Andrew Sullivan on the New York Times’s wokeness

I told you! I told you! I told you that the New York Times was becoming woke, and few believed me. Maybe more will now that Andrew Sullivan, in his latest New York Magazine “Interesting Times” piece (click on screenshot below) has decided that the NYT has decided to engage in social engineering more than in journalism. You can see this every day by simply looking at the front page of the paper online.

Yes, lots of people told me, when I posted at length about the increasing wokeness of American colleges and universities, that this was a temporary phenomenon confined to campus, and that as students entered the real world they’d shed their juvenile preoccupations with offense culture. Well, that’s not true, for those students are becoming the real world—in journalism, in business, and in the media. The worst part is that they’ve infected the liberal media I used to enjoy, media like the New Yorker, New York Magazine (Sullivan’s own home; if you have an issue of the rag, look at the last page), and, especially, the Washington Post and the New York Times, once bastions of journalistic greatness.

Well, both of those papers are still good, but they’re no longer great. The Times, in fact, is starting to look like an upscale version of The Evergreen State College’s student newspaper.  In the first part of Sullivan’s usual tripartite column (the other two parts are about drag queens, which he sees as nonthreatening clowns, and Brexit, which he doesn’t favor but is sympathetic to those who voted “leave”), he uses the “1619 Project” of the Times to make his point. I’ll have to quote at length, which will save me time rephrasing somebody else’s words.

Let me add, though, that the 1619 Project is a long-running presentation of the Times’s view that racism has infected and infested every aspect of American life (not just some of them). Some of the reporting is good, but the point is to shame America by confecting a “project” which, while containing a fair amount of truth, proposes an overarching and unconvincing explanation for the character of every bit of American life.


“Our democracy’s ideals were false when they were written.”

I’ve been struggling with that sentence — the opening statement of the introductory essay to the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project on the legacy of slavery in America — for a few weeks now.

It’s a very strange formulation. How can an enduring “ideal” — like, say, freedom or equality — be “false” at one point in history and true in another? You could of course say that the ideals of universal equality and individual liberty in the Declaration of Independence were belied and contradicted in 1776 by the unconscionable fact of widespread slavery, but that’s very different than saying that the ideals themselves were false. (They were, in fact, the most revolutionary leap forward for human freedom in history.) You could say the ideals, though admirable and true, were not realized fully in fact at the time, and that it took centuries and an insanely bloody civil war to bring about their fruition. But that would be conventional wisdom — or simply the central theme of President Barack Obama’s vision of the arc of justice in the unfolding of the United States.

No, in its ambitious and often excellent 1619 Project, the New York Times wants to do more than that. So it insists that the very ideals were false from the get-go — and tells us this before anything else. Even though those ideals eventually led to the emancipation of slaves and the slow, uneven and incomplete attempt to realize racial equality over the succeeding centuries, they were still “false when they were written.” America was not founded in defense of liberty and equality against monarchy, while hypocritically ignoring the massive question of slavery. It was founded in defense of slavery and white supremacy, which was masked by highfalutin’ rhetoric about universal freedom. That’s the subtext of the entire project, and often, also, the actual text.

Hence the replacing of 1776 (or even 1620 when the pilgrims first showed up) with 1619 as the “true” founding. “True” is a strong word. 1776, the authors imply, is a smoke-screen to distract you from the overwhelming reality of white supremacy as America’s “true” identity. “We may never have revolted against Britain if the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. It is not incidental that 10 of this nation’s first 12 presidents were enslavers, and some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy,” Hannah-Jones writes. That’s a nice little displacement there: “some might argue.” In fact, Nikole Hannah-Jones is arguing it, almost every essay in the project assumes it — and the New York Times is emphatically and institutionally endorsing it.

I’ll quote a bit more, as I think Sullivan’s take—and his beef—is absolutely accurate. While, like me, he realizes that in the past the brutal slavery-ridden history of America was whitewashed (I learned almost nothing about it in school), and that we need to be educated about it, the Project is neither education nor journalism: it’s largely advocacy of an ideological view about structural racism, born of critical race theory. Sullivan argues that the Times view doesn’t deserve “to be incarnated as the only way to understand our collective history, let alone be presented as the authoritative truth, in a newspaper people rely on for some gesture toward objectivity.”


The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to “teach” its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms. That’s why this issue wasn’t called, say, “special issue”, but a “project”. It’s as much activism as journalism. And that’s the reason I’m dwelling on this a few weeks later. I’m constantly told that critical race theory is secluded on college campuses, and has no impact outside of them … and yet the newspaper of record, in a dizzyingly short space of time, is now captive to it. Its magazine covers the legacy of slavery not with a variety of scholars, or a diversity of views, but with critical race theory, espoused almost exclusively by black writers, as its sole interpretative mechanism.

. . . This is therefore, in its over-reach, ideology masquerading as neutral scholarship. Take a simple claim: no aspect of our society is unaffected by the legacy of slavery. Sure. Absolutely. Of course. But, when you consider this statement a little more, you realize this is either banal or meaningless. The complexity of history in a country of such size and diversity means that everything we do now has roots in many, many things that came before us.

, , ,the NYT chose a neo-Marxist rather than liberal path to make a very specific claim: that slavery is not one of many things that describe America’s founding and culture, it is the definitive one. Arguing that the “true founding” was the arrival of African slaves on the continent, period, is a bitter rebuke to the actual founders and Lincoln. America is not a messy, evolving, multicultural, religiously infused, Enlightenment-based, racist, liberating, wealth-generating kaleidoscope of a society. It’s white supremacy, which started in 1619, and that’s the key to understand all of it. America’s only virtue, in this telling, belongs to those who have attempted and still attempt to end this malign manifestation of white supremacy.

. . .  But it is extremely telling that this is not merely aired in the paper of record (as it should be), but that it is aggressively presented as objective reality. That’s propaganda, directed, as we now know, from the very top — and now being marched through the entire educational system to achieve a specific end. To present a truth as the truth is, in fact, a deception. And it is hard to trust a paper engaged in trying to deceive its readers in order for its radical reporters and weak editors to transform the world.

Sullivan refers to this Slate article (click on screenshot) that gives a transcript from a 75-minute New York Times town hall meeting involving the staff and executive editor Dean Baquet.


In a NYT town hall recently leaked to the press, a reporter asked the executive editor, Dean Baquet, why the Times doesn’t integrate the message of the 1619 Project into every single subject the paper covers: “I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting … I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.”

It’s a good point, isn’t it? If you don’t believe in a liberal view of the world, if you hold the doctrines of critical race theory, and believe that “all of the systems in the country” whatever they may be, are defined by a belief in the sub-humanity of black Americans, why isn’t every issue covered that way? Baquet had no answer to this contradiction, except to say that the 1619 Project was a good start: “One reason we all signed off on the 1619 Project and made it so ambitious and expansive was to teach our readers to think a little bit more like that.” In other words, the objective was to get liberal readers to think a little bit more like neo-Marxists.

Well, if they start infusing this ideology deeply into their science reporting, I’m gone (I have a subscription). I’ve already canceled my paper subscription to The New Yorker, and won’t renew my subscription to New York Magazine. (Those are the only three subscriptions I have.) I’d be pretty conflicted if I had to ditch the Times because of their fulminating wokeness. But I have no confidence that it will straighten up, even if (fingers crossed), Trump loses next year’s election. It’s too late. The papers have already hired a staff of young students steeped in collegiate “progressive” Leftism. We can expect more of the above, as well as more biased coverage of Israel, in which the Times, along with most “mainstream media” has been engaging for years (see also here and here). I look forward to The New York and Oberlin College Times (not!).


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Regardless of whether the NYTs survives this woke period is still to be seen. I think much of it comes from our modern internet world where a few facts lead to big misunderstandings about everything. What we really have is a lazy and almost ignorant look at our own history. Pull out a few facts such as slavery and then push that while undermining everything else. It is the same way we do everything today. The discussion of guns and gun control in America is just another example of this same stupid and uninformed talk on the subject. Most of the people on this very site make their comments on guns or gun control based on what? That they read a few article on line. This is not knowledge or understanding of a subject. There is no depth to it.

    The first people that came from Europe had no intent to promote slavery. They came to get away from the lack of freedom they experienced in Europe and they also came in some cases, financed to make money for the people who backed their coming. America was a big place and it is a fact that slavery went away in the north while gaining more traction in the south due to the economy. How do you square that fact with the nutty idea that slavery was the mission?

    • DrBrydon
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      When you have a monocausal explanation, you can make any fact, even a negative one, support your thesis. Just like a conspiracy theory. That said, I would like to know how they explain the fact that slavery was restricted over time in the northern colonies, and utlimately ended in 1865.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        AFAIK the abolition of slavery was European undertaking, a European quirk. Louis the Xth was the first one to abolish the practice in 1315 in France (long before ‘black’ slavery).
        The history of abolition is very complex though. Eg, Bartolomé de las Casas opposed the enslavement of the local Amerindian population, but as a result (I guess unintended) slaves started to be imported from Africa. Note that many ‘Western’ countries abolished slavery in their ‘homelands’, while allowing it in their colonies.
        Outside the ‘West’, only Cyrus the Great of Persia appears to have advocated abolition.
        Historian, please correct me if I’m mistaken.

        • mike cracraft
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Darius and Xerxes enslaved thousands as their conquests moved to the west towards Europe. Slavery was ubiquitous throughout ancient and prehistoric times.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          “Louis the Xth was the first one to abolish the practice in 1315 in France (long before ‘black’ slavery).”

          The “in France” is pretty important here. The French nobility built their wealth running a slave colony in Haiti, from 1625–1804 per Wikipedia.

          • Damien
            Posted September 16, 2019 at 3:35 am | Permalink

            We put the hate in Haiti.

  2. BJ
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I have a question about what Sullivan initially writes. If the founding of the US was the founding of a country to uphold white supremacy, what about all the African kingdoms who enslaved great swathes of their population, sold them, and made most of their money off the backs of their slaves, both at home and through their “trade”? Were they also kingdoms founded on white supremacy, since white people were the ones who ended up being the main importers of those slaves slaves?

    As Randall notes above, “The first people that came from Europe had no intent to promote slavery.” In fact, it was the British who first used their navy to roam the high seas stopping slavers and slave boats in an attempt to stop the African slave trade. America fought a brutal civil war in which 620,000 to 700,000 of their people died just to end slavery in the country.

    The US was founded at a time when most places in the world engaged in slavery, from South America to Europe to Africa to the Middle East. The only places where it still thrives are the latter two, though in the Middle East it’s more in the form of “inviting” people from other countries to come work, taking their passports when they arrive, not paying them, and forcing them to work on dangerous jobs where over 1,000 people die to build a stadium or something.

    • Historian
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      The first settlers to the colonies may not have come with the intention to promote slavery, but they had no trouble accepting it once they were afforded the opportunity.

      Here’s my response to your “whataboutism.” The other areas of the world that had slavery did not write glorious documents about how “all men are created equal.”

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        They did not say – all men will be equal in our newly formed land. It also skipped over half the female population. I am just saying, proclaiming all men are created equal is really making no statement at all concerning after the creation. Certainly the thinking was male, white, privileged people. That could be argued as applicable today.

        • Historian
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          “I am just saying, proclaiming all men are created equal is really making no statement at all concerning after the creation.”

          I do not think this statement is true. But, if it is true, it means that the phrase “all men are created equal” is totally meaningless and has been quoted millions of time by people who had no idea that it was apparently inserted into the Declaration of Independence for no apparent reason.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            At best it was stated as a vision, something to shoot for, but the statement itself comes up short does it not? It says men.

      • dd
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        The NYTimes places the creation of the US in 1619.

        The “all men are created equal” comes from a document…Do you know which?….written about 150 years later.

        By 1619, How was Locke doing on his thoughts and writings? (Trick question.)

        • Historian
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I know which.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Slaves, slaves? The various African slaving kingdoms who flourished by selling slaves to the Europeans on the west coast very rarely sold their own population [as in from their own ethnic population or tribe/tribes] – they conducted war with rival African kingdoms in west Africa & sold the human booty to the Europeans along with their own local dissidents & criminals for tidiness.

      Were those west African kingdoms [empires] founded on white supremacy you ask. No, none of the dozen or so major empires [made up of 100s of city-states &/or tribes spread over 350 years] were founded on the sale of slaves to the Europeans although it [in great part] fuelled the growth of the most economically successful.

      As the demand for slaves for the Americas grew the Europeans also increasingly formed raiding parties to capture Africans themselves, but they tended to stick near the coast in partnership with local Africans. This was politically unwise because usually there was existing arrangements in place between that area/state/kingdom/empire & the European nation currently holding the ‘franchise’ for that piece of coast.

      Lots of generalisations above, because 350 years is a long time & because your question is very general. You are perhaps being rhetorical & philosophical rather than seeking my kind of factual answer.

      • BJ
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Yes, I am being rhetorical. I think there’s great hypocrisy in the modern notion that slavery was essentially a white/Anglo-Saxon problem and the idea that the US and European countries are white supremacist or were founded in such a way.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that idea is as wrong as it can be indeed. Slavery was rampant world-wide.
          There are/were but very few societies that didn’t practice it, and some of those, such as several Indian kingdoms had a caste system that more or less served the same function.

          I think -yes, I know this is very broad and sweeping- the Industrial Revolution (and of course the ideals of the Enlightenment) allowed for full abolition.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      It is a truism that slavery predates antiquity — generally as a condition imposed upon conquered peoples by their conquerors. It is similarly a truism that native Africans themselves abetted and profited from the slave trade during the early days of colonialism.

      But I’m at loss to see how these truisms refute that slavery was perpetuated on the North American continent as a matter of white supremacy — not just regarding people imported from Africa, but upon their native-born progeny, for generation after generation, for over 300 years, based on no justification other than the inferiority of one race as compared to another.

      As Jerry observes in the OP, “in the past the brutal slavery-ridden history of America was whitewashed (I learned almost nothing about it in school), and that we need to be educated about it[.]” As I recall, as someone educated in northern public schools (in a state that had remained loyal to the Union), there was nary a mention of slavery in the primary and secondary school history books until the abolitionist movement and as a the casus belli of the American Civil War. No discussion of its central role in the burgeoning American economy, and little mention of the brutality by which it was perpetuated over the centuries.

      As Sullivan puts it in his piece, “[t]here’s no question that Americans have deliberately avoided the brutal truths about slavery, and it is undeniably important that the full horror of that hideous regime be better and more widely understood.” There is, that is to say, a needed corrective for these historical omissions.

      Sullivan calls the NYT’s 1619 Project “ambitious and often excellent[.]” As he further observes, the critical-race theory promoted in this project is a view that

      deserves to be heard. The idea that the core truth of human society is that it is composed of invisible systems of oppression based on race (sex, gender, etc.), and that liberal democracy is merely a mask to conceal this core truth, and that a liberal society must therefore be dismantled in order to secure racial/social justice is a legitimate worldview.

      The problem with The Times project is that it promotes this view to the exclusion of all other, competing interpretations. As such, it is not the requisite corrective for earlier educational omissions, nor a neutral, rounded examination of history, but serves as mere propaganda for a particular (and, I submit, flawed) view of the American experience.

      • Historian
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        I am with you until your last paragraph. It is difficult to find a “rounded view” of American history in any one book or essay. Historians tend to emphasize one thing or another. Objectivity or neutrality in historical writing is perhaps a laudable goal, but you will be hard pressed to find it. Indeed, the case can be made that objectivity is impossible (which I agree with), no matter how hard the historian may try. Books have been written about this. Today, much of academic writing about American history focuses on slavery and racism. Does it tell the whole story of American history? No. But it tells a part that needs to be told. If you think the 1619 Project is propaganda then every history book should be labeled the same. It probably isn’t difficult to discover factual errors in the 1619 articles, but its thesis is as legitimate as any other that you can find.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t mean to suggest in my last paragraph that there was a single neutral, rounded view of history. I think that comes from presenting a diversity of historical perspectives and letting them compete in the intellectual marketplace. I should have been more explicit.

          • BJ
            Posted September 15, 2019 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            Well, I think we generally agree on my overall thesis then: the “woke” crowd wants to paint one picture of America and American history, but there is no one picture, and their picture leaves out a ton of relevant information. Every society that has ever enslaved others (read: nearly every society ever) saw those people as subhuman. My point was that the US was not founded on white supremacy, regardless of whether or not it engaged in it at some point, and that, further, it fought and lost the equivalent of 6,000,000 of its people today to stop it in its nation.

            • Rick Gilpin
              Posted September 15, 2019 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

              The United States did not fight the Civil War to oppose white supremacy. At best, after 1862, one of the goals was the abolition of slavery. The only original purpose was the preservation of the Union. I challenge you to find any statement written between 1861 and 1865 that argues that the War was being fought to overthrow white supremacy. Neither Lincoln, his generals, nor any abolitionist espoused that view. After the War, Thaddeus Stevens came close, but his was mostly a lonely voice.

              • Historian
                Posted September 15, 2019 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                The problem with saying that the abolitionists (at least some of them) or that even Lincoln at the end of his life did not intend to overthrow white supremacy is that you need to make clear what you mean by white supremacy. After the war, the Radical Republicans (once reviled, now looked upon by many historians as heroes) pushed through the 14th and 15th amendments, which was an attempt, although ultimately foiled, to provide African-Americans political equality. Does this mean they opposed white supremacy or would they have had to gone further, such as enforcing by law social equality and instituting programs to provide real economic opportunity? This they did not do because they held to the fantasy that once freed and provided political equality the free market would solve all the problems of the recently enslaved. So, it’s a matter of perspective, whether in the aftermath of the Civil War there was an attempt to overthrow white supremacy.

                See this illuminating article by Civil War era historian James Oakes who argues that the “antislavery movement was not crippled by the racism that scholars are too quick to discern, but by the libertarian strain that other scholars admire.” This article was posted in the leftist journal Jacobin, but Oakes is a much respected scholar in the field.


                You are correct that the war was fought to preserve the Union, not end slavery, and certainly not to end white supremacy. But, a case can be made that the results of the war provided some with the opportunity to end white supremacy, which they took based on their conception of the term.

              • Ric Gilpin
                Posted September 15, 2019 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                What I mean by white supremacy is the
                neo-Darwininian view that the white “race” was “superior,” however that term in defined, to the other races of the earth. The burgeoning popularity of the social Darwinist theories of Herbert Spencer, and his US acolyte, William Graham Sumner, is the most common, but not the only example, of this position. Subsequently, the eugenic theories of Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Francis Galton, and their US popularizers, came to hold enormous sway over intellectual discourse in the United States. Margaret Sanger is a good example of a liberal hero who nevertheless fully subscribed to such views. Even Eleanor Roosevelt, prior to the 1920s, was on record as espousing anti-Semitic beliefs. See “The Guarded Gate,” a recent work by Daniel Okrent. Only a few well-known Americans, most notably William Jennings Bryan, challenged this ubiquitous racism.

              • rickflick
                Posted September 16, 2019 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                ‘white supremacy is the
                neo-Darwininian view that the white “race” was “superior,” ‘

                White supremacy is not a neo-Darwinian view. Neo-Darwinian refers to the merging of Darwinian natural selection with modern genetic theory. It is not a social theory. It’s a technical advance in the understanding of the evolutionary process.

              • Robert Bray
                Posted September 16, 2019 at 9:18 am | Permalink

                Perhaps you meant ‘Social Darwinism’

        • Filippo
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

          Regarding African slaves and/or Native Americans, would you say that the United States has committed genocide? (Do I correctly gather that no country has ever admitted it? Re: Turkey and the Armenians; Nazi Germany and the Jews.)

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:28 pm | Permalink


            • Robert Bray
              Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:33 pm | Permalink


          • Posted September 15, 2019 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

            “Regarding African slaves and/or Native Americans, would you say that the United States has committed genocide?”

            That “and/or” construction is always a tricky one. In this case the answer would have to be “or” but not “and,” for while genocide was unquestionably committed against Native Americans the term can hardly be applied to African slaves. Genocide in the case of the latter would have been a backhanded form of abolishing slavery.

            • Filippo
              Posted September 15, 2019 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

              I used the “and/or” construction on the outside chance that the treatment of Native Americans did not quite qualify as genocide, but that the treatment of both groups did. The treatment of African Americans approaches genocide. There was not a little of the “low hanging fruit” about which Billie Holliday (sp.?) so memorably sung.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted September 15, 2019 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

                One “l” in Holiday. And I’m pretty sure the Lady Day tune you’re thinking of, Filippo, is Strange Fruit” (which actually addresses the reign-of-terror conducted against southern blacks during the post-slavery “Jim Crow” era).

              • Filippo
                Posted September 15, 2019 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

                Yes, you are of course right in these corrections.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted September 15, 2019 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

              We agree, as I think any reasonable people must, that genocide was committed against Native Americans. As to American slaves, I think the “Middle Passage” would fall under Article II(b), and the slave-trade auction block would fall under Article II(e), of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

              • Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

                Yes, Ken, I see what you mean. Most of us (maybe especially those of us who know Greek?) take “genocide” literally to mean killing off an entire race. But you’re right, as usual. By the definition you cite slavery is clearly a form of genocide. Thanks for following up on that.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted September 16, 2019 at 8:35 am | Permalink

                The language they speak at the southern end of the Balkan peninsula — it’s all Greek to me, Gary. I no more speak or understand it than the Roman poet Ovid did the Pontic Greek spoken along the coast of the Black Sea during his exile to Tomis. 🙂

          • Posted September 15, 2019 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

            I was thinking along these lines as well – to me the atrocities of slavery are dwarfed by those committed against the first peoples of the Americas. When folks start yammering about reparations for slavery, I point out that they should go back further to the wickedness of the displacement and genocide of native Americans. Some tribes have refused to accept government payments because what they lost was the land. At least one fellow here in CO has given his small piece back to the Utes There is a growing movement to return land to various tribes, and if I was running for President, I’d be offering up a significant portion of every current state based upon the map of the land of the first Americans

            • Posted September 16, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

              A useful map, though some of the names are not up to date.

        • Posted September 16, 2019 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

          I have (because of my interest in the philosophy of social science, primarily) several books on such things, and I still agree with the Rankean ideal. To give up *is* to write propaganda explicitly. That one fails to live up to the ideal is no more a problem than it is for any other field – we should try to do better – and those of us on the outside, who merely (usually) consume the products of the historians, should hold them to this task. (For example, I found it appalling that Fukayama’s books on the origins of the current political order does not discuss the US colonialism in the rest of our hemisphere.)

  3. Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    On Brexit, I think you misspoke when you said “Brexit, which he favors but is sympathetic to those who voted “leave” — he opposes Brexit but is sympathetic to those who voted “leave” — just to clarify.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I need to say something further to the Times on this idea of slavery. They should go back to the summer of 1787 and study some areas of discussion during that meeting in Philadelphia. They had some pretty intense discussions about slavery and there was a push by some, including old Ben Franklin to find a way of eliminating slavery. They did not get it done and the compromise with southern states to count slaves (2/3rd) gave the south stronger representation in the govt. than they should have had. It was a very bad outcome but required unless we wanted no government at all.

    • John Heskett
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      If the south had gotten their way and slaves had counted as full persons for the purpose of determining representation in congress and the electoral college, they would have had even more political power. Would the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, or the Compromise of 1850 have been passed? Would Lincoln have been elected? If the Civil War still happened, would the Confederacy been stronger militarily? Has anyone ever written an analysis of the possible consequences? I would like to read such a work.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        That is a lot of what-ifs to work on and history is full of them. If the south had gotten even more power so the Missouri Compromise could not happen, we may have had the Civil War in 1820 or 30. The other side of this coin is – the 2/3rd compromise was between counting at one or not counting at all. If not counted at all where would we be? Remember, the south wanted to have their cake and eat it too. If slaves were simply property, how do you count that at all. They sure as heck were not citizens and could not vote.

        • John Heskett
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          Yea, the situation lead to some odd arguments being put forward. The slave owners wanted slaves counted as persons for political and taxation purposes, and abolitionists wanted slaves counted as taxable property.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

            The counting or not counting of slaves discussed at the constitutional convention had nothing to do with taxes. There were no property taxes at that time. It was all about representation, how many representatives the state would have in the house of representatives based on population.

            • John Heskett
              Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              A quick grab from Wikipedia: The three-fifths ratio originated with an amendment proposed to the Articles of Confederation on April 18, 1783. The amendment was to have changed the basis for determining the wealth of each state, and hence its tax obligations, from real estate to population, as a measure of ability to produce wealth. The proposal by a committee of the Congress had suggested that taxes “shall be supplied by the several colonies in proportion to the number of inhabitants of every age, sex, and quality, except Indians not paying taxes”. The South immediately objected to this formula since it would include slaves, who were viewed primarily as property, in calculating the amount of taxes to be paid. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his notes on the debates, the Southern states would be taxed “according to their numbers and their wealth conjunctly, while the northern would be taxed on numbers only”.

              • John Heskett
                Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                I was wrong in my earlier post. The arguments were even odder. Abolitionists would have wanted slaves to be persons for tax purposes and property for political purposes. Slave owners would have flipped those two. “Delegates from states with a large population of slaves argued that slaves should be considered persons in determining representation, but as property if the new government were to levy taxes on the states on the basis of population.” – Wikipedia again.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                Okay, if I understand you correctly you are referring to the Articles of Confederation on the subject of counting slaves or not counting slaves for tax purposes? I am not familiar with that although I am assuming it had something to do with determining how much each state should provide for the war or to pay off war debt. I don’t know much about this.

                My only reference is 1787, at the Constitutional Convention and applies to counting state population and determining the number of representative in congress. This is one of the big compromises (each slave would count as 3/5th of a person). Free states wanted no count and slave states wanted full count. The compromise was 3/5th.

                The articles are not any part of this and frankly have little meaning. It was before we had a country/govt. that worked.

      • Historian
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        A quick historical note: the Northwest Ordinance was passed in 1787 under the Articles of Confederation, not the U.S. Constitution. However, it was reaffirmed by the first U.S. Congress.

  5. Sastra
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    If the United States was founded specifically to support white supremacy and slavery, then the poor fools should never have put in all those insignificant verbal flourishes like “Liberty” and “Equality.” Gee, sure backfired on them, huh? It was only intended to be Ceremonial Enlightenment.

    This position reminds me of several things. First, the claim that the US was specifically formed as a Christian Nation to promote Christianity — but that all somehow got left out of the Constitution. And second, the heaping of scorn on reason and science themselves because of the political application of some of the discoveries, with the replacement apparently being intuition and returning to the noble state of Nature.

    • Posted September 16, 2019 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      The wonderful thing about the Enlightenment – again ideally – is that it contains seeds of its own improvement.

  6. rickflick
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    The NYT town hall paragraph really is depressing. The Times editor’s answer was lame.

  7. Historian
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    In studying America’s history, as probably the case with every society, one would discover several themes that help explain its development. For the United States, other themes aside from race and slavery could include individualism, immigration, economic growth, westward expansion, and the growth of democracy. Since the end of the Reconstruction period (1877) many histories of the country have been written emphasizing one or the other of these times. Many of these works have been celebratory. That is, their theses have been that the country (whether defined as the beginning of the colonial period or that of the time of the Revolution) was great and getting greater all the time. This, at least, was what was taught to generations of American school children and apparently being taught to many today, even though academics did not necessarily paint such a rosy picture.

    How did slavery and race and fit into the narrative? It went something like this. Slavery was “imposed” on the English colonists by bad people in the mother country. Somehow the colonists couldn’t resist the introduction of slaves, and, in any case, slaves weren’t treated all that badly and as mental inferiors they enjoyed the benefits of being civilized and Christianized. Never mind that in many cases it was forbidden for them to be taught to read and they were not allowed to marry. The narrative fast forwards to the Revolutionary period and states that the Founders, almost to a man, opposed slavery, but, gee whiz, the time was just not right to free the slaves. After all, they were inferior as Jefferson believed so they could not be freed to mingle as equals with the superior whites. So, unfortunately, the slaveholders took upon themselves, against their fervent wishes, the heavy burden of keeping humans in bondage. Just maybe sometime in the distant future slavery would die out, but nobody had any realistic idea of how this would come about.

    Then the narrative discusses the Civil War period. It mentions that slavery died out in the North (where there were relatively very well slaves compared to the South), ignoring that racism was rampant in the North. It tends to ignore or downplay that slavery vastly expanded in terms of the geographical area that it covered as well as the population of the enslaved. It also ignores that no longer were Southerners defensive about slavery – it was a positive good for both black and white. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina is best known as slavery’s defender. Now the narrative becomes somewhat contradictory in that it states that the white slaveholders weren’t bad folks, but people such as Lincoln arose to point out the moral evils of slavery. In another version of the narrative, the Civil War wasn’t even necessary because the generation of antebellum politicians were blunderers, who were not smart enough to realize that compromise would have avoided the war and sometime in the hazy future slavery would die out.

    But, the war came, slavery was abolished, and except for the brief period of Reconstruction when illiterate and inferior blacks ran roughshod over the poor tyrannized white folk, everything was once again good. Never mind Jim Crow. There was no justification to attack the separate-but-equal policies instituted by the redeemed white southern state governments. In any case, 75 years later the Civil Rights movement and Supreme Court decisions ended segregation and made everything right for those who were always bitching. Yes, blacks have much less wealth than whites, but that’s their fault. And so the narrative goes.

    I write all this to say that the 1619 project is a great service to educating Americans about their history. The prevalence of the fairy tale version of slavery and race has annoyed me for decades, although in the last 60 years, academic historians have demolished it as the fantasy it is. Perhaps if more students had taken American history courses in college, the 1619 project would not have been necessary. And while details of the articles can be quibbled with, its thesis is undoubtedly correct: slavery and race has permeated almost every facet of American life to this very day.

    I can write much more (I’ve barely scratched the surface), but I will leave things here. I feel I am skirting the limits of how long a comment should be.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      A remarkably fine recapitulation and analysis! The evil of slavery became, especially after abolition, the reality of endemic racism, which can at any time erupt epidemically. I emphatically agree with you that miseducation, or no education, about slavery is a part–I would say a large part–of what still remains a deep national disease. But I don’t blame the students, whether grammar, middle or college: curriculum and instruction were and are at fault. Richness of historical context, with the best picture emerging. . . this is what is so desperately needed here and now.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . miseducation, or no education . . . still remains a deep national disease. But I don’t blame the students, whether grammar, middle or college: curriculum and instruction were and are at fault.”

        Educators/educational institutions are properly accountable for their shortcomings, for sure. But, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” (Richard Hofstadter), and (“The Age of) American Unreason” (Susan Jacoby) are part if this national disease. Whatever is or isn’t taught in K-16 about slavery or other topics, how many Amuricuns will trouble themselves, unforced by academic course requirements, of their own volition to read a book, or at least listen to informative internet lectures, discussions, etc. about such important topics?

        Humans are much more interested in social media and otherwise “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (Neil Postman).

        • Robert Bray
          Posted September 16, 2019 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          No disagreement! I would only add that the disease has a component of alienation, though I suppose it’s paradoxical to suggest that folk can be alienated from what they don’t know.

    • EdwardM
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      You may be skirting the limit but, as usual, quite worth the read.

      My only comment uses as reference a “new” narrative you succinctly outline;

      Yes, blacks have much less wealth than whites, but that’s their fault.

      I think it captures the evolution of a dominant narrative to that point quite well.

      I would say that the worry for me is that often, as seems to be the case in the 1619 article, those who offer a counter narrative to this and related narratives insist that theirs is THE truth. In a sense it’s understandable as these alternative narratives often include truths that were omitted or down played in others. The alternative narratives Sullivan was critiquing in the 1619 article is that white supremacy and those motivated by it are the sole cause of social inequity today. The logical corollary to this is that those on the short end bear no responsibility and are passive victims of a irredeemably racist people and culture.

      Of course, those who suggest this alternative narrative might be incomplete and suggest that there is some truth to the description you give of the new narrative are Nazis, or at the very least, deplorable.

      Anyway, my $0.02 to your excellent commentary

  8. Jenny Haniver
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I haven’t yet read Sullivan’s article in its entirety but I’ve recently wondered why the NYT has been cozying up to Marianne Williamson. I find that disturbing.

  9. Jon Gallant
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    The sub-Saharan African kingdoms had a long-established institution of slavery, and took an active part in the slave trade by selling their slaves to European (and Arab) traders. It follows from this that every African independence movement is contaminated in exactly the same way as the founding of the USA.

    Moreover, slavery was an established institution by the time of the Code of Hammurabi (~ 1900 BC). So it follows that all human progress from before that time to the present moment are contaminated in just the same way etc. etc. etc..

    Wikipedia on the history of slavery is illuminating—much more so, it appears, than the NYT has become. That being the case, we can conclude that the Gray Lady is no longer of any particular use. Why bother looking at it?

  10. Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:36 am | Permalink


    Having just read this (and I totally agree with you) along with today’s Hili Dialogue, I’m prompted to thank you for all the work you put into this site. Frankly, I don’t know how you do it. You and I don’t aways see eye-to-eye on “evidence” or “ways of knowing,” etc. but WEIT genuinely enriches my life, and acknowledgment of that shouldn’t go unsaid.


    • Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      That’s very kind of you, and much appreciated. Thanks!

    • rickflick
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Nice to hear praise for the site. 😎

    • davelenny
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      This site is educational, thoughtful and entertaining, and must require a huge daily effort.

      In my case, I don’t see eye-to-eye with Jerry’s politics, but every morning begins with reading WEIT before looking at any other website.

      As for the OP: ‘I told you! I told you!’ Alas, yes. First they take Manhattan, then they take Berlin.

  11. Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Another factor is that the quality of writing at the NYT has significantly declined. As Sullivan says, the ideals weren’t false, it was a matter of whether the country lived up to them. A big difference indicating bad writing.

    • dd
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Yes, something that becomes dramatically clear if you happen to read and article from the Times written in the 80s or 90s or before….even 15 years ago.

  12. Historian
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Why the American colonies revolted against Britain is, as many historical events, subject to debate. I have my own view, which I will not go into here. But, I will say, I do not think that the primary cause of the revolt was to maintain white supremacy through slavery, but it was one reason to declare independence. Take this paragraph from the Declaration of Independence in reference to King George III: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

    In other words, the colonists feared that the British were promoting slave revolts. This was not entirely false. See Dunmore’s Proclamation in Wikipedia. White supremacy did not precipitate the Revolution, but the colonists, particularly in the South, were horrified at the thought of what might happen if the revolt failed. And, of course, hardly anyone questioned white supremacy over the Native Americans.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but is it not also true that many African Americans joined Washington’s army at Boston and after. He at first was certainly against it but then soon gave in. Hard to see a war for slavery that included many of the same people who were slaves in the south. Until the second world war, the revolutionary war was the only time that the U.S. had an integrated military.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        I’m reminded of a recent book by an African American academic about a slave who ran away from George and Martha Washington (and successfully avoided capture), who characterized her as “ungrateful.”

    • John Heskett
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      From Jefferson’s original rough draft of The Declaration -“he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        And wasn’t all of that edited out by other members of his committee. It is what we call, Jefferson off the deep end. He was putting all the blame on the king and none on himself or anyone in the U.S.

        • John Heskett
          Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          Yes indeed. There is a lot going on in that passage. It seems obvious that it wouldn’t have flown with most of his fellow slave owners. It shows the fear to which Historian referred, but it also shows a horror at the slave trade. Jefferson even views slavery, or at least the slaves, as something obtruded
          on the colonists. Hypocrisy or complexity? In the play “Give’Em Hell, Harry”, Truman describes Jefferson as fighting his own internal civil war.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted September 15, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            Jefferson was afflicted with a bad case of what I call schizoshvartziform disorder. He kept slaves, exercised droit de seigneur, fathered black children, never freed his slaves but railed against slavery.

            • Historian
              Posted September 15, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

              Also, he was not a particularly “kind” master if one is to believe Henry Wiencek in his book “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.” I found the book convincing. It really upset the Jefferson apologists. My sense is that Jefferson got more conservative in his last years. His anti-slavery rhetoric remained, but he didn’t take action against the institution, even when he was in a position to do so.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted September 15, 2019 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                Don’t know if you read much Joseph J. Ellis, but his book American Dialogue has a portion on Jefferson. Pretty negative review on the slavery issue.

    • Filippo
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes, how dare those Native Americans impose themselves on territory controlled by Europeans for 10,000 years or more.

  13. Rick Gilpin
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you, and apparently a majority of your readers, that “slavery,” as such, was not the single, essential idea motivating the founding of the US in 1787, or the English North American settlements in 1619 (or 1607, 1620, or 1630), and that NYT is mistaken in advocating this view. But I am certain that white supremacy was, while not the single, certainly an essential idea motivating all of the above, and that the idea of white supremacy has permeated US society at least through the first half of the twentieth century (see, e.g., the enormous popularity throughout the nation of early twentieth century songs such as “All Coons Look Alike to Me.” Whether it has permeated US society since the 1960s, and still does so is, I believe, an open question about which persons of good Will may differ.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      I think there is a lot of confusion here concerning slavery and racism. Slavery was pretty well settled after the civil war but racism has never been settled. It has always been thought that morality cannot be legislated, although we try.

  14. Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Starting a few years ago I would tell people of the ‘woke’ movement in colleges and they said what’s ‘woke’? Now I have larger audience in my community and many people talk about this movement as beings something that is alarming and harmful particularly to academia and the media.

    I would like to thank all of the WEIT community for bringing awareness, since the beginning, to this issue. This is an important and relevant issue that affects all of us.

    In general Woke activism is detrimental. It may mean well, but it’s, at best, misguided and most disturbingly, hurting most of the people and movements it’s trying to promote or protect.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted September 16, 2019 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      The most obvious problem with ‘woke’ politics is that it is simply cracking society into a hundred different pieces.
      And when you invent identity-politics-based groups for every race except whites, it should be head-smackingly obvious that whites are going to end up inventing a group for themselves in response.
      And by definition it’s going to contain the people that are most opposed to all the politically progressive ideas you espouse.

      Also, an inconvenient fact that campus activists and extreme progressives just skip over: white people vote. There are a lot of us still around.
      This inconvenient fact STILL doesn’t seem to have filtered through to my fellow liberals and leftists, despite three years of Trump and three hundred thousand fucking years of Brexit.

      And you’d better believe that we whites can do poisonous, toxic, thought-policing aggression better than any minority, as is evidenced by the current president and his hordes of lunatic votaries.

  15. dd
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Fortuitously I had gotten a copy of “Slavery and Social Death” by Orlando Patterson, who, unknown to me at the time of purchase may be a, or the, doyen of slavery’s history. Dr. Patterson is a sociologist at Harvard.

    We have all heard that slavery is a mega old institution and ubiquitous. Well, it’s one thing to hear that and then to see the extraordinary listing of places and times in which slavery existed, included in the tables are such things as estimates of percentage of the population enslaved.

    Let’s just say that the NYTimes notororious 1619 is such an overreach that it may be that one of Trump’s legacies is his part in the near debunking of what once was the finest newspaper on the planet. Fake news, indeed.

  16. dd
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    And regarding the homepage article about new Kavanaugh book today in the Times there is this:

    {The book isn’t released until Tuesday, but Mollie Hemingway got a copy, and she writes on Twitter: “The book notes, quietly, that the woman Max Stier named as having been supposedly victimized by Kavanaugh and friends denies any memory of the alleged event.” Omitting this fact from the New York Times story is one of the worst cases of journalistic malpractice in recent memory.}

  17. Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I have my qualms with this. I agree that “Wokeness” is spreading further, and I also agree that it is always ignored, or downplayed, or explained away — often by well-meaning people who only have superficial understanding and who are taken in by slogans. However, it’s high time to see “Wokeness” as its own beast and not mistake it for the left, hard or far or otherwise, feminism, or Neo-Marxism. I understand that Right Wingers have vested interests in not being too exact. They love to drop the “Marx” in there, just to make it seem more alien and different, and somehow beyond the pale. It’s right wing virtue signalling.

    With that out of the way, it seems to be the case that Americans are unusually jingoistic, nationalistic, religious and believe in a totally whitewashed version of their country. But the modern internet, despite well-known problems of fake news and spreading yet more misinformation, is undermining that image. The uniform, military-sponsored US propaganda now clashes with a cacophony of narratives. And like the Catholic Church after the invention of the printing press is struggling with those other versions, that now grind away the “patriotic” American state religion and lays bare the not-so-great reality.

    I think that younger generations simply can’t stand old fashioned US state propaganda as favoured by Sullivan. And I think it’s high time that the USA, too, begins to work through its own history in a more critical way.

    The trouble is that woke ideas that fill the vacuum are rubbish in their own right. For example, woke people always make it about skin colours, even though at the time of US slavery, a majority of so-called “white people” were themselves enslaved and exploited in rigid estate or class structures or outright in servitude to noble masters (no, this is not whataboutery, because it’s directed at the narrative of “all white people were slave owners, or always better off”.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      I like this distinction between the need for a fuller consideration of the history of slavery on one hand, and the abysmal emptiness of the woke version of that history.

      Some of the essays in the 1619 issue of the magazine are quite good. They aren’t harping on the woke version of history; in fact several point out cases where American ideals were the hope and inspiration for slaves and ex-slaves trying to improve their status.

      It is the marketing by NYT, the spin on twitter, the transcripts of their meetings, that seem somewhat pathetically woke. It is better to ignore all that, and focus on the content of the project articles themselves.

      • Posted September 17, 2019 at 3:58 am | Permalink

        Any links to the good ones?


  18. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I would ask Historian about the state of history education today. It has been many years since I was in the grades. But there are many very good history books that cover American history truthfully and fully today. The more current the better but some from 20 to 30 years ago as well. You do not need the internet to properly learn american history, although it can help.

    • Historian
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      If history knowledge is the result of history education then the latter is appalling. A recent survey shows that only 1 in 3 Americans would pass a citizenship test. Therefore, it should be no surprise that most Americans have no idea of the role of slavery in the country’s history.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted September 15, 2019 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        I see some of the terrible lack of knowledge but was not sure if that even applies to the younger people. Thinking way back to my school days, I recall one required American History class in high school, must have been second or third year. Beyond that, I don’t think the high school had anything else to offer. We probably had something in 7th or 8th grade but I do not remember. I think in 5th or 6th grade we had Iowa history and maybe some world history.

        Anyway I had a class or two in college so I would fall very short if I had not taken it up as my hobby many years ago. Probably 90 percent of my reading over the years is American history. I stay away from the phony stuff, such as what’s his name from fox news. Seems all good history has a substantial Notes in the back and usually an Index.

  19. Mike
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Some NYT reporting that is related to science or at least to biology does seem already to be influenced by wokeness. A series of articles in 2019 about the South African runner Caster Semenya (and other Olympic-class runners in the women’s division) emphasize the importance of personal gender identity in determining who should run in the women’s division. The stories ignore the questions about what physiological or anatomical traits should determine who competes as a woman, and specifically ignore available information about Semenya’s physiology and anatomy and genetics, and about the traits of several other Olympic-class runners who have male physiology and morphology, but identify as women and run in the women’s class.

    Stories by Gina Kolata, Lindsay Crouse, Jere Longman, and Juliet Macur tend to focus on the apparent unfairness of excluding Semenya from competing as a woman, and tend to avoid the underlying biology that is the basis for creating the women’s class in athletics in the first place. An invited opinion piece by Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca M. Jordan-Young (anthropologist and critical theory professor, respectively) was positively misleading in its assertions about the physiological basis for typical differences between male and female athletic abilities, specifically the role of testosterone secreted by testes and its long-lasting effects on size, strength, and endurance.

    It is hard to know exactly what these writers were thinking when they wrote these stories or opinion pieces. But all of the stories can be consistently interpreted in terms of a woke emphasis on lived experience, identity, and inclusion of some people in an oppressed class, without a consideration of the effects of that inclusion on (a much larger number of) people in another group: women who have female physiology and anatomy, and are not competitive in athletic events that include physiological males who identify and compete as women.

    On the plus side, one of the things that makes the NYT worth reading for me is that the reader comments on stories and opinion pieces like these are typically full of furious, cogent, informative criticism of the woke aspects of the writing.

    • Filippo
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      I’m reminded that, in a very recent posting on his “The Saad Truth” podcast, Gad Saad holds forth on the prospect/likelihood of cervical cancer in trans women.

  20. Roo
    Posted September 15, 2019 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I am still waiting to see how much the most hardcore Wokeness spreads out of uber-liberal circles and into the mainstream. Certainly in some very liberal areas (education, journalism, Silicon Valley) we’re seeing it crop up, but, it’s also true that there is often a sharp backlash in those settings once people hear about it. (One also gets the impression that this dissenting opinion is rather surprising to the Woke themselves, who are used to a far more insular environment where various orthodoxies are not questioned.)

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