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  • -Welcome to The Daily Show. -Thank you.

  • And congratulations on creating

  • and working with a group of people

  • on a project that has gone on to become more than just a moment,

  • but rather, a rethinking of America's history.

  • Let's start with the "why" behind this.

  • I mean, history seems like it has been written,

  • so why try and write it again?

  • Well, history has been written, but, uh, it's been written

  • to tell us a certain story.

  • And, uh, The 1619 Project is trying to reframe that story.

  • And it's really about, uh, the ongoing legacy of slavery.

  • We've been taught that slavery was a long time ago.

  • -Mm-hmm. -"Get over it,"

  • which is something nearly every black person

  • -in this country hears at some point. -Mm-hmm.

  • And The 1619 Project is really saying

  • that, uh, slavery was so foundational

  • to America and its institutions

  • that we are still suffering from that legacy now.

  • And it's exploring the many ways that we... that we still are.

  • It's interesting that you've chosen the year 1619

  • because many people would say,

  • "But this was before America existed.

  • "You know, why not start at America's founding,

  • "and then not include the years before when this was a colony

  • and Virginia and Britain were involved?"

  • So why do you choose that point, and why do you argue,

  • more importantly, that on the fourteenth...?

  • You say, "On the 400th anniversary

  • "of this fateful moment, it is finally time

  • to tell our story truthfully."

  • Yes, so, it's funny, because this year is also

  • the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.

  • Yet, no one argues that we shouldn't learn

  • about the Mayflower because that predates the United States.

  • -Interesting. -We know that that was an important moment.

  • Um, I would argue that the White Lion,

  • which was a ship that arrived a year earlier

  • carrying enslaved Africans, was far more important

  • to the American story, uh, than 1620, than the Mayflower.

  • So, no, American hadn't yet formed,

  • but Virginia was the first colony,

  • -our institutions would come out of the 13 colonies. -Mm-hmm.

  • Uh, our legal system, our cultural system,

  • our political system.

  • And certainly, the anti-black racism

  • that we still struggle with is born at that moment.

  • When you... when you start off in this magazine,

  • there's a... there's a really beautiful passage

  • in the beginning where you talk about your personal journey

  • and-and how you struggled with your relationship

  • with America as a country.

  • And-and it's a really beautiful tale you tell

  • about growing up, um, you know, on the land

  • where so many people had died and toiled

  • as-as enslaved people.

  • You also talk about how your father

  • was a proud American

  • and how you didn't understand how he could be proud

  • to be American when America seemed to be against him

  • -in spite of everything that he did. -Yes.

  • How-how did you reconcile that,

  • or-or did working through this project change your view

  • on-on how to be American or how not to be American?

  • Yeah, absolutely working on the project

  • changed my perspective on my father.

  • Um, I open the piece talking about how my dad,

  • -who was born in apartheid Mississippi... -Mm-hmm.

  • ...uh, flew this flag

  • in our front yard on this giant flagpole.

  • And he was one of the only black people I knew

  • who flew a flag in their yard,

  • and I was deeply embarrassed by that.

  • Um, but as I started researching for this project--

  • and my essay is really about how black Americans have had

  • this pivotal role of actually turning the United States

  • into a democracy-- I got that he understood

  • something that I didn't, that, um, no one has a right

  • to take away our citizenship and our right

  • to think of ourselves as American,

  • because so much of what black people have done

  • is what has built this very country

  • that we get to live in today.

  • What do you mean specifically when you say that?

  • Because that-that was... that was an idea

  • that I don't think I had... fully thought about

  • before I read this magazine, was the concept that...

  • America's foundation was a lie,

  • in that it was a group of promises that weren't...

  • that weren't fulfilled, you know?

  • To both people of color and to women, in many respects.

  • And... and what you argue in this magazine

  • is that black people... basically have the job

  • of "making it a truth."

  • What-what did you mean by that?

  • Absolutely. So, when Thomas Jefferson writes

  • those famous, uh, English words, "We hold these truths

  • to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,"

  • uh, he owns 130 human beings at that time,

  • including some of his own family members.

  • And he understands that, uh, one-fifth of the population

  • will enjoy none of those rights and liberties.

  • So we are founded on a hypocrisy, on a paradox.

  • -Mm-hmm. -But black people read those words and said,

  • "Oh, we're gonna believe that these words are true

  • and apply to us, and fight."

  • Again and again, we see them fighting.

  • At the Revolution, the first person to die for this country

  • was a black man named Crispus Attucks, who wasn't free.

  • We see that happening with the abolitionist movement,

  • largely led by black Americans.

  • We see that happening at the Civil War,

  • with the Reconstruction Amendment.

  • And of course, the civil rights movement,

  • which brings the franchise to large segments of, uh, America

  • for the first time.

  • So we... we said we were founded as a democratic republic,

  • but most Americans could not vote

  • at the time of the Constitution.

  • Uh, but thanks largely to black resistance and freedom struggle,

  • we are as close to a multiracial democracy

  • -as we've ever been. -It's a... it's a really beautiful story,

  • in that... in that it's told, not through the lens of anger,

  • but rather through the lens of collecting stories, you know?

  • -It's... it's a the facts... -It goes a little angry.

  • -A little angry? Oh. -Just a little.

  • It doesn't feel like anger so much as it feels like a truth.

  • -Yeah. -You know?

  • What-what it has sparked, though, is...

  • is a fight over history and how the history is told.

  • -Yes. -You know, once this magazine came out,

  • there were many historians who, you know, came after you

  • and said: No, this is... this is incorrect.

  • The primary reason that America sought its independence

  • from Britain was not because they wanted to maintain slavery,

  • it was because of taxation without representation.

  • It wasn't the primary cause.

  • Why do you think there's such a resistance

  • to slavery being one of the primary causes

  • of America breaking away from Britain?

  • Because we need to believe as a country

  • that, uh, our founding was pure,

  • that yes, you know, we had some troubles,

  • including, um, holding 500,000 people in bondage,

  • -Mm-hmm. -um, but that largely,

  • we were a nation founded to be exceptional

  • on these, uh, majestic ideas, and that our founders,

  • uh, though complicated men,

  • were men who were righteous.

  • But when you argue, uh, that our founders were,

  • many of them, very hypocritical,

  • and that you can't just simply overlook the fact

  • that slavery was a motivation in some of the colonies.

  • Yes, taxation was a motivation,

  • but also, uh, the ability to keep making a lot of money

  • -off of human bondage. -Right.

  • That is very unsettling, not just to the average American,

  • but to historians who have seen their job

  • as protecting that founding narrative.

  • The difference is, you know, when you're black

  • in this country, you don't have the luxury of pretending

  • -that that history didn't exist. -Right.

  • And what that history has done, it's really marginalized

  • our story, um, when really, the story of black people

  • and slavery is central to the, uh, United States.

  • When you, when you worked through this project,

  • there are new pieces of information that you discover,

  • there-there are stories that you find

  • were never told that need to be told,

  • and I know you can't write about everything,

  • but I was interested in whether or not you would think

  • that other countries who were involved in slavery

  • get off easier than the United States

  • because the one thing they did differently to America

  • as we know it is that they sort of outsourced slavery, you know?

  • If you think about whether it was the Americas or Spain

  • or many of these other colonial nations,

  • -their slaves were in the countries. -Yes.

  • And then they left those countries, and were like,

  • "We're done with slavery," but they also don't have

  • to deal with the people they enslaved,

  • whereas America has an interesting relationship,

  • where you have to deal with the people

  • because they're still here.

  • So, not to, not to, not to feel sorry for America,

  • but do you think there's also a reckoning that should happen

  • in this way in Europe maybe?

  • Oh, for sure, all the colonial powers need to have a reckoning.

  • And reckoning also needs to happen

  • on the continent of Africa.

  • But I think the fundamental difference-- there's two--

  • yes, uh, slavery occurred in the bounds of the country

  • -that would become America. -Right.

  • Um, but also of those colonial powers,

  • America's the only country that was founded on the idea

  • -of individual rights and liberties. -Interesting.

  • That was founded on the idea of God-given,

  • inalienable rights.

  • Um, none of those other European-- I mean,

  • these were monarchies, they weren't founded on the idea

  • that every person had equal rights, but we were.

  • So, that hypocrisy really matters.

  • And, um, of course, I argue that that hypocrisy

  • is why we have struggled so much to get over and address

  • the issue of slavery, because it forces us

  • to acknowledge this lie at our founding.

  • Before you go, one of the main questions many people may have,

  • and you see this, unfortunately, all too often,

  • is people saying, "Why do you have to keep drudging this up?

  • "Can't we just move on? It's been 400 years.

  • Now, can't we just move on?"

  • What do you hope would be sparked by the conversations

  • that come from a magazine that delves into slavery like this?

  • What, what do you, what do you want someone who sits at home

  • and says, they go, "Nikole, I'm-I'm white and I,

  • "I had nothing to do with this,

  • and I don't know what you want me to do?"

  • What would you hope people take away?

  • Uh, that's a great question.

  • Let me just say, for the record,

  • nobody wants to get over slavery more than black folks.

  • -Uh, it's not... -(Noah laughing)

  • (applause, cheering)

  • It's not to our benefit, right?

  • So that the fact that our nation can't get over slavery

  • has not benefitted black people for a single day.

  • But that's the problem--

  • we've never dealt with the harm that was done.

  • I'm 43 years old, and my father was born into a Mississippi,

  • where black people couldn't vote, black people couldn't

  • use public facilities-- that was all perfectly legal.

  • We're not far removed from this past at all.

  • And there's never been, uh, any effort to redress that harm.

  • So, what I hope that people would take from the magazine

  • every single story in the magazine starts with

  • -America today. -Mm-hmm.

  • and shows how these things about American life

  • that you think are unrelated to slavery actually are.

  • And I hope by confronting that truth,

  • maybe we can finally start to repair the harm that was done.

  • And then finally, uh, start to live up

  • to be the country of our ideals.

  • It's a fantastic job, fantastic magazine.