On Sunday morning, President Trump tweeted an attack on the 1619 Project, threatening to withhold funding from California schools teaching the popular journalism project focused on the rise and impact of slavery in the United States. With his newest tweet, the President’s actions raise a troubling question:
Why is the Trump administration threatening to censor the way schools teach about the history of slavery and racism in the United States?
The President’s assertion came in response to a tweet from an unverified account stating that California schools were teaching the 1619 Project curriculum. In response, Trump tweeted: “Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!”
The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism and multimedia initiative of The New York Times Magazine, started in August of 2019, 400 years after African slaves first landed on the shores of America. In its own words, the project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Recently, the 1619 Project teamed up with the Pulitzer Center to develop school curriculum to use 1619 Project content in classrooms.
Trump’s Sunday morning tweet continues a trend of his administration’s provocative actions regarding educational approaches to racial injustice in America.
For example, on Friday, the Trump administration announced that it was planning to cease diversity training that it deemed anti-American. In a two-page memo addressed to the leadership of federal agencies, Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought specifically directed federal executives to begin the process of identifying contracts with race-related content that it finds offensive.
“All agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory,’ ‘white privilege,’ or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil,” the memo states.
Despite the timing, Trump’s tweet isn’t the first instance the Trump administration and its allies targeted the 1619 Project. In July, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced congressional legislation, titled the “Saving American History Act of 2020,” with the stated purpose of “preventing federal funds from being made available to teach the 1619 Project curriculum in elementary schools and secondary schools.”
The proposed legislation claims that “an activist movement is now gaining momentum to deny or obfuscate this history by claiming that America was not founded on the ideals of the Declaration [of Independence] but rather on slavery and oppression.” It goes on to state that “the 1619 Project is a racially divisive and revisionist account of history that threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.”
Both Trump’s tweet, as well as Cotton’s proposed legislation, beg a troubling question: why are Republican leaders trying to censor the teaching about the history of slavery and racism in the United States, and why now?
During a time when the United States is engaged in an emotional, and increasingly confrontational, dialogue over the legacy of its racist past, educators across the United States are also exploring ways to better teach the narratives of racial privilege and injustice that have led to the pervasiveness of institutional racism in America. By threatening to censor content that it finds objectionable, the Trump administration is not only treading dangerously on the underlying principles of a free and democratic society; it is also acting in a deeply hypocritical manner, as it otherwise generally endorses local autonomy on issues of education and school choice.
But perhaps most troubling of all, Trump’s tweet and the arguments of his administration and allies demonstrate a belief that history should be taught in a a way that limits criticism of the United States. Further, Trump himself has shown that his is willing to take actions to constructively censor those whose views of history conflict with those of the administration.
That’s not teaching history, that is shaping national propaganda.
For a president who proudly proclaims that he has done more for the Black community than any other President in American history, his efforts to censor the painful story of the Black experience in America are a slap in the face of every Black person who lived that history from the past to the present.
American descendants of slavery deserve more than patronizing claims of support from Trump or any politician. The deserve recognition, justice, and reparations. And at the very least, they deserve to have their story told…
Starting with 1619.