The debates over whether 1776 or 1619 is more historically significant belie the fact that class has never been an organizing theme for America's self-understanding
A recent, provocative work of history challenged many long-held assumptions regarding America’s founding. But unlike the 1619 Project, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America never crashed into the mainstream. It didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize, wasn’t reconstituted into educational curricula, and never became a culture war flashpoint.
Sure, a few conservatives slammed historian Nancy Isenberg’s book when it came out back in mid-2016—“a dreadfully stupid and lazy book” wrote Kevin D. Williamson in National Review—while liberals tut-tutted its focus on the exploitation of the white working class in the Time of Trump. But after that brief blip on the media’s radar, White Trash was largely ignored.
The same can be said for the topic of class struggle in America more generally.
Tons of people have opinions—and often loudly express them—on how the topic of race ought to be taught in schools. That reached a new crescendo after Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in early November, with Youngkin making his opposition to Critical Race Theory a campaign issue.
But what you won’t hear the GOP and Democrats debate is the centrality of class to our country’s economic and social history, and to the problems plaguing our current moment. No wonder Harvard Business School recently proclaimed it “The Forgotten Dimension of Diversity”—class is both everywhere and nowhere.
Even before the 1619 Project was published in 2019, most public school students had been exposed to