Have you turned on the news, seen organized groups pulling down statues—not of Confederate soldiers, but of our Founding Fathers or other presidents—and found yourself wondering what’s going on? My wife, Amanda, and I have watched with disgust as memorials to our country’s great heritage are attacked and vandalized. Our three girls are watching too. They ask: Why is this happening? I’ve been wrestling on how to give them an answer.
We could try to give these groups the benefit of the doubt. Was it too dark and they didn’t see that they were pulling down a statue of George Washington? Perhaps our education system has failed and some don’t realize Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and was a critical figure in our fight for Independence? Or that Ulysses S. Grant actually fought to save the Union, the Confederacy surrendered to him at the Appomattox Court House and was a great leader in the Reconstruction efforts?
But that’s not what’s going on. I don’t know how to tell my daughters the truth, because the truth makes Amanda and I feel sad and angry.
You see, pulling down these statues isn’t a mistake. The groups pulling down statues are taking their cues from prominent figures in our nation’s elite. You can find their ideas in op-ed pages of the New York Times, on the news and even our children’s textbooks.
What’s going on, then? Some call it a revolution, but it’s a fundamental shift in the narrative about who we are, what we are, and why we are a nation.
On one of the statues of George Washington pulled down in Portland, the numbers 1619 were graffitied on his side.
What is 1619? It’s a reference to the year African slaves were brought to North America for the first time. It’s also the name of a new school curriculum published by the New York Times that’s being presented to our children in school.
The 1619 project teaches that America, at its core, is an irredeemably racist nation. According to Nikole Hannah Jones, the brainchild of the 1619 project, the Founding Fathers fought for independence from Britain not to protect the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness like they said they were, but to uphold the institution of slavery.
This is an absurd recasting of the birth of our nation, and it’s completely false. They don’t want you to dwell on the fact that George Washington freed his slaves toward the end of his life and expressed to see a plan for abolition in his will. Or that Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King fought for equitable treatment under the law using Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
But members of the Pulitzer Prize Board ignored those pesky details and historical inaccuracies. Earlier this year, they announced they’re giving Nikole Hannah Jones, the founder of the 1619 project, our country’s most coveted recognition and highest honor—the Pulitzer Prize. Not only did they accept these lies as truth, but the Pulitzer Prize Board also celebrated them and signaled we should celebrate them too.
And so, taking their cues from our nation’s most prominent voices and cultural elites, lawless “protesters” are ripping down statues of some of our country’s revered figures. Anyone who helped build America is a racist because America is a racist nation—that’s what they think. You can’t have pride in a country that is irredeemably racist. You shouldn’t honor the flag that represents it. And when that flag is presented, you should kneel.
This is bigger than a simple call for police reform. This is a dramatic retelling of the American story. If we don’t push back on it, we may find ourselves living in a nation we don’t recognize when this is all done.
Jim Banks represents Indiana’s Third Congressional District.