Black Americans Deserve Better than BLM and 1619
Since the death of George Floyd in late May, America has been embroiled in protests—protests that were, at first, animated by an assertion that the police forces of the United States mistreat black citizens.
Later, however, they broadened in focus to a larger, wider assault on fundamental American values, asserting that virtually all of America’s institutions have been and continue to be tainted by racism. Two of the essential elements of the ongoing protests—the Black Lives Matter organization, and The New York Times’s so-called 1619 Project—share an insidious lie at their core, a lie that ultimately prevents black Americans from participating in the best America has to offer.
In many ways, Black Lives Matter has become, essentially, an extension of the 1619 Project. The Project tells a fabricated story of America’s founding. For example, it seeks to relocate our nation’s founding from 1776 to 1619, when approximately 20 slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. This event, from the perspective of the liberal New York Times, was the essential event that not only launched, but also defined, our new nation.
The 1619 Project asserts that slavery was the essential feature of American society and was the basis for the founders’ decision to form a new country. That’s bad for two reasons: not only does it teach a flawed account of their deliberations, but it also loses the story of progress, of how the words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence animated the abolition movement, and ultimately led to our nation’s rejection of slavery.
The radical idea that “all men are created equal” is a central tenet of the Declaration of Independence. It is foundational to a world without slavery. But rather than recognize the influence this radical new idea had on the advancement of human liberty the world over, the 1619 Project is intentionally deceptive, and aims to inspire hatred for America.
Contrary to what the authors of the 1619 Project would have us believe, the fact that some of the same founders who embraced the language of the Declaration of Independence were also slave owners (most notably Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s principal author), tarnishes those individuals, but not the essence of the American experiment. The 1619 Project’s dogmatic approach tells us we must reject anything that came from flawed individuals, which would necessitate throwing out the entire American political system and our rich history as advocates for liberty.
As a pastor on the south side of Chicago, I have seen the devastating effects of racism on the community. I have also seen the devastating effects of other initiatives, such as the underlying messaging of the 1619 Project, and even Black Lives Matter. Because they emphasize that America is racist to its core, they both inadvertently make the American Dream inaccessible to non-whites. As a consequence of this viewpoint, blacks are doomed to view the American Dream as spectators rather than as full participants engaged in a wholehearted pursuit of their personal American Dream.
America is the land of opportunity. It is a place where the rule of law matters. We have economic opportunities and economic mobility that are the envy of the rest of the world. We have a free market system that rewards hard work. These are all reasons to be grateful to be an American. It is not necessary to whitewash the horrors of slavery in our nation’s past to emphasize the blessings of being an American today. But, sadly, we cannot expect the 1619 Project or Black Lives Matter to acknowledge that nuance.
Conservatives across the country have voiced interest in countering the 1619 Project and the Black Lives Matter organization in a way that heals racial divisions and advances black lives. The answer for conservatives is to provide a positive alternative to these divisive narratives by drawing from our true history and our strengths as Americans.
Conservatives should first understand why the 1619 Project received so much attention in the first place. The 1619 Project authors were able to exploit the fact that Americans of all ages—but especially younger Americans—are woefully uneducated about our founding and its documents, and, consequently, the rights we enjoy as Americans. That’s why, for instance, a 2017 survey from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 37 percent of respondents could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment.
It is easy to see how the toxic myths of the 1619 Project could take root against that backdrop of low information about our founding. The 1619 Project and Black Lives Matter have both sought to tarnish our nation’s reputation by describing our founding as a racist act that gave birth to a racist nation, unable to escape its racist past.
As conservatives seek to establish productive methods for racial healing, we face an awkward pause about how to handle our founding. How do we address the reality that some of our greatest American founders, who were passionate about the concepts of liberty, owned slaves? Here, Christianity offers us an answer. The Bible’s heroes are flawed human beings—our faith teaches us that there isn’t any other kind of human being. Abraham, King David, Solomon, Moses, Noah, Job, Paul, and Peter, to name just a few, are presented in the Bible with their human faults, their victories, and their triumphs. We learn that God can work powerfully through brokenness, and that He uses people who are sinners. It is a story told over and over in the Bible.
The 1619 Project asserts that our nation is inescapably racist, and—more importantly—that it was founded with the singular goal of institutionalizing slavery. That is simply wrong. What all Americans need to hear, instead, is the truth about our founding. Conservatives should never shy away from telling the story, and young black students need this message as much as white children. Our founders created the greatest system to advance liberty ever known to man, despite the fact that their work was incomplete because so many people were excluded from enjoying it.
Where the black community is today is worth celebrating precisely because we know where we started. The 1619 Project, through its intentional mishandling of history, demeans all of the progress blacks have made. What could be more racist than that?
At the same time that the 1619 Project wants us to feel ashamed about our nation’s origins, the Black Lives Matter organization is pushing shame for “white privilege.” Everything associated with whiteness, even tangentially, is privilege—up to, and including, what BLM describes as “the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” which BLM declares its intent to “disrupt.”
The single greatest social pathology in America’s poor urban communities is the breakdown of the nuclear family—and BLM says it wants this trend to continue, and lists its continuation as a principal goal of the organization. Think about that. Sixty years of statistics show clearly that children, particularly poor children, growing up in homes without fathers leads to much greater likelihood of poor educational performance, higher drug use, higher crime rates, higher joblessness, and less family formation—leading, sadly, to a repetition of the cycle—and Black Lives Matter thinks this is a good thing.
Here, too, Christianity provides a response for conservatives. The Bible is not silent about “privilege.” In Luke 12:48, Jesus reminds us that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” This wasn’t a statement about race, but it can be applied to America’s situation today. America is a blessed nation, full of people blessed beyond measure. Conservatives should turn the “white privilege” shaming and blaming into a call to action, not just for whites, but for Americans broadly.
The Black Lives Matter organization has borrowed sentiments from the Bible or “Bible-sounding language” that isn’t exactly from the Bible but sounds as if it were. Christians have a responsibility to help show the truth and power of the concepts of the Bible. Forgiveness. Loving our neighbor as ourselves. Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. These are difficult concepts that often require a lifetime of following Christ’s example to get right.
I am often asked how I, as a black man on the south side of Chicago, can be a conservative, given everything I see on a daily basis in my ministry work. I respond that I am a conservative not despite what I see, but precisely because of what I see happening in our community. History shows that liberal ideas fail, and they fail in devastating ways. Conservatives have not only the better messaging, but a better track record. Isn’t it time we used our messaging and successes to win hearts and minds and implement an agenda of racial healing?
Pastor Corey Brooks is the founder and Senior Pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago and founder and CEO of Project H.O.O.D Communities Development Corporation.
This article appears in the September/October 2020 print issue of TAC.