The Senate minority leader previously called it an ‘exotic notion’ to consider the year slavery began in America as a key historical moment.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that efforts to expand understanding of Black history in America and its relationship with slavery were misguided because there was “a lot of slavery going on around in the world” at that time.
At an appearance in Shelbyville, Kentucky, McConnell was asked about ongoing Republican attacks on efforts to include more information race and racism in school curricula.
McConnell responded that he “[didn’t] think the government ought to be able to dictate, in effect, what’s taught,” but was quick to fault curriculum with a critical eye toward U.S. history.
“I think criticizing such things as the 1619 Project, which tends to put that date as something uniquely American — there was a lot of slavery going on around in the world in the early 1600s,” said McConnell.
He added, “We fought the Civil War in order to put our original sin behind us. We passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 in order to further enfranchise minorities in our country.”
The Senate minority leader was referring to a collaborative effort by the New York Times and New York Times Magazine, called the 1619 Project, which is so named for the year enslaved Africans were first brought to the United States. That moment in history was followed by the importation of thousands of enslaved Blacks to America and subsequently hundreds of years of enslavement and systemic racism that has followed.
McConnell also said that he did not believe the government “is any better at proscribing what ought to be taught” in schools.
That statement runs contrary to his own recent actions. In April, McConnell and a group of nearly 40 other Senate Republicans sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona drop a proposal that would give grants to programs addressing systemic racism.
The letter described such programs as “activist indoctrination” and referred to the 1619 Project as “debunked advocacy” that would be “spoon-feeding students a slanted story.”
Earlier in May, McConnell issued a statement saying that highlighting the beginning of slavery in the United States as a key point in history was an “exotic notion.”
Republicans in the last few months have gone after such education efforts, falsely branded as “critical race theory,” at both the federal and state level, with some state legislatures attempting to prohibit them altogether. The attacks echo Donald Trump’s similarly worded statements toward the close of his failed reelection campaign in 2020.
“They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place. And they were teaching people to hate our country,” Trump said during the first presidential debate in September, remarking on his decision days earlier to ban federal agencies and contractors from providing diversity or anti-racism training. “I’m not gonna allow that to happen.”
In response, Trump’s then-rival candidate Joe Biden, said curtly, “Nobody’s doing that.”
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