Victoria Bynum Writes Response to Alex Lichtenstein's Article on the 1619 ProjectHistorians in the News
tags: historians, history wars, 1619 Project
Victoria E. Bynum is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at Texas State University, San Marcos. She is author of "The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies" and "Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South".
Although I can’t speak for the rest of the “gang,” my work emphasizes the centrality of race (and gender for that matter) in the sweep of American history. I entirely agree with Marxist scholars, however, that neither race nor gender can be understood apart from the class systems in which they are experienced. In this regard, I may care a bit more deeply than my fellow letter signers about what is not, as well as what is, in the 1619 Project. For, as you suggest, the Project does ignore “class and class conflict.” It is for just that reason that my concerns are more closely aligned with the WSWS than you have surmised.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that racial essentialism forms the basis of much of the public reaction against historians critical of 1619, since the same essentialism underlies the Project itself. My understanding of class deeply informs my analysis of race, both of which I addressed in my interview with the WSWS, and my essay, “A Historian Critiques the 1619 Project,” published on my blog, Renegade South, and by the WSWS. In both the interview and the essay, I dismissed pseudoscientific theories about separate races and argued that such beliefs predispose one to embrace a theory of hypodescent (i.e., the “one-drop-rule” of race), which posits certain ancestral “bloodlines” as more powerful than others. From there emerges the assumption, implicit throughout the 1619 Project, that only “black” people in North America were enslaved. Yet, anyone familiar with the history of U. S. slavery knows it was a multiracial institution. We know that many enslaved women gave birth to the children of white men (often their enslavers), and that those children were decreed by law to be slaves. Yet, these children were at least as white as they were black.
Northern abolitionists liked to post photographs of enslaved children whose appearance belied not a trace of African ancestry. Mostly they did so to appeal to racist whites who recoiled at the sight of white-skinned children in bondage, but in so doing the abolitionists wittingly or unwittingly exposed the fact that many enslaved children exhibited white as well as black ancestry. Furthermore, the intertwined nature of race- and class-based laws provided an additional means of social control. Southern white lawmakers not only enslaved black and mixed-race people, they frequently appropriated the labor of lower class white children and free children of color by removing them from the homes of their mothers through apprenticeship laws.