Oregon paid $50K for '1619' events where founder criticized colorblindness, said US never met founding ideals

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The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) doled out at least $50,000 for student- and teacher-designated events in which 1619 Project founder Nikole Hannah-Jones claimed, among other things, that America never lived up to its founding ideals and that Black Americans were the actual founding fathers.

ODE confirmed to Fox News on Tuesday that it paid the money to Hannah-Jones’ speaking agency, Lavin, defending the 1619 Project as part of its mission to center Black student experiences. The sum included $25,000 each for two speaking engagements – one of which was broken into two separate events on the same day. In hosting the event, ODE partnered with the Oregon Alliance of Black School Educators (OABSE).

A student-designated event last week included Jones suggesting people couldn’t understand President Trump’s election or the Republican Party’s activities without her perspective on slavery. During that session, she added that the legacy of slavery led to Derek Chauvin thinking he could get away with killing a Black man, George Floyd, on camera.

In a subsequent talk to teachers, she claimed that Black Americans were the nation’s “founding fathers” and that they were the “most American of all.” Video obtained by Fox News shows Hannah-Jones asserting that history was “really about power,” that critics of her project are trying to maintain power, and that Black children can’t be treated the same as White students in schools because colorblindness is unrealistic.

The sessions highlighted the beliefs behind a project that is being promoted in schools across the nation. Jones has repeatedly maintained that her project is a supplement for existing curricula and that no one is forced to use it. Still, many have expressed concerns about its historical accuracy and the types of ideas it promotes to children.

ODE Communications Director Marc Siegel defended the 1619 Project in a statement to Fox News.

“The pursuit of equity in education is trying to realize foundational commitments to belonging, the idea of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ and making sure the ‘we’ in ‘We the People’ is big and truly does include each and every student and family in the community,” said Siegel.

“The experiences of Black students and families can and must be centered in our state, including the fullness of Black histories and Black futures. ODE sponsored discussions with Nikole Hannah-Jones as a critically acclaimed lead writer of ‘The 1619 Project’ in service of meeting these needs. The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from the New York Times that reframes the Black experience in American history and is a valuable resource.”

Hannah-Jones: BLM exists because America has never lived up to its founding ideals

Chris Riser, an Oregon teacher who was reportedly suspended for a Black Lives Matter walkout, had asked Jones during the student-designated event why the facts in her project were important for students of European descent. 

Hannah-Jones responded, in part, by saying that “what we call American history is really White history with a little bit of other people sprinkled in – but mostly to explain why White people have done what they do.”

The “standard” history taught in American schools, Hannah-Jones said, depicted a “country that doesn’t actually exist. It’s a country that erases all of these other people who were here.”

She added: “And when you’re talking specifically about Black Americans, so much of how our country would develop was because of slavery and the anti-Blackness that arose to really justify slavery … it influences the Declaration [of Independence]. The original version of the Declaration of Independence actually talks about slavery and really blames slavery on the king of Britain. It influences our Constitution, it influences our Supreme Court, our legal system. So, when we teach this as a separate history, we actually are not equipping students to understand the country in which we live. We are equipping students to understand a country that I guess some people would like to pretend that we have, but not the actual country.”

Hannah-Jones went on to argue that Black Americans and White responses to them both shaped American culture “in many ways, and that is why this history is important for all Americans to learn.”

“If you want to understand how does a White minority believe that the last election’s illegitimate and actually ransack and lead an insurrection on the American Capitol, you have to understand the history of Black people in this country. And without that, you actually can’t explain the election of Donald Trump, you can’t explain what’s happening in the Republican Party right now, and you can’t explain the insurrection, you can’t explain what happened to George Floyd – like you can’t explain any of that with the history that we’re being taught.”

Riser responded by agreeing with her assertion about Floyd and asking why the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a “teachable moment for children and youth today.”

Hannah-Jones told Riser that the reason BLM “has to exist is because our country has never lived up to its founding ideals. In fact, those tensions that come into play since 1619, the tension between a country – because what we also don’t learn is that the first kind of … democracy for White people begins in 1619 as well. That’s when the colonists hold the first vote on this soil as opposed to being dictated to from Britain. So, we have both this burgeoning democracy and this burgeoning slavery that begin both in 1619, and those tensions are tensions that we grapple with even now. And those tensions are what we see when we see that a White law enforcement officer actually believes that he can kill a Black man in the street while it’s being filmed and that he will not bear consequence for that.”

“That is the legacy of 1619,” Hannah-Jones added, as Riser nodded his head in agreement. “That is the legacy that that moment puts into play.” 

Hannah-Jones: Black Americans are the real founding fathers

Throughout this session and the one with parents, Hannah-Jones described history as a function of power. Her project, she said, was about “narrative” and “memory,” and was designed as an “argument” for students to assess. 

The “curated facts,” which she said were taught in schools, were what “people in power decided to tell us.” 

Opposition to her project wasn’t about history but rather about maintaining power, she told teachers.

“When I said what would it mean to think about America as 1619 as our origins, not 1776? And how would thinking about our origins as being slavery and not freedom fundamentally shift the way that we understand our country? That’s very powerful but that’s also very frightening to people who need to believe in this idea of exceptionalism … History is – and I mean history not history in this happened on this date by this person, but history in our understanding of what happened in the past – is really about power,” she said. 

“It’s always been about power, and folks have not had to share that power in this way, and when you look at all of the opposition to this project, it’s not about the facts of history, it’s about who has always had the power to shape the narrative and not wanting to give that power up – and that you have a fundamentally different understanding of this country if you talk about this country through the lens of slavery and Black people than you do if you talk about it through White people and freedom.”

She similarly criticized anti-CRT laws as an attempt to further a narrative of American greatness. 

“If you read the text of the anti-1619, anti-critical race theory laws, they’re not camouflaging at all what those laws are about,” she said.

“What they’re saying is not we don’t want the facts of history taught. What they’re saying is, our students are need to learn a patriotic history. You know, we don’t need to spend all this time on these divisive things that happened in the past. We need to teach a history that is about unity and the narrative of American greatness.

“That’s about memory … we intentionally are being told that we have to forget these ugly parts of our history because they’re too hard and they don’t jive with the idea of America that we want to believe. That’s not an argument about facts, and that’s not an argument about history. That’s an argument about saying we only want to present to our children a very sanitized, patriotic version of history.”

Hannah-Jones added that her opening essay for the 1619 Project was the “most patriotic” thing she’d ever written. “It was accidentally patriotic, and that’s not an essay saying we should hate America, or America should not exist. It’s actually saying Black people are the most American of all, that we are this nation’s founding fathers, and that we have a right and should claim the flag inherited of the country that we built.”

The 1619 Project similarly reads: “My father … knew what it would take me years to understand: that the year 1619 is as important to the American story as 1776. That black Americans, as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true ‘founding fathers.’ And that no people has a greater claim to that flag than us.”

During last week’s webinar, Hannah-Jones added: “So, you realize that when they’re saying it’s anti-patriotic, what they’re really saying is that patriotism must be defined one, by Whiteness, and two, by an unquestioning, uncritical, flag-pin wearing, superficial valorization of our country no matter its ills – which I don’t think is patriotism.”

Oregon DOE comes under fire for racial curricula

Last week’s webinar once again put a spotlight on a state that has come under fire for promoting controversial ideas about race and identity.

Fox News previously reported on ODE’s embrace of a teacher training program that critiqued objectivity in math and argued White supremacy manifested itself in a focus on finding the right answer. 

More recently, theBeaverton School District received attention for a Zoom equity training in which a teacher suggested that others didn’t belong there if they didn’t embrace certain ideas about racism. Multiple teachers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Fox News they felt fear and intimidation surrounding the issue in the school district.

Jeanette Schade, a former school board candidate in Beaverton, told Fox News that Hannah-Jones’ work “should not be anywhere near children as it is filled with inaccuracies and her personal opinion.” In another email, Schade told Fox News “[o]ur constitutional republic is eroding quickly with garbage like this!” 

Hannah-Jones’ highly controversial project won her a Pulitzer and praise from many. Still, some historians and politicians have argued that she distorted the truth of America’s founding.

Many have described CRT and diversity trainings as actual racism in that they suggest Whiteness and Blackness are associated with certain traits. Defenders have argued that CRT and related trainings help to address underlying structures of racism and root out implicit bias against minorities.

During last week’s event, Hannah-Jones derided attempts at colorblindness, arguing that Black students shouldn’t be treated the same. She was responding to a question from a White school counselor at a predominantly White school.

“We’re told that we’re supposed to be colorblind and treat all students the same, but when you are a racial minority in an institution that is not built for you, you can’t actually be treated exactly the same,” she said.

“There needs to be an acknowledgement that this is a more difficult situation for you, that this can be an uncomfortable or challenging, that you need additional support and that’s OK to acknowledge that.”

In Hannah-Jones’ first ODE-sponsored event, a Portland State University professor claimed slavery never ended and that Oregonians needed to give back indigenous land.

“One of the things that is really important I think is to not frame slavery as a legacy but as it’s still here. Its legacy suggests that it’s over and there’s some remnants of it moving forward,” said Black Studies Chair Ethan Johnson. 

“And I would suggest that, no, slavery is right here, and I think one of the problems that we get caught up in is that we say slavery is kind of relegated to this idea of working for free, right? And I think that’s really problematic — at least that’s the dominant ways that we think about it.” He added that slavery played out in other ways, such as a lack of honor for Black people and the state allegedly taking away children because of the color of Black parents’ skin.

Portland State told Fox News it “is committed to academic freedom and free speech. We respect and support the right of faculty, staff and students to share their views on any platform they choose.” 

In lengthy statements to Fox News, ODE defended each of the webinars. 

“At the center of Oregon’s work on equity is attention to what it means to belong and to create conditions in school engagement that support student belonging,” said Siegel.

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