The 1619 Project: Race

Note: This is my summary of chapter 2 of “The 1619 Project” (2021) – the book, not the television show. As in the book, “America” means US America and the 13 British colonies that it grew out of. Quoted text is straight from the book. 

This chapter was so disappointing. It should have been named “Rape” not “Race”.

As I understand it, each chapter looks at how race has informed and malformed different aspects of US society – democracy, freedom, justice, medicine, etc. And this chapter does that for rape. At that level it is a solid contribution. But as the chapter on “race” in a book like this, it had to nail it while also laying the groundwork for the other chapters. It started out doing that for the first 5 pages, but then got sidetracked onto rape. The way White people were freaking out over the 1619 Project, I thought it had nailed it. As it turns out, they were freaking out over a side swipe.

This chapter is written by Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law, sociology and Africana Studies at Penn. She gives her own summary of the chapter in the last paragraph:

“Black women were crucial to the racial-classification system established by white colonists to maintain and manage slavery. The colonial legal apparatus treated them as innately unrapeable and their children as innately enslaveable, while the culture justified that barbarity by slandering them as lascivious Jezebels. This destructive thinking has been reinforced by laws, politics, and myths that, to this day, monitor racial boundaries and Black women’s sexuality and childbearing.  These ideas circulate in police departments, child welfare agencies, county clerks’ offices, medical clinics, and the ubiquitous racial boxes we are required to check. The creative work of Black women activists can help lead us toward liberation from this damaging heritage.”

Rape: She shows how racist thinking in the US has left Black women and girls wide open to be raped without any practical recourse to the police or the courts. It seems that at least 12% of slave women were raped, probably way more – the law made it not only unpunishable but profitable for slave owners. Even today, according to one study, only 1 raped Black woman in 15 reports it. Roberts makes clear why they have such little faith in the police and the courts. Where slavery left off the Jezebel stereotype (of Black women as loose) took over. So much so that even in 2008 (and presumably still today) police were saying stuff like this in their emails:

“All sex was consexual [sic]. Parents are unable to accept the fact of this child’s promiscuous behavior caused this situation”

That was about Danielle Hicks-Best. She was just 11. Gang raped. The police arrested her and put her in a mental institution.

And let’s not forget about Daniel Holtzclaw, a police officer who was convicted of 18 counts of sexual battery and rape in 2015. From 2009 to 2014 nearly a thousand police officers in the US lost their badges for sexual misconduct.

All of this goes back to 1662 when Virginia passed a law saying:

“all children born in this country shalbe [sic] held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.”

Overturning English law in favour of a principle the Romans applied to their pigs: partus sequitur ventrem – “the offspring follows the belly”. This made both race and slavery a hereditary condition. All else flows from that.

– Abagond, 2023. 

See also:


The 1619 Project: Race