Retconning American History: The 1619 Project Vs. The Wretched Refuse
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From Urban Dictionary:


(shortened form of RETroactive CONtinuity; first made popular in the comic book world)

1. (original meaning) Adding information to the back story of a fictional character or world, without invalidating that which had gone before.

2. (more common usage) Adding or altering information regarding the back story of a fictional character or world, regardless of whether the change contradicts what was said before.

From the New York Times Magazine:

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

From the Washington Post, however:

Trump is rewriting the meaning of America. Literally.

By Max Boot, Columnist, August 14 at 5:04 PM

When critics of the Trump administration warn that it is transforming America into something dark and ugly, they are often accused of exaggerating. But in a pair of interviews on Tuesday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, admitted as much.

When asked on NPR whether the words inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”) are “part of the American ethos,” Cuccinelli replied, “They certainly are — give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” Later that day, on CNN, he said, “Of course, that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.”

That’s two rewrites in one day of a poem that for more than a century has defined the United States as a nation of immigrants, open to all. Not just European immigrants. Not just wealthy immigrants. All immigrants.

Is there room for both blacks to be at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are and for the huddled masses of wretched refuse to be at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are? If the country’s history is reframed to make the arrival of black slaves in 1619 “our true founding,” is there still room for Nation of Immigrants retconning too? There is a fundamental conflict between the “America Is Made Out of Cotton” and the “Emma Lazarus’s Poem Is Our Founding Document” schools of thought. Who is going to win this struggle for dominance?

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