The essays in The 1619 Project, created and edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times Magazine, are more vital reading than ever. This week’s events at the Supreme Court have proven that. We’re watching the dismantling of privacy and human rights here in the United States in real-time.
What these essays repeatedly show is that this country was created by white Christian heterosexual men for the advantage of white Christian heterosexual men. The 1619 Project focuses on the experiences and uprisings of enslaved and formerly enslaved people. It discusses how their descendants make a difference in our country, whether just one generation or generations further away from those enslaved people.
The book and its essays are organized by topic. The editors buffet the essays with works of creative writing, whether poetry or short stories. So Hannah-Jones walks us through the ways slavery and enslaved people built this country since 1619. Conversely, the topics also show how those white, Christian, heterosexual men designed laws and social mores to keep that same group of vital humans under their thumbs.
Hannah-Jones and the contributors don’t shy away from violence wrought by the plantation owners and other everyday people. They discuss lynchings and ongoing, repeated violence. So this book isn’t for the faint of heart.
On the other hand, each essay shows the survival and contributions of Black people. The topics also show us how we as fellow citizens need to see a broader story of our country.
I mostly listened to this book rather than read it, even though I have a print copy. In some ways, I think that allowed me to disassociate from the intensity of the content, which I regret. I also read one section a week for a few months, rather than reading it straight through. The advantage to this is time to absorb and consider. And the disadvantage is that I again missed some of the intensity of the message.
Because of the print book on my shelf, I know I’ll refer back to it as a reference. The history and analysis in each essay are important as the underpinnings of the emotion. The 1619 Project is American history. It’s the history of all of us, no matter our race, immigration status, or any other ethnicity we identify ourselves with. That’s why it matters—for the past, present, and future of America.
I recommend this book to everyone and especially encourage you to read it with others to foster discussion. Pair it with another book from my list of social justice reading, because it’s easy to find books that delve more deeply into each of these single topics.