UPDATE: No sooner do I send up this post then news breaks that Lin-Manuel Miranda has won a Pulitzer Prize for Hamilton. That’s going to cost him some college speaking invitations!
One of the delicious and predictable spectacles that has come out of the runaway success of the Broadway rap musical Hamilton is the identity politics left losing their lunch over it. Even though Hamilton was created by and stars a minority cast, you just knew the Left would call it racist anyway. Because racism. And stupidity: the identity politics Left hasn’t got much else to say.
The irony of this turn is that it was the identity politics Left that demonized Thomas Jefferson—Sally Hemmings and all that—who hitherto had been the hero for generations of liberals against the uber-capitalist Hamilton. After all, Hamilton is the founder for Wall Street and the 1 percent! But now he’s the hero of New York theater!
Sure enough, the campus leftist rabble is turning its guns on Hamilton. The biggest sin of Hamilton is the less than subtle suggestion that the legacy of the Founding belongs to everyone regardless of skin color and status, which is what you might expect from a country whose founding document begins with the principle that “all men are created equal.” So naturally Slate complains that “It’s still white history. And no amount of casting people of color disguises the fact that they’re erasing people of color from the actual narrative.”
Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history and law at Harvard, complains: “One of the most interesting things about the ‘Hamilton’ phenomenon is just how little serious criticism the play has received.”
John McWhorter is fed up with the complaints, and has a long beat down on the complainers over at The Daily Beast. Worth reading the whole thing, but here are some highlights:
These people are claiming that Lin-Manuel Miranda—a man of color himself—screwed up. The charge is unfair and inept, and it’s time for some contestation of the whole school of thought that produces criticism of this kind. . .
To the contesters, what Hamilton was so busy creating is invalidated by the fact that slavery reigned unquestioned within it—we must, therefore, permeate the story with an issue Hamilton himself didn’t prioritize during his shortish life, and judge him about that. However, this is an almost willfully uncomprehending perspective. It would be valid to utterly dismiss a political experiment founded in slavery today, indeed. However, the chance that a person can see completely beyond the ideological confines of their time is small. Even smaller are the chances that they will have the stomach to devote their entire life to fighting for a principle in the face of certain dismissal and resistance. And even smaller than this are the chances that someone will devote themselves to such a self-abnegating quest while dedicated to as massive a project as, say, creating a nation. . .
If today’s climate of religious antiracism is any indication, however, it will be deemed urgent to take these contestings into account for future mountings of Hamilton. Get ready for versions in the 2030s with the chorus bulked out to include a few people playing slaves, and for it to become established to reinsert a slavery number Miranda actually wrote for the show but cut for time.
What any of this will have to do with America making genuine progress on race will be unclear and, ultimately, of no concern to the usual suspects. This kind of professional Cassandraism is less a proactive tool than an unchanging stance. However, the rest of us “wonderful people out there in the dark,” as Norma Desmond put it in Sunset Boulevard, will in all of our benightedness continue to see Hamilton as just fine—and really, quite a bit more than fine—as it is.