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National Archives posts 'harmful content' warning on Constitution, Declaration of Independence, other founding documents

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The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) determined recently that America's founding documents may be "harmful or difficult" for some users to view since they reflect "outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions."

In order to caution readers before they access digital copies of the offensive documents — which, of course, include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — NARA has plastered a "Harmful Language Alert" above its entire online catalog.

When users click the alert link, they are redirected to NARA's "Statement on Potentially Harmful Content." There the agency explains, almost regretfully, that it is "[their] charge to preserve and make available these historical records." And by virtue of this charge, the agency explains, harmful content will be preserved.

NARA then includes a hefty list of the specific types of "harmful or difficult" content that can be found when sifting through the documents. The agency notes that some items may:

  • reflect racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes;
  • be discriminatory toward or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more;
  • include graphic content of historical events such as violent death, medical procedures, crime, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters and more;
  • demonstrate bias and exclusion in institutional collecting and digitization policies.

Below the list, NARA pledges to work "in conjunction with diverse communities" in order "to balance the preservation of [America's] history with sensitivity to how these materials are presented to and perceived by users."

NARA didn't offer any specific reasoning for why the content warning was introduced, though it likely stemmed from recommendations submitted in June at the completion of the agency's racial inequality review.

In the shocking report issued earlier this year, NARA's Task Force on Racism argued that the rotunda itself in the agency's flagship building serves as an example of "structural racism" because it "lauds wealthy White men in the nation's founding while marginalizing BIPOC, women, and other communities."

The task force also claimed that descriptions on display in the building frequently "use racial slurs and harmful language to describe BIPOC communities."

Of note, the task force also recommended that "trigger warnings" be put in place with historical content to "forewarn audiences of content that may cause intense physiological and psychological symptoms."

"Providing an advisory notice to users gives us an opportunity to mitigate harm and contextualize the records," the report reads. "It creates a space to share with the public our ultimate goals for reparative description, demonstrate our commitment to the process, and address any barriers that we may face in achieving these goals."

(H/T: The Federalist)

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