-Jones, I finally know the answer. In the beginning parts of Hannah-Jones essay, she stated, “The blue paint on our two-story house was perennially chipping; the fence, or the rail by the stairs, or the front door, existed in a perpetual state of disrepair, but that flag always flew pristine.” To my understanding, the blue paint that perennially chipped off everywhere was symbolism of slavery that lasted for years while the flag or “American culture” stayed alive and seemingly perfect. Another point that Hannah-Jones mentions is the fact that she had been taught that the flag wasn’t really ours and so she then questions how her dad praises it so much. Similar to most African Americans that were enslaved, Hannah-Jones father believed that “if he served his country, his country might finally treat him as an American.” Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and so Hannah-Jones then discusses the reality of America. We are all taught about the history of America and a whole lot of it includes the hardships during the times of slavery specifically to those who are African-Americans.Similarly, Hannah-Jones explain how none of it adds up such as being called African-Americans when they had never been to Africa or how those who were enslaved essentially bulit America and its prosperity. For example, Hannah-Jones states, “Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire.” They taught britains how to grow rice and did all the hard work that helped everything including war debts, food, and even labor.Hannah-Jones also brings up the lies hidden within the constitution and the amendments that ensure freedom yet exclude the enslaved. “Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals,” states Hannah-Jones. In a sense, without the protests and resistance of those who were enslaved, we probably wouldn’t be living in a democratic society today let alone have rights that protect women, gays, and more. There was once a time were women had no ties or claims on their children and even no protection against rape to being free, independent and allowed to work as well as vote. It goes to show just how far the African-American community has come. So what does it mean to be American? According to Hannah-Jones, “it was by virtue of our bondage that we became the most American of all.”
Hannah-Jones and I aren’t the only ones with concerns about America during slavery. Wilentz, author of “American Slavery and the Relentless Unforseen,” contradicts some of the points made by Hannah-Jones while also explaining that the “end of slavery” wasn’t inevitable at all. However in the beginning, Wilentz starts off by discussing how it all started or at least how we see it. For example, Wilentz states, “If anything, we wonder why it didn’t happen sooner, and condemn past generations for their hypocrisy, mendacity, and cruelty.” After reviewing Wilentz article I find this statement to be true as current generations never knew what it was like to be an actual slave and those who were enslaved didn’t always agree, side, and protest with others who were also enslaved. This idea of slavery still exist however it boiled down to being called racism, discrimination, rape, sexism & several other terms. Going back to protesting, Wilentz states, “Apart from sporadic protests, the spread of slavery went virtually unchallenged by European and British settlers let alone their governments; periodic slave revolts and insurrectionary plots did not appreciably slow the rise of the plantation complex that at its height stretched from Brazil to the Caribbean to British North America.” In simpler terms, many people did not want to see the end of slavery due to the benefits they got from it. Even when people were protesting and rebelling, slavery continued. Hence why Wilentz also states, “Against slavery’s millennia, the struggle to abolish it came abruptly.” It was never a plan or even a thought that slavery was ever going to end however once the rebellion increased, suddenly there was abolishnists, unions and more. Another perspective that Wilentz mentioned is the fact that slavery gave those who weren’t enslaved, a chance to build America and its prosperity by giving the New World its symbolic meaning of rebirth. Wilentz main idea was that the end of slavery was not inevitable and white supremacy didn’t end along with slavery. “Far from vanquished, it has morphed and resurged in ways expected and unexpected, from the bloody overthrow of Reconstruction to the menacing rise of Donald J. Trump,” states Wilentz. Basically, slavery only mutated into a simpler form that also gets overlooked. Those same actions that allowed slavery to continue is a contribution and encouragement to the classic “American life” filled with racism.
Further weighing in on the great conversation around America and slavery is Philip W. Magness, author of “Fact Checking the 1619 Project and Its Critics.” Based on the structure of Magness article as well as the title, I can confidently assume that he is going to contradict both Hannah-Jones and Wilentz while also breaking down strong statements regarding slavery in America. In the first section of Magness article entitled “ Was the American Revolution fought in defense of slavery?” he begins to question the credibility and supposed truths stated by Hannah-Jones in “The 1619 Project.” In the first half of Hannah-Jones words, she discusses events that occurred in slavery and in the other half she continued to speculate what might of happened as well as why it happened. For example, Magness states, “Hannah-Jones cites this claim to two historical events. The first is the 1772 British legal case of Somerset v. Stewart, which reasoned from English common law that a slave taken by his owner from the colonies to Great Britain could not be legally held against his will. England had never established slavery by positive law, therefore Somerset was free to go.” Magness gives Hannah-Jones the approval by saying “Hannah-Jones’s argument nonetheless contains kernels of truth.” However, he then heavily goes against her article by explaining there was more to the creation of America than just the labor and struggle of the enslaved. In this point of view, everyone was hurt, not only the enslaved. The slander doesn’t stop there though. In the upcoming sections in Magness article, he puts Hannah-Jones’ article under a magnifying glass. In the section “Was Abraham Lincoln a racial colonizationist or exaggerated egalitarian?” Magness repeatedly takes the side of historians or rather their story of how everything went down. After thoroughly investigating Hannah-Jones article, Magness then goes on to look at other articles also entitled “The 1619 Project.” In contrast to Hannah-Jones’ article, Magness explains and agrees with points made by Matthew Desmond. However it’s no surprise that Magness would go against the claims of Hannah-Jones and side with those of Matthew Desmond as he tends to side with the economical and historian viewpoint. “The historians have a valid complaint about deficiencies of scholarly guidance for the 1619 Project’s treatment of the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War,” states Magness.
Also weighing in about America and slavery is Tom Lindsay, author of “After All, Didnt America Invent Slavery?” Jumping right into the argument, Lindsay states, “ If you think the title’s question is silly, you’re right. But here’s the problem: Increasing numbers of college students today would unhesitatingly respond, “Hell, yes!” to the query. Could it be because that is what they are being taught?” After reading the title I thought the same exact thing and then I had a flashback of my senior year in highschool. I remember my economics/ u.s history teacher telling my classmates and I that there is much more history to be learned than in these textbooks. After that I started hearing of stories that completely shocked me such as the reality behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s death. In school we are taught that he was assassinated and died by the bullet but then all over social media I saw articles stating he could have survived the bullet if a white doctor had not suffocated him with a pillow. Moreover, today several articles have risen about the year 1619 and so Lindsay responds by saying: “Why 1619? Because, says the Times, that is the date of the arrival of the first slaves to the land that would a century-and-a-half later be called the United States. Because America’s “true founding” arose out of slavery, this institution is the key to understanding America’s uniqueness as a country and culture.” I beleieve Lindsay wants to look at a much bigger scope rather than slavery in just America. Basically, you cant claim that America was built by slavery when it was a world-wide thing existing as early as pharaohs roaming around. Lindsay essentially believes that college students specifically have no choice but to endure the falseness in what they are taught. This makes me think back to class when we were asked “Do you consider yourself to be American?” After reviewing these articles I still can’t find the answer. I too believed that America was built off of slavery and that racism is, unfortunately, a part of our everyday life. That is why I understand why Lindsay states, “Our badly educated students—through no fault of their own—appear well on their way to consummating this fatal embrace.”
After reviewing claims and statements, I decided to look into an enslaved man’s perspective through “Secession and War” by Frederick Douglass. Once a slave, Frederick Douglass decided to stand up for fellow colored soldiers by going to the president at the time, President Abraham Lincoln. Although very uneasy about his mission, he felt obligated to go. From an uneasy feeling to seconds in the presence of Abraham Lincoln’s presence, Frederick states, “I at once felt myself in the presence of an honest man–one whom I could love, honor, and trust without reserve or doubt.” However, Frederick came there with a plan and goes on to state, “First, that colored soldiers ought to receive the same wages as those paid to white soldiers. Second, that colored soldiers ought to receive the same protection when taken prisoners, and be exchanged as readily, and on the same terms, as any other prisoners, and if Jefferson Davis should shoot or hang colored soldiers in cold blood, the United States government should retaliate in kind and degree without delay upon Confederate prisoners in its hands. Third, when colored soldiers, seeking the “bauble-reputation at the cannon’s mouth,” performed great and uncommon service on the battle-field, they should be rewarded by distinction and promotion, precisely as white soldiers are rewarded for like services.” Abraham Lincoln seemingly did not panic or object these requests. However, when being denied these promises, Frederick found that his second meeting with Abraham was completely different from the first and yet he and his 3 sons were still enlisted as soldiers. What’s the point of this? Relating back to Hannah-Jones father who was also a soldier during slavery, they fought and stood by Americas side even though everything was against them. Did Frederick believe in America? Or did he believe he had a chance as well?
The oldest and most reliable part of America is the Emancipation Proclamation or rather the constitution. The rights and freedoms that we live by today but had loopholes against the enslaved many years ago. Specifically the 13th, 14th, and the 15th amendments. The 13th amendment granted freedom of slaves. The 14th amendment granted colored people citizenship as well as protection. Lastly, the 15th amendment gave colored people the right to vote. Back then, the loophole was that it didn’t include the women, gays and in a sense every colored person as it was created under white supremacy. Unfortunately, sometimes those amendments dont work today either. Just look at the central park 5. All innocent yet they wasted their life in prison thanks to the racial incline. Are you American? What does it mean to be American? I am American by birth but I don’t think I qualify for the second question.