Trump’s Denial of 1619 Project: Unworthy of a Democracy

by Dr. John H. Jackson, Schott Foundation President & CEO

In our democracy, the federal government has been the entity that the people looked to take steps  to ensure educational equity. President Trump is dangerously intent on reversing the role of the federal government on equity and public education.

Last week, Trump threatened to withdraw federal funding from California public schools that use the 1619 Project curriculum. That educational program is based on Pulitzer Prize winner and Schott Foundation Fellow Nikole Hannah-Jones’ in-depth exploration of the legacy of Blacks in America since 1619, the year that the first African slaves were brought to our shores. Trump doesn’t dispute that historical fact—even he can’t dub it “fake news,” so he doubles down on the notion, embraced by too many, that slavery is now over, no legacy or current injustices exist, end of conversation. With his penchant for extremism, he even claims it’s un-American to teach our children this history.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is a grave threat to our democracy to continue to ignore—and fail to correct—the systemic racism that undergirds our nation’s public policies and practices. The violence against Blacks by the police may lead the headlines today, but the full story cannot be understood without taking a 400-year view of the legacy of slavery. The violence of law enforcement today cannot be separated from the violence that enforced slavery, laws prohibiting Blacks from learning to read and write, segregation, inequitable schools that deny educational opportunities to children, as well as redlining and real estate covenants that deny housing opportunities to families. Only by understanding the full breadth of our nation's history can we see the common threads linking the myriad crises of today.

The legacy and impact of slavery and the policies and practices that support systemic racism have limited the supports and local infrastructure available in cities to support its children and families. Schott’s recent report, the 2020 Loving Cities Index, measures the effect of these policies in the lack of supports that children of color and their families need to have an opportunity to learn and to thrive. We set the measuring rod as a “loving” city, because systemic racism is institutionalized lovelessness. The lack of love portrays just how short we fall in delivering the promise of our nation’s Pledge of Alliance—“liberty and justice for all.” Achieving that promise, Mr. President, should be standard that Americans aspire to, not denial.  Four hundred years after 1619, systemic racism still exists in America. It is absolutely necessary to use critical race theory and the lessons from the 1619 Project to begin to teach a new generation of students how to deconstruct systemic racism and move our country forward.

As Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote in her foreword to Schott’s report, “Inequality is a choice. It is time for us to make another. We can start here by getting at the root of it all. We can start by committing to build, for the first time in our history, a nation of Loving Cities.”  Knowing America’s full history, not denying it, is our only hope.

Dr. John H. Jackson is the President & CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.