Here’s a perfect example of how building your identity around being a contrarian can take you to absurd places.
Recently, Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine hosted right-wing propagandist Mary Grabar for a discussion on the problems with the 1619 Project (which Shermer thinks is a form of “pseudo-history”).
He basically platforms someone whose reaction to the George Floyd video is, “You know, there’s, like, 45 minutes of him resisting arrest.” It doesn’t take long to realize there’s no useful information in the interview and Shermer doesn’t challenge her most absurd statements.
But that’s not even the worst of it. At one point, Grabar complains about how Thomas Jefferson is better remembered these days for fathering children with his slave, Sally Hemings, than any of his other contributions, and isn’t that a shame.
That’s when Shermer chimes in with a question of his own that boils down to: Shouldn’t liberals celebrate that?
Michael Shermer asks why Jefferson shouldn’t be seen as progressive for raping Sally Hemings and enslaving his children.
Even the right wing crank he’s interviewing looks creeped out by the question. pic.twitter.com/1iNd7zK4FP
— Merman Mummy (@MerkinMuffley5) October 13, 2021
Let’s just take the scenario that, um, that he did father a child with his slave, Sally. If i recall, chronologically, correctly, his wife had already died… So let’s just put a charitable spin on it, because, by all accounts, he was a good guy.
What if his wife dies, he’s lonely, he falls in love with Sally Hemings, and they have a child together? Why is that not, like, a progressive thing? Like this is, you know, this was against the law, right?! And he’s breaking the law because he loves this woman, and they have a child together — there’s no birth control, whatever, just happens… He then takes care of her and the child, and so on. Why not elevate him even higher for this instead of calling him a rapist?… What do we know is in his mind? How do we know what kind of relationship… We don’t know enough.
Shermer, hardly the ideal person to discuss consent or power dynamics, seems to think impregnating a slave makes Jefferson a progressive hero because, you know, they were in love. The idea was so absurd that even his nutty guest was surprised:
“By all accounts,” the slaveowner whose relationship with Hemings began when she was 14, was “a good guy,” says Shermer, who’s so desperate to challenge our more nuanced understanding of American history that this is what he’s willing to defend now.
There’s a real debate as to whether we can or should judge historical figures by modern standards. But whatever Jefferson did, he doesn’t need to be celebrated or elevated or treated more charitably for this.