I'm not a big fan of sin. The only poem I've ever memorized comes from Alexander Pope. It reads: "Sin is a monster of such terrible mein, that to be hated needs but to be seen. Yet seen too often, familiar with her face, we first pity, then endure, then embrace." A few weeks ago the New York Times Sunday magazine devoted an entire issue to slavery and it's legacy, which it declared America's original sin. The issue was the spearhead of the 1619 Project, which is an effort to educate us on the part slavery and racism played in our history, and it's reverberations to this day. The first African slaves to come to North America were sold in Jamestown of that year. Everything about the trade is loathsome and sinful, but does slavery define us as a nation? It doesn't even define Jamestown. What makes Jamestown unique is that it survived. It even thrived. It was touch and go there for a while, but they persevered and other British colonies followed. The first Jamestowners arrived in May1607. Before the month was out, they were already busy killing their neighbors, the Paspahegh. In four years, that tribe was decimated by warfare with the English. Their villages were burnt, their warriors slaughtered and those still alive walked westward looking for any refuge available. That's a story that would repeat itself many times over the ensuing 300 years. Surely the destruction of the native peoples of North America, their civilizations and the natural world surrounding them is America's original sin? Nope, not if you read the New York Times. In Jamestown's darkest hour, during those precarious early years, over 80 percent of it's people died of disease and starvation in the span of a very hard few months. Some were so hungry that they took to rounding out their sparse rations with a little human flesh. I'm not sure what wine goes with that. Just treat it like beef. If anyone asks, call it beef, or maybe "long pork" as some South Seas islanders are said to do. Cannibalism never caught on in a big way here. It had it's run in Jamestown, cropped up again on Donner Pass a few hundred years later, then resurfaced during the prospecting frenzy of 1878 in Hinsdale County next door. I guess it doesn't qualify as an original sin because it never really caught on. Imagine our reputation around the world if cannibalism had been more popular. Who would mess with us then? Think of the billions we could save on the defense budget.
So it's slavery and racism that define us as a nation. It's not our efforts to defeat them. It's not Jefferson's declaration that "all men are created equal.” It's Jefferson's slave huts out back, men and women working his fields who would never share his table, Sally Hennings and the children he would have with her. It's not the spark of liberty first lit here that would ignite the world that concerns them. It's not the very high likelihood that without America and its considerable contributions, the world would be less free, less prosperous and less enlightened they give any credit to. It's not air conditioning, or supermarkets, or modern forms of manufacturing, cancer treatment that is saving millions of lives, Iphones, lap tops, or the internet that defines America. It's Simon Legree cracking his whip, tearing the flesh off a slave's back. Never mind that in that era, slavery was a going concern around the globe. At the same time, Jamestown slave markets dealt in handfuls of captives thousands of Europeans were being captured into slavery to row the fleets of the grand sultan of the Ottomans into battle. Few of them lived more than a couple years and all were worked to death or drowned, unless they managed to escape.
It may occur to you that the New York Times editorial staff and the authors of the essays that appear in this issue of the magazine may be overly negative toward the United States. They ought to know what makes us unique. They should be in touch with what makes us tick and how we got here. They should have some idea of what America stands for, but they don't. They've been accused of bias in the past. They've been accused of dropping journalistic standards when it suits them. The Times often misleads readers with opinion disguised as fact. Choosing the narrative first then arranging the facts to support it is a poor way to interpret history. It's dishonest. Is it alright to call sloppiness journalism's original sin? If so, then there's lots of original sinning going on.