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‘Moral’ History vs. Factual History

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announces introduction of public housing legislation as part of the Green New Deal in Washington, D.C., November 14, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Here is something Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez said this week:

Latinos are black. . . . We have to have conversations around “colorism,” and we have to have conversations around the African and indigenous roots from which we come and how that’s reflected in systems of power.

The above is gibberish — ahistorical, unscientific, pseudo-intellectual gibberish. In a sane world this kind of rhetoric — which is littered with completely vacuous buzzwords — would be consigned to the Xeroxed pages of a ‘zine that had been stapled together by a bunch of social-justice majors in Boulder, not repeated by a congresswoman from the nation’s biggest city.

A “system of power” can no more dictate your race than your mood can dictate your gender or your abortion decisions can dictate when life begins. AOC lives in mankind’s most tolerant era. She can be many things, but black is not one of them — functionally or otherwise.

Then again, it was Ocasio-Cortez who not long ago grumbled that Americans were too concerned with being “factually correct” and not enough about being “morally right.” It is revealing that she believes that one undermines the other.

In the progressive retelling of history, the role of both victim and oppressor is predestined according to the hue of a person’s skin. Everyone involved is stripped of agency. And every injustice is retroactively framed in the light of contemporary racial grievances.

This week, a bunch of people decided that it was time to portray Jesus, an ancient Jew living in Roman Palestine, as a man subjugated over his skin color. The activist Shaun King says “white Jesus” was a symbol of white supremacy. Jesus, he argued, fled to Hellenistic Egypt rather than “Denmark” so he could blend in with the African population. No amount of evidence will dissuade him, I’m sure.

“Wasn’t Jesus a person of color brutalized by an oppressive colonial regime? Jesus is a symbol of victims of violence, not of authoritarians who erect statues,” explained New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to his two million Twitter followers.

If Jesus was “a person of color,” then so were the crowds that pleaded with Pilate to “crucify him.” So were the members of the Sanhedrin who convicted him of apostasy. As, most likely, were the Roman soldiers — pulled from all over the Empire — who drove the nails into his hands and feet.

When confronted with these facts, Kristof pivoted to moral truth, noting that “one of the points of Christianity is to apply a basic lesson of Scripture” and “Jesus spoke up for the poor and marginalized.”

Well, yes. But the initial point, of course, was to depict Jesus as a man crucified over the color of his skin; just another victim to fall to the perpetual evil of racism. There is no historical basis for this claim. Though I’m not a theologian, I’m relatively certain that the “point” of Jesus is that he is the Son of God and died for the sins of all mankind, and not that he is a prop for your preferred public-policy initiatives.

Trying to transpose woke 21st-century perceptions and grievances onto the ancient world is problematic, but I’m certain we’ll see some intellectually corrupt academics cooking up “scholarship” on the matter soon enough. This is how woke history works.

The dilemma of history, inconvenient and messy for all involved, is that it often undercuts the facile contentions of social-justice warriors. Some Latinos, for instance, have indigenous and African roots, as Ocasio-Cortez claims, and others do not. Some Latinos were once oppressed. Some Latinos were the oppressors. Latinos, like nearly every people in existence, have been both. “Latino” is a sweeping designation that including numerous races and ethnicities with long and unique histories. It’s complicated. It’s always complicated.

What do you do when your moral truths don’t align with the historical record? You fix it. As Jacob Siegel notes in an excellent essay in Tablet, moral truths are wrapped in the veneer of scholarship and appeals to forms of authority that are borne from biology and credentialing.

This is why New York Times editorialists can cast the American founding as a purely racist endeavor, or throw Ulysses Grant in with Hitler, or erase the sacrifices of thousands of Union soldiers. It doesn’t matter that a slew of distinguished historians with a long records of genuine scholarship disagree. They’re missing the moral truth.

Allan Bloom famously predicted this kind intellectual degeneration in his 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind, in which he lamented, among other trends, the rise of moral and historical relativism. The joke’s on him. Progressives aren’t muddying moral and objective truths; they’re simply replacing them.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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