US Constitution and Declaration of Independence now have ‘harmful language’

US Constitution and Declaration of Independence now have ‘harmful language’
US Constitution and Declaration of Independence now have ‘harmful language’
  • US National Archives tags Declaration of Independence and US Constitution with language warning labels
  • Historical documents now deemed to consist of “potentially harmful content”.
  • The archivists are told to inform users about the presense and origin of such “harmful content”.

“Harmful Language Alert” tags appeared on the US National Archives website pages displaying the scanned versions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. ‘Harmful language’ warning labels also appear on the pages with the text of the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.

First thought of by the visitors to the National Archives website as a prank or the result of a hacker attack, it however was no joke at all.

The link on the label leads to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) statement on “potentially harmful content,” defined as reflecting “racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes” or being “discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more,” among other criteria.

The archivists are told to inform the users about the presence and origin of such “harmful content,” update descriptions with “more respectful terms” and make “an institutional commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.”

It was unclear when the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were labeled as potentially harmful. Back in July, during its traditional reading of the Declaration on the anniversary of its adoption – July 4, 1776 – the National Public Radio added a disclaimer for the very first time, saying that “the words in the document land differently” after “last summer’s protests and our national reckoning on race.”

This was a reference to Black Lives Matter protests that began in May 2020, after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, quickly attributed by activist groups to institutional racism in policing and the entire US social and political system. Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris backed the protesters; in April, after a Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murdering Floyd, now President Biden and Vice President Harris hailed the verdict and demanded reforms in the name of racial justice.

In a series of tweets in July, NPR said the Declaration of Independence contained “flaws and deeply ingrained hypocrisies,” pointing in particular to “a racist slur against Indigenous Americans” – presumably referring to the line about “merciless Indian savages” the colonists complained about to the British crown.

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