A Critical Response to the 1619 Project — Peter Wood
A Critical Response to the 1619 Project — Peter Wood
He’s challenged one of America’s largest newspapers … Dr. Peter Wood has spent his entire career researching America’s evolving culture. His most recent book, 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project, pushes back against The New York Times and examines the true starting point of American history. The former anthropology professor discusses his book — and its implications — with host Charles Mizrahi.
- An Introduction to Peter Wood (00:00:00)
- The 1619 Project Explained (00:01:27)
- Credibility is Everything (00:08:09)
- Changing the Curriculum (00:11:13)
- A New Historical Narrative (00:22:24)
- Reframing Civil Rights (00:30:42)
- A Blame Game (00:35:43)
- Our Urgent Response to 1619 (00:45:47)
- The Silver Lining of the 1619 Bubble (00:36:53)
Dr. Peter Wood is an anthropologist, author and former professor. After receiving his PhD from the University of Rochester, he served as a provost of The King’s College in New York City. In addition, he served as associate provost and the president’s chief of staff at Boston University. Today, Dr. Wood is the president of the National Association of Scholars. And in 2019, he received the Jeane Kirkpatrick Prize for Academic Freedom.
Dr. Wood has also authored several books on American culture and traditional values of liberty and equality. These include; Diversity: The Invention of a Concept (2003); A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now (2007); and Diversity Rules (2020).
Before You Leave:
PETER WOOD: Americans of all races love our country. A doctrine that’s grounded in hatred of our country is eventually going to grate to the point where people will reject it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is Dr. Peter Wood. Dr. Wood is the president of the National Association of Scholars. In 2019, he received the Jeane Kirkpatrick Prize for Academic Freedom. Dr. Wood’s recent book: 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project exposes the jumble of lies, half-lies, logical fallacies, bad history and bad faith of a project motivated by greed and hatred of America.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It also tells a full story about capitalism. And seeking to debunk American principles, the 1619 authors were led to ignore history and disregarded some of its most moving and revealing aspects.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I recently sat down with Dr. Wood to talk about the 1619 Project and how dangerous it really is.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: All right, Dr. Peter Wood. Thanks so much for agreeing to be on the show. I’m really excited to hear what you have to say. I breezed through your book over the past couple of days, and you have really great stuff in there. So, let’s get right to it.
PETER WOOD: Thank you for having me on.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Make believe that I fell from Mars, and I have no idea what the 1619 Project is. How would you explain it to someone who is living in America today and has no idea what’s going on?
PETER WOOD: In 2019, America’s so-called newspaper of record — its most importantly news source for the whole country — devoted a whole issue of its Sunday magazine to what it called the 1619 Project. That’s where the term comes from.
PETER WOOD: And the 1619 Project was a very somber declaration accompanied by a black and white picture of an empty ocean on the cover. It said that 400 years earlier, in August of 1619, a slave ship arrived off the coast of Jamestown, Virginia and un-boarded 20-something Black, African slaves — who were then the beginning of what the authors call “the Slavocracy” that would one day become the United States.
PETER WOOD: This is a positive assertion that something happened and that it had consequences. It was also a negative assertion that other things hadn’t happened. So, the 1619 Project is a loud, vigorous declaration that the American ideals of freedom and equality are a sham. They never had any real presence at all. They were just an attempt to cover up the expropriation of the labor of African slaves and the suppression of their rights.
PETER WOOD: What began in August of 1619 continues — with variations — to this very day. America needs to be understood as a nation that was founded in and continues to be illegitimate because it is based on the theft of labor and freedom from Africans.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I went to school and I learned that the birthday of this country was July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was signed, and history started there as a nation.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, the 1619 Project basically says: “Woah, way off.” History started 150 or so years prior with an African slave ship coming to these shores. Do I have that right?
PETER WOOD: That’s the claim that The New York Times was making. There are a lot of things that I could say about it. One of them is that The New York Times is a newspaper that’s supposedly reporting news. In this case, it took on the task of inventing history. And I use the word “inventing” carefully in that it’s not telling a history that wasn’t previously known, but it’s “reframing” — that’s their word — all of American history through this one supposed event.
PETER WOOD: You wouldn’t have been wrong to think that the nation of the United States began on July 4, 1776. The principal author of the report is a woman named Nikole Hannah-Jones. She’s ready to dispute that.
PETER WOOD: According to Hannah-Jones, what happened in 1776 was that the English colonists in North America became alarmed that the British would abolish slavery and create freedom. They were so afraid that this might happen that they decided that they would rebel — to preserve slavery. So, what happened in 1776 was just more of the same. It was just an effort to keep the slave system going.
PETER WOOD: I don’t want to just leave those words lying there as though they might be true, because they’re not true. You can take this apart in a lot of ways. I think it’s useful to recognize that what happened in Jamestown in 1619 isn’t exactly what Nikole Hannah-Jones and her fellow contributors said.
PETER WOOD: Indeed, a ship arrived off the coast. It was a pirate ship. English pirates had intercepted a Spanish convoy of ships in the Caribbean that was headed toward Mexico with slaves destined for the mines. They captured a bunch of the slaves. They sold some of them in Bermuda. And then, those who were left over — we don’t know the exact number — were brought north to Jamestown.
PETER WOOD: At that point, the pirates had run out of food and were willing to trade their slaves for food. Some people in Jamestown took the offer, but Jamestown did not recognize the existence of slavery. So, when these African captives were taken off of the White Lion, they became indentured servants.
PETER WOOD: Well, being an indentured servant is not necessarily a great thing — especially if you’re not volunteering for it. But it’s generally a lot better than being slave because an indentured servant serves a term.
PETER WOOD: In English law, it was usually seven years — after which you were set free. That’s exactly what happened to these particular captives. They became free after a period of time. We know what happened to some of them because they became landowners. They intermarried with the white population. They had full legal rights because in some cases, there were court cases where they sued their neighbors and won. So, this was not really the instance of the beginning of slavery in the English colonies in North America.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Peter, let me let me just jump in here for a second. It sounds like a newspaper came up with a new history of the United States — starting it in 1619, as opposed to 1776. They have a whole bunch of people write stuff. Are these people scholars? Do they do they have any sources for this? Or, did they have the conclusion, and they were just trying to find the facts?
PETER WOOD: Well, my guess is that that’s what happened. But what we do know is that the magazine supplement — the 1619 Project — had 10 major essays. Eight of those 10 essays were written by people who were not historians. Most of them were journalists. None of them cited sources. So, we got these stories presented as just-so stories. That was what happened. They didn’t tell you on what basis they thought they knew those things happened.
PETER WOOD: We’re left with this very authoritative-sounding account of American history. [It’s] nothing like a historian’s care for presenting the facts — noting where we don’t know things or where the evidence is ambiguous. It’s laid out as the narrative of America’s past.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Hang on a second. Now, you totally threw me for a loop. So, you have a newspaper with 10 journalists not citing any footnotes and coming up with some sort of narrative that they found or created. [They’re] rewriting the history of the United States. And you’re a professor of anthropology. You’re the president of the National Association of Scholars. So, you have a couple of credits to your name and know what you’re talking about. Why do I care what The New York Times put out as “history” by 10 or so journalists — without citing any citations or footnotes?
PETER WOOD: Well, I cared because I knew The New York Times had credibility, and this sounded like something that was going to get some attention. Right away, I got busy looking more closely at the assertions and invited other historians to talk about it.
PETER WOOD: But there’s another reason to care. The New York Times is a fairly wealthy organization, and it decided to put a lot of resources behind promoting this. It wasn’t a one-and-done magazine that ran in August during the slow months of the year. It was the beginning of an effort to create a curriculum in America’s schools.
PETER WOOD: The last page of the magazine was a statement from the Pulitzer Center, saying that they partnered with The New York Times and were turning these essays into a curriculum that would be suitable for every grade level in America’s schools. They moved very quickly on that. Within a few months, they had signed up major school districts from Buffalo and Chicago. They had signed up thousands of teachers — now tens of thousands. We’re bringing this into our schools.
PETER WOOD: There are some immediate alarms about that. Changing the school curriculum is usually something that gets a fair amount of public oversight. We have school boards, commissions and various state bureaucracies. And the public has a lot to say about this as well.
PETER WOOD: This bypassed all those safeguards and became a set of modules that teachers could pick up and plug into their courses without any oversight. The Times didn’t stop there. It produced a lavish and rather beautiful minute-long television advertisement. It was the first time in the newspaper’s history that it had done something like that.
PETER WOOD: They ran that advertisement in the Super Bowl and the Oscar awards thing. They were willing to spend a lot of money to get a lot of attention. The newspaper itself — over a period of many months — ran full-page advertisements for their own projects. Sometimes, they were two pages. So, no expense was spared.
PETER WOOD: And that’s continued. Right now, they offer fellowships and grants to teachers who are willing to adopt the project and promote it to fellow teachers. The Pulitzer Center continues to be neck-deep in it — as something to be promoted. I think that the advertising campaign has to be looked at as part of the reason why Nikole Hannah-Jones, the principal author of this thing, got the Pulitzer Prize in June 2020. So, it has spread.
PETER WOOD: Why pay attention? If it was just one newspaper with a fanciful story about America’s past, that would be bad enough. But it’s gone beyond being that to something that plays a pretty big role in our public life right now. You mentioned that I’m head of the National Association of Scholars. We’ve been resisting the rise of the 1619 curriculum — which now has ties to things like Ibram X. Kendi’s version of anti-racism, the critical race theory and the idea of diversity, equity and inclusion.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Hang on a second. I’m not getting this. And forgive me, I’m not a scholar. And I’m definitely not even close to a historian. Here’s what I’m not getting. The New York Times comes out with an anecdotal or revisionist narrative that this country started based on racism from 1619. Journalists — not historians — didn’t cite sources or have footnotes. And now you’re telling me that tens of thousands of teachers, school boards and school districts have adopted this so-called “history” to teach our kids? Is that what you’re saying?
PETER WOOD: That’s exactly what I’m saying. The number of school boards … I have no idea. I do know that a friend of mine, who’s a historian, wrote to every school superintendent in the state of Connecticut and said: “You really shouldn’t adopt this.” That was something like 180 different districts. Only two of them responded in a positive way. It seems that the professional educator class — the people who run our schools and the school boards — is pretty eager to adopt the 1619 Project.
PETER WOOD: It’s a good thing to have a conversation about to try to understand why something that’s so factually false and broken would appeal to the people we charged with educating our children.
PETER WOOD: I should add that I’m far from alone in thinking this is a bad idea. From the get-go, professional historians were coming forward and saying: “Significant mistakes were made here, and you have to fix them.”
PETER WOOD: The historians who were coming forward weren’t all conservatives. Most of them were actually pretty liberal. They made their best case to The New York Times. The Times flatly refused to do that. So, we are dealing with the falsification of American history — not just the alternative narrative or new interpretation, but also something that we know is just not so.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me let me ask you this. Say The New York Times comes up with a new project — the Flat Earth Society — and they have 10 journalists who are not signing citations or scientific facts and coming out with this beautiful, glossy curriculum to try and get our schools to say: “Everything that we’ve been learning is really wrong. The Earth is the center of the universe. In fact, the Earth is flat. Everything was different.” How would scholars, school boards and educators deal with that? Forget about the 1619 Project. What would you think? I’m just an average guy. How would you think that they would respond to that?
PETER WOOD: I think that they would take it as an April Fool’s joke. They would laugh at it and say: “Oh, never mind.” Whether the Earth is going around the sun or the sun around the Earth, people have a pretty basic level of scientific literacy. There are lots of subjects in which we would let our better knowledge prevail.
PETER WOOD: In this case, it doesn’t. That’s for a reason, and the reason takes us back to 2020 and the years before that. When the riots broke out post George Floyd in many cities — buildings were burned, and people were killed — Nikole Hannah-Jones said that they were the 1619 riots. Statues were being toppled. George Washington was on his face. Spray-painted on the base of those statues was “1619.”
PETER WOOD: What happened was that the 1619 Project fit in beautifully with the idea that this was a new era in which racial resentment could be unleashed, and ideas such as the one that there’s implicit racism everywhere — that we’re systemically racist society — had to be met with some kind of response. Among educators, the response tended to be one of abject capitulation rather than pushing back. Are we really as systemically-racist society?
PETER WOOD: Educators, by and large, made declarations that we were. If that’s what you believe to be the case, then something like the 1619 Project makes sense. This is a way to atone for all the bad things that America did to people of African ancestry. Who cares if it’s not exactly right? It feels morally right. It feels good to be able to say: “We’re doing something to make up for centuries of enslavement and denial of civil rights. What we’re doing now is teaching the 1619 Project.”
PETER WOOD: The 1619 Project arrived at the right moment. It arrived at the moment when educators — many of them white — were ready to say: “Absolutely. We need to do something to fix the problem. What have we got?” They looked in their drawers, and what they had was the 1619 Project.
PETER WOOD: I think what’s happened is that this was a match thrown into the tinderbox. We now have a world where there are a lot of educated or semi-educated people who believe that it’s really, really important to atone for slavery. And the way to do that is to tell this new fairytale or fable. By calling it a fairy tale, I’m not really doing it justice. It’s much worse than that. This eradicates the basis for our common citizenship in this country.
PETER WOOD: How do you have a country in which you bring up a generation of children to hate it — to view our past as nothing but cause for shame and disgrace and view the present as riddled with racial animus and hatred that we can’t possibly get along with each other? The 1619 Project is a cleaver that tries to put a permanent division between the races and say that the right way to proceed is through a profound resentment, anger and reparations.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so this isn’t bad history. These aren’t mistakes. This isn’t scholars debating. This is just feeding upon a present feeling among some that this country is a racist, terrible place. The conclusion was already drawn. And now we’re going to create a “history” that supplies facts that aren’t facts — just fantasy. Is that more or less what this is?
PETER WOOD: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. This is a fantasy. I don’t want to just throw a word at it. To say it’s a fantasy, I should say at least a little bit about what’s in that fantasy. We’ve already mentioned 1776 and the American Revolution — which is falsely made out to be an effort to maintain slavery.
PETER WOOD: [Here’s] a few more words about that. Slavery existed in most of the states that were going to become the United States at that time — but so did an abolitionist movement. The abolitionist movement had already started in New England during that period.
PETER WOOD: By the time the American Revolution broke out, there were quite a few Americans who thought that slavery was bad. There were no Americans who thought that England was about to intervene and end slavery. That’s because England had a huge financial stake in continuing slavery. [England] was the biggest slave-trader in the world — bringing large numbers of slaves over to supply the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. They were supplying slaves to the southern states in America.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Hang on a second, Dr. Wood. You’re basically telling me the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and risked their lives by signing a treasonous document … because they wanted to perpetuate slavery in this new country that we were founding? Is that yes or no?
PETER WOOD: Yes, that’s exactly what Nikole Hannah-Jones says. That’s the reason why the colonists rebelled. It’s flat-out not true. We know why the American colonies rebelled. They told us so in the Declaration of Independence. It lays out a whole bunch of reasons. That reason wasn’t among them.
PETER WOOD: Maybe they had that reason and were hiding it. Well, you would think that it would show up someplace else — maybe in colonial newspapers. All the colonial newspapers have been scoured. It’s not in there. How about private letters or people’s diaries? [It was] never mentioned. This is something that if you wanted to find evidence to support it, are there are places you could look, but there isn’t any.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me go through history with you. I knew very little about the 1619 Project. It seemed like a jumble of a lot of B.S. thrown together to prove a point. I didn’t know how dangerous it is. It’s like a tsunami [going] into the educational system. So, I just want to go through a couple of things with you. What Abraham Lincoln did to save the Union … We have many letters between northerners and southerners during that war which talked about fighting in order to free slaves. All bunk?
PETER WOOD: No, that’s exactly what happened. There were two main motives for the North in the Civil War. One was to maintain the Union, and the other was to free the slaves. Both those things are true. But what’s not true is what The New York Times puts forward — which was the idea that Lincoln pursued the Civil War in order to exile the slaves outside the continental United States and send them someplace else — Haiti, Panama or maybe Africa.
PETER WOOD: Now, there is this to say for that. Back in the beginning of the 19th century, the abolitionist movement was trying to figure out how to help ex-slaves. Its notion at that point was: Maybe we can repatriate people back to Africa. That’s where the colony of Liberia came from. Lincoln grew up with that idea all around him. There were many well-meaning people who thought that the best we can do to get rid of slavery would be to create repatriation instead.
PETER WOOD: During the Civil War, Lincoln met with a delegation of Black leaders in Washington D.C. in which he mentioned this idea. It was actually taken over by the delegation — who thought it was a pretty good idea — and said that they would support it. But Lincoln said: “No, that’s not what I want to do.” And he quickly backed away from it.
PETER WOOD: Nikole Hannah-Jones knew about that one afternoon meeting at the White House — at which Lincoln said these things — and took that to be Lincoln’s real reason for fighting the Civil War. Everything else was just a mask. What he really wanted to do was get rid of the Black people in the United States.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me go further. Letters went back and forth between the Union Army soldiers and their family members who were fighting in the south. And you read about the fervor that many of these northerners, these Union soldiers, felt that they were doing God’s work by freeing the slaves. All that was bunk as well? How does she address that?
PETER WOOD: She doesn’t address it. She has a high capacity to ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit with her thesis. We learn that Lincoln was a racist. We don’t really learn about the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who thought that they were fighting to liberate slaves. But we do know that they were racist because they were white, and they were part of this system that continued to oppress — even after the end of slavery. We just went into slavery in another form.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me move forward — 1964, LBJ, civil rights and the most amazing document for African Americans since the Emancipation. What about that? What was President Johnson doing with the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Was that also a sham?
PETER WOOD: It was just another cover-up for white supremacy. The idea was that we could pretend to respect the rights and liberties of African Americans, but we wouldn’t really have to do that because we arranged the American economy — and even our interstate highway system and medical system — so that discrimination is now thoroughly baked into the American system. So, creating the illusion of civil rights is fine. We won’t really have to change anything.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: For those listening to the podcast, Dr. Wood is a pretty serious guy. But every now and then, the corner of his mouth curves into a smile because he can’t believe what he’s actually saying. Now, he’s actually laughing. This is even becoming funny to me. If it wasn’t so serious, I would be laughing as well. Next for you: 1954 and Brown v. Board of Education. Eisenhower sends in troops so Black children could integrate into white schools. That that was what — a cover-up and more white supremacy?
PETER WOOD: White supremacy is a supremely clever system that knows when it should fall back just a tiny bit to give people the illusion that they are being respected and treated fairly. Brown v. the Board of Education ends legal segregation, but we know that most Black people are going to be confined to crummy inner-city schools and not get a real education.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: This was just a ruse. This was the white man being so clever that throughout history, they find these points in order to make it seem like they really care. But between us, they really don’t. Is that right?
PETER WOOD: That’s right. Nikole Hannah-Jones has a nice way to frame all this. She says that every advance in civil rights was achieved solely by the efforts of Black people helping themselves. So, you know right away that when LBJ or some other white person is on the side of advancing civil rights, he’s up to something mischievous. It isn’t real. The real advances only come from Black people helping themselves.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so Robert Weaver — the first African American person to hold a cabinet position — is appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by LBJ in 1966. That was also a sham? He helped himself into that position, or the white man was helping him just to cover up?
PETER WOOD: Well, she doesn’t specifically address that. But I understand the project’s logic well enough to know that he may have thought he was being a successful Black man who was advancing the cause of Black civil rights, but he was really just window-dressing for the racist system that was all around him.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Colin Powell. Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State. If anyone knows anything about history — and I think I still know a little bit — the Secretary of State is in the succession plan of the presidency. So, when these two African Americans were placed by a Republican president into these positions of power, this was also a sham as well?
PETER WOOD: Of course, it had to be. We know that white people don’t give up power or share it without some clever reason of their own.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let’s keep going. Barack Obama became president in 2008. He had two terms. Tell me about that again.
PETER WOOD: But he was elected with the wholehearted support of the Black community. That was self-help. That they were able to bring some white voters along too was nice. But what really happened with Barack Obama was that he was championed by the Black community. By the way, he never he never really lived up to that. Once in office, he didn’t deliver the goods the way he should have.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Kamala Harris. What about her? That was another joke?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Well, Kamala Harris is kind of a hard case. She’s not African-American.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Don’t tell anyone that. Don’t tell anyone that she’s Jamaican and half Indian because that’s not true. I don’t think anyone ever saw Barack Obama’s mother in anything. She was white, and it didn’t fit the narrative. Did you ever see her campaign? Did you ever see her anywhere during his eight years?
PETER WOOD: Not at all. I think she disappeared. I don’t actually know what happened to her. Is she alive?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I don’t know. I hope she is.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: But Kamala Harris, who was so proud to be the first Indian senator from India … she’s not African-American. She’s half Jamaican American and half Indian. And according to this new narrative — the 1619 Project — she’s not a real African American. Therefore, it doesn’t count. Is that right?
PETER WOOD: Well, I think that raises a good question. About seven months after the 1619 Project was published, Nikole Hannah-Jones went back into The New York Times magazine with a follow-up essay entitled: “What is Owed.” It’s an account of why America should pay reparations to the many billions of dollars to the descendants of people who were enslaved in America.
PETER WOOD: Well, that would leave out someone like our Vice President — whose ancestors may have included slaves in Jamaica. That’s probably true. But those were not slaves in America. And I’m not sure why we would pay reparations for people who were enslaved in another continent, country or other place. So, there’s that difficult issue.
PETER WOOD: The same thing would be true of Barack Obama — to the extent that he’s part African. His father was never enslaved. He was from Kenya — from the Luo tribe. So, there are — and have been — a few million African-Americans who came to this country voluntarily after the end of slavery. [There was] high immigration from Africa — even in the early decades of the 20th century.
PETER WOOD: So, if we’re going to pursue the line of reparations, we’ve got a very curious historical difficulty to unravel. There are a lot of Americans who don’t think of themselves as Black or African-American but have ancestors who were enslaved. We have lots of other African Americans who have no connection to Antebellum slavery in the South.
PETER WOOD: One would have to be prepared to undertake an immense genealogical study and examination of historical records to carry through what Nikole Hannah-Jones now tells us was the real purpose of the 1619 Project. Namely, she did it in order to create a movement that would lead to the payment of racial reparations to the descendants of slaves.
PETER WOOD: It’s kind of fascinating in that you probably couldn’t do it if you wanted to. Why we would want to is something else. Along those lines, what we have in the 1619 Project is a blame-game. It’s attempting to say that every dissatisfaction and unhappiness that African Americans experience today can be traced back to the years in which Black people in this country were enslaved.
PETER WOOD: Those years roughly go from the 1670s through Emancipation in 1865. But many of the things that weigh on the lives and welfare of today’s African American community have nothing to do with slavery. They have to do with the unfortunate consequences of the Great Society program, which broke the African American family and created generations of kids who grew up with parents who were not married to each other.
PETER WOOD: The breakdown of our social institutions in cities has a lot more to do with the politics and economics of the last half-century than it does with what happened a century and a half ago. That requires a certain willingness to forget — or at least pay no attention to — actual history.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me ask you this. How does she deal with successful African Americans who have achieved amazing things in the world of finance, scholarship and academia? How does she deal with all the oppression and systemic racism? The House of Representatives, the Senate and some of the people who we’ve mentioned who served in the Cabinet — how does she deal with all of that? Are those aberrations?
PETER WOOD: Well, she basically doesn’t deal with it. It’s one of those collections of awkward facts that doesn’t fit her scheme of things. But I’ll impose my own extension of how she views the world on this. I don’t think I could back this up by citing particular sentences from her writing, but her view is that the racism of American society is so deep and profound that we don’t see it. There are ambitious, talented Black people who overcome it and achieve things despite the oppression that’s all around them. But their achievements don’t negate the oppression. It’s still there.
PETER WOOD: No matter how successful you might be as a Black woman, you may walk into a department store and have clerks look at you as a potential shoplifter — and that’s racism. Everybody feels the sting of it. It’s demeaning. It’s the sense that people don’t trust you or look down on you. And that’s not something that’s going to go away any time soon. According to Hannah-Jones and her “What is Owed” article, it’s irreparable. It’s never going to go away.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me ask you something. As someone who, for the past 40 years (or so) of your career, has taken what you do very seriously — citing and researching extensively just to get a doctorate — how do you look at something that comes out in The New York Times and is now being passed off as history — but even more so, is being disseminated into our educational system? So, if we have this conversation 10 years from now — God forbid — we’d be talking about our grandchildren learning about this fantasy world. How do you deal with something like that?
PETER WOOD: Personally, I think I have a certain amount of anger toward this misuse of the name of scholarship and history. I’m more than angry, though. I’m alarmed. I’m of an age now where I’m concerned about what’ll become of our country. There are multiple reasons for that. But certainly, the idea that we have striven so hard for all these centuries — the abolitionist movement was back before the American Revolution.
PETER WOOD: We’ve tried so hard — with such great success — to overcome racism in this country. And now, to suddenly decide: “Oh, never mind. Let’s just embrace it.” That’s what the 1619 Project gives you — a kind of neo-racism or willingness to say that every effort to get past racism has failed and always will fail. Now, what we can do is just spend the rest of our time atoning in shame.
PETER WOOD: If that’s our future, it’s a dismal future. It puts our country at risk. No country can succeed with its population divided against itself — viewing its past as a burden that leaves us wallowing in guilt. So, “alarmed” is my biggest word for this.
PETER WOOD: At my best moments, I look at what Nikole Hannah-Jones and her fellow writers have done, and I’m amused that they can make such extraordinary claims on the basis of so little. There’s a passage in my book, 1620, when I take notice that the Times actually created a new font in order to print the 1619 Project. There’s a little hint of how they see this. This is such an epic-making break with all of history that it can’t even be printed in the old fonts like Times New Roman. It has to be printed in its own special font.
PETER WOOD: Extraordinary pride — or vanity — is evidenced in this. What we’re doing here is so new and special that every single piece of it has to be seen as a radical break with history. We’re making it brand new from the get-go.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so you sit down, and you’re alarmed. You’re angered. You write 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project. Your book’s on Amazon. You have 350 five-star ratings. I did not read the whole book. I started leafing through it. I just couldn’t believe you were responding to some of these silly accusations or things that pass off as history. Back in the day, if you were in school and you mentioned something like this, you’d fail. It’s just totally wrong.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: What is the average American supposed to do or think when they hear about the 1619 Project? Before you answer that, prior to our conversation, I figured it was a bunch of wackos. I thought: “All right. They’re saying such silly things. Who’s going to listen? Who’s going to believe them?” But you’re scaring the heck out of me now. So, how alarmed should the average American — or average listener to my podcast — be?
PETER WOOD: I think they should be fairly alarmed. I think that to gauge how much alarm you should have, you should check in with your local school district and see what’s being taught. You might not get a straight answer from the school board or superintendent. They now know that millions of Americans are really alarmed about what’s happening. So, they have been covering up a little bit. But if you do a little poking around to see if this thing is there, it would help you make a sober judgment as to whether it’s something you should complain about.
PETER WOOD: Now, I want to be fair-minded about all this. Having been through COVID and the riots last year with Black Lives Matter — which is still complaining that our police are racist and promiscuously shooting Black people — there’s a lot of tension in the country about African Americans not being treated well. And something needs to be done. That eagerness to do something is open to some question.
PETER WOOD: Nonetheless, it’s good faith on people’s part. They aren’t intentionally making themselves party to a sham. But they’re susceptible to the snake oil salesman who comes in and says: “You’ve got an ailment? I’ve got a cure. And here’s the cure.”
PETER WOOD: Americans like to delegate things to their experts. When it comes to our children, the experts or teachers. And if the teachers are susceptible to the snake oil salesmen, a lot of parents are just going to shrug and say: “OK, I was bored in grade school, too. It doesn’t matter what they teach. Kids will find their own way.” We rationalize our ability to not pay attention to what kids are learning.
PETER WOOD: But back in the day — for the last several hundred years — what kids were learning was a factual history of where this country came from and why it matters. It matters because we’re a nation that was founded in the pursuit of two cardinal values: liberty and equality. Liberty and equality don’t always play well together. There’s tension between them. Nonetheless, those were our ideals. And we’ve gone far to live up to those ideals.
PETER WOOD: What kids used to learn in school — however well or poorly — was that that was what we were about. That’s what makes the United States a nation worth living in and defending. It also makes us the nation where immigrants from around the world want to come here. They want to be like us. They want to be part of this thing.
PETER WOOD: So, when we start teaching our youngest children that the America’s past was nothing but mistakes — people were mean, nasty and did terrible things to each other. And all of the things that you enjoy in life aren’t really something you deserve. They’re just things that come by means of the oppression done to other people. Cultivate young kids in that attitude, and you’re going to end up with generations of kids who have nothing but disgust for their own country.
PETER WOOD: Mind you, if you start telling an adult these sorts of stories, most adults will be skeptical. How do you know that? Where did that come from? You can’t expect a seven-year-old to have those answers for a teacher. The teacher says it’s this way. It all started with slavery when the slaves were brought to Jamestown in 1619. Kids will grow up believing that.
PETER WOOD: Unfortunately, they will also believe that slavery was something that was unique to America. Well, it’s not. The Native Americans were enslaving each other for millennia before Europeans ever got here. But once the Spanish and Portuguese established a slave trade, they were bringing slaves not only to South America and the Caribbean, but also to Florida and Georgia.
PETER WOOD: So, slavery had been in what was going to become the United States 100 years before Jamestown. There are lots of ways in which this story doesn’t add up. Slavery was nearly a universal human institution. America was one of the first places that said “no” and stopped it. Instead of telling that story, we’re telling the story that America invented slavery and that this horrible institution is the result of choices that our founders made. In every conceivable way, that’s false.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: How do they deal with the Bible, which talks about slavery? A Hebrew indentured servant served six years, and in the seventh year went free. How do they deal with that? That’s close to 3,000 years old.
PETER WOOD: If you look through the 1619 Project, you’re not going to find much of anything about the Bible. I would say they deal with that as they deal with other issues — by ignoring them. There’s an element of Marxism that’s built into this thing. The 1619 Project sees the history of the country as one of material expropriation of people’s labor. But it also treats American prosperity as having been derived entirely from the plantation system of northern capitalism. And industry thrived because of southern capital that was derived from slavery.
PETER WOOD: To this day, American labor practices are a form of a “low-road capitalism.” That was the South’s system of trying to extract as much labor from an individual slave as possible — short of killing the person. That story — of a nasty, aggressive mistreatment of people in order to extract the best economic gain for the masters — is what we’re teaching to young children.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: All right, let me give you the last word here because you thoroughly depressed me. I was happy to come here and do this podcast. Now, I’m feeling terrible. I’m going to give you the last word on this. I want you to make me happy, and I want to make our listeners happy. In the next three to five years, how do you see this playing out?
PETER WOOD: Well, I think that there are two ways in which it’s going to play out. It might make you a bit optimistic. One is that nobody can long-sustain the feeling of guilt without a sense of there being an end. So, if you’re asking the white population of America — and everyone who is not Black — to live in a perpetual shadow of misery over things that they can’t change because they happened so long ago, you’re asking for something that’s impossible.
PETER WOOD: For a while, people can go along with this pretense that it’s all about admitting our guilt. But after a while, they’ll get tired of that and shrug it off. The second thing is that Americans love our country. Americans of all races love our country. And a doctrine that’s grounded in the hatred of our country is eventually going to grate to the point where people will reject it.
PETER WOOD: Perhaps what we see in the 1619 Project is a bubble. We may have to endure this for a few more years. But at some point, Americans are going to say “enough.” I think that a fairly substantial number of Americans are already saying it. On the basis of the talks that I give and the places I go, I’m seeing a grassroots movement around the country where people are turning to their schools and saying: “What the devil are you doing? This is bad. Don’t do it anymore.”
PETER WOOD: That’s going to be a conflict point. I expect that we’ll see this thoroughly politicized and fought about in Congress and state legislatures. But we’re also going to see it happening — school district by school district — all over the country. So, I would take a fundamental optimism from the capacity of Americans to love their country enough to fight for it when they realize what’s at stake.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: The fight is school board by school board. It’s not the enemy outside. It’s the enemy within. It’s getting in our children’s minds. This is what Marxism did. This is what Communism did. They start with the schools. They forget about the parents. Let’s reeducate the kids. They create a whole new world order.
PETER WOOD: And of course, it fell apart. This one will as well.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, I really hope so. The name of the book is 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project. Dr. Peter Wood, I wish you continued success. Keep fighting the fight. For those who want to do something but they don’t have the education, they don’t have the historical facts … What should they be doing? Should they be calling their school boards or teachers?
PETER WOOD: I think talking to teachers or calling school boards is a very good step. If you don’t personally feel confident enough to do that, you might start by just picking up a history book — not some big, complicated 800-page history book, but a short history of America. It will maybe remind you of things that you learned a long time ago and haven’t thought about for years and years.
PETER WOOD: But even if you’ve never encountered them before, a short history book gives you the opportunity to have that conversation that you ought to be having with your teachers. I titled my book 1620 for a reason. In 1620, the pilgrims arrived off the coast of Massachusetts and signed the Mayflower Compact. It was basically an agreement to create a form of self-government — our first charter of self-government in the new world.
PETER WOOD: If you know something about that, then you know that America has been struggling towards self-definition — the creation of a free, respectful and tolerant government — from nearly the beginning. That’s something you can talk to your kids about.
PETER WOOD: Once your kids understand that you care about history, they will care about it, too. History has a reputation of being a dry and boring subject. That’s because it’s badly taught sometimes. But if you take an interest in it in yourself, you’ll understand that it’s full of just astonishingly good stories. Once you learn them, you’ll want to talk to other people about them.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: For the average folk, what history book would you recommend getting?
PETER WOOD: I think there’s a very good one right now by a historian named Bill McClay. The book is titled: Land of Hope. It brings a simple, straightforward narrative of America’s past within reach of anybody. If you can read, you can read Land of Hope.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Outstanding. By the way, he’s going to be a guest on our podcast. I read it, and I thought it was fantastic. I learned so much, and it’s very balanced. And that’s coming from a layman. We did not discuss this prior, so I’m really glad that I liked something that you liked.
PETER WOOD: Me too.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: That’s great. Professor Wood, thank you so much. Fantastic. I wish you continued success, and keep fighting the good fight.
PETER WOOD: Well, thank you.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Charles Mizrahi Show. If you’re a new listener, welcome! If you’ve been listening for a while, we’re glad to have you back. Either way, we’d love to know what you think of the show. Please leave a review if you listen on Apple Podcasts. Reviews make it easier for others to find the show. You can also see the video of the interview on The Charles Mizrahi Show channel on YouTube.
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