Mithridates the Great was one of the Roman Empire’s greatest foes and claimed to be a descendant of Alexander the Great, who died by poisoning. Mithridates’ father died from poison. His father died from poison. His mother tried to poison him.
Needless to say, Mithridates the Great was obsessed with poison.
So, the king created antidotum mithridatacum (the antidote of Mithridates) or “Mithridatum,” an elixir made of 65 poisons and ingested a small amount every day. According to legend, this concoction eventually made him immune to poison.
The American version of black history is a poison. It reduces our entire legacy to a short story only told in February. It is not so much a lie as it is an incomplete truth. It is, at best, a mythical rendition of the past retold by white mouths so long that it has become the truth. It whitewashes our martyrs and obscures the ignominious white supremacy that built this country. It diminishes the truth of the slaveholding Founding Fathers and paints this country as a beacon of liberty and justice. It reduces us. It uplifts them.
And, just like the venerable King Mithridates, Americans have ingested so many small doses of this toxin that they have become immune to large doses of actual facts. They have convinced themselves that their oft-repeated lies are the cure for the truth.
On Thursday, the National Review’s Peter Kirsanow wrote an article entitled “History According to the 1619 Project,” suggesting that the celebrated New York Times’ project is trying to envenom defenseless white children by exposing them to the poisonous truth—namely, America’s shameful history of slavery.
“The 1619 Project’s obsession with race, standing alone, is bad enough,” Kirsanow writes, whitely. “[B]ut it’s even worse that it’s actually being used in public school curricula.”
Regurgitating Nikole Hannah-Jones’ explanation that her historical 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,” Kirsanow notes that the endeavor argues that America was founded when the first African slaves arrived in Virginia, rather than, as white people decided: “When the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain (or, say, 1620, when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, or 1607 when Jamestown was settled). Instead of fixing the founding of the country on a constructive event, the New York Times seeks to define the U.S. by its failures.”
He’s right. That’s exactly what the 1619 Project admittedly does. But Kirsanow undermines his own argument by acknowledging the varying perspectives of historians who disagree on when the nation was founded. His point seems to be that it’s OK to say the Pilgrims founded America; or that it was really founded by the Jamestown settlers...or the signers of the Declaration of Independence...or the ratifiers of the Constitution. All these people could be counted as “Founding Fathers,” according to Kirsanow.
But not black people.
The 1619 Project deliberately minimizes the contributions and cultures of white Americans and magnifies and romanticizes the contributions and culture of black Americans. Ironically, in this way it’s the inverse of the longtime failure of texts to describe or even acknowledge the historical contributions of blacks. In the introductory essay, Nikole Hannah-Jones writes: “More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.” And later, “Out of our unique isolation, both from our native cultures and from white America, we forged this nation’s most significant original culture.”
Where is the lie?
“Ignored is the obvious fact that unless substantial numbers of white Americans had worked to free the slaves, and then ensure that African Americans had civil rights, it wouldn’t have happened,” Kirsanow writes. “White Americans had the political power to expel African Americans had they chosen to do so. But they didn’t. The Civil War ended, and—imperfectly, incompletely—African Americans became legal citizens.”
Does this motherfucker want credit because white people weren’t as ruthless as they could have been? He wanted Hannah-Jones to praise them for not kicking us out of the country we built for them? To praise them for rescuing us from a house they set on fire? The National Review is asking Nikole Hannah-Jones to acquit someone for an attempted murder and their only defense is:
“But did you die, though?”
Kirsanow goes on to whine that the actual facts in the 1619 Project are “likely to become the accepted Story of America within a generation unless there’s significant pushback.”
Because I was home-schooled, I only recently became aware that most elementary curriculums separate slavery from the American Revolution. I had no idea that children aren’t conflicted about the notion of “All men are created equal” or that the Founding Fathers risked their lives for liberty—but only for white men.
This is the venom of white supremacy.
To insist that students should learn about the insignificant portions of white people who fought for black equality but not the overwhelming amount of Americans fought against our freedom and didn’t give a fuck about liberty and justice for all is not just malpractice. It’s erasure. It’s evil.
It is poison.
And, as white people are wont to do, Kirsanow framed his argument in the context of Martin Luther King Jr. White people love to quote King because he is a mythical figure who has been whitewashed by the very version of America that Kirsanow wants to perpetuate.
There has never been a single solid determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans on the question of genuine equality for the black man. It’s never been here. So for those who say there’s something new now in terms of a white backlash go back and tell them that it’s always been here.
I am obsessed with race.
It killed my ancestors too. It has poisoned everything around me. But, unlike Mithridates, instead of continuing to ingest small doses of white peoples’ poison, I have chosen to inoculate myself with the only cure I could find.
When Pompey’s Roman army finally defeated Mithridates VI, he fought for his life until he was surrounded. According to Cassius Dio’s Roman History, Mithridates tried to poison himself but, because he had taken so much of his own elixir, he didn’t die. Mithridates’ son, along with Pompey’s men, eventually set upon Mithridates and killed him dead.
Instead of defiling the body of his enemy, Pompey had Mithridates’ body embalmed and buried him with honor with Mithridates’ ancestors. After subjugating “all portions of Mithridates’ dominion,” Pompey, the Roman general, returned to Rome as a conquering hero. Like MLK, they were willing to honor Mithridates after they killed him.
When Pompey entered Rome, he was accompanied by Mithridates’ son, who Pompey rewarded with a kingdom and a title:
An “ally of Rome.”
Or, as the National Review’s Peter Kirsanow would call him: “The hero who saved Mithridates from poison.”