The National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) determined recently that many of the founding documents of the United States might be “harmful or difficult” for certain users to view since they reflect “outdated, biased, offensive and possibly violent views and opinions.”
In order to caution the readers before they access digital copies of these “offensive” documents – which, of course, not only include the U.S. Constitution, but also the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, NARA plastered a “harmful language alert” above the entire online catalog.
When users click on this alert link, they are taken to NARA’s “Statement on Potentially Harmful Content.” It is there that the agency explains, in a regretful tone that is almost audible, that it is “their charge to preserve and make available these historical records.” However, by virtue of their charge, they have to preserve this “harmful content.”
NARA then includes a hefty list of these specific types of “harmful or difficult” content that could be encountered when going through these documents. The agency notes the following propaganda about these items:
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 wasn’t able to offer any specific reasoning for why this content warning had been introduced, though it has likely stemmed from their recommendations submitted in June through the completion of the agency’s racial inequality seminar.
In the shocking report that they issued earlier in 2021, they argued that the rotunda itself in the flagship building of the agency serves as just one example of “structural racism” because it is “lauding wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC, women, and other communities.”
The task is also claiming that there are several descriptions on display in the building that frequently “use racial slurs and harmful language to harm BIPOC communities.”
One notable designation for this task force is that they recommended such a thing as “trigger warnings” be put in place with the historical content so that it will “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.”