Recently, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) made a troubling determination. Regarding the principal founding documents of the United States,NARA recently decided that these primary sources may be “outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions,” which means they could be be perceived as “harmful or difficult” for some individuals.
Consequently, when individuals access digital copies of these primary sources via NARA, which include the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, they will now see a “Harmful Language Alert” label on the entire electronic catalog.
Once an individual clicks to view these founding documents, they are subsequently redirected through NARA’s “Statement of Potentially Harmful Content,” where the agency explains that since it is their responsibility to “preserve and make available these historical records,” they apparently must preserve so-called “harmful content.”
NARA then proceeds to delineate several types of “harmful” content that can apparently pervade historical documents.
Some documents apparently may feature “xenophobic opinions” or other harmful attitudes, as well as “sexist,” “abelist,” “racist,” “misogynist,” and other views. In addition, NARA also charges that some historical documents can display discrimination based upon religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
Moreover, NARA remarks that some historical documents can include graphic depictions of violence, including wars and medical procedures, as well as natural disasters.
Lastly, apparently the manner in which the NARA collects documents and records may be problematic, especially if any “exclusion” or “bias” occurred during “institutional collecting and digitization.”
After its laundry list of harmful content indicators, NARA proclaims that it will continue to work alongside “diverse communities” in order to preserve American history while also showing “sensitivity to how these materials are presented to and perceived by users.”
The organization did not offer any explanation regarding why the harmful content warning had been included, though it could have originated from recommendations submitted earlier in the summer, which called for NARA to conduct a “racial inequality review.”
NARA also caused nationwide shocks earlier in the year, such as when its Task Force on Racism claimed that the rotunda present in the organization’s flagship building embodies “structural racism” since it presumably “lauds wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC, women, and other communities.”
In addition, the Task Force on Racism also insisted that descriptions on the display within the building commonly “use racial slurs,” as well as other “harmful language to describe BIPOC communities.”
The task force is also intent on “trigger warnings,” which they claim should be placed upon historical information that warns audiences in advance that they may feel “intense physiological and psychological symptoms.”
According to the task force report, NARA can “mitigate harm,” as well as “contextualize records” when it provides “an advisory notice to users.”
These “harmful content” labels and “trigger warnings” presumably “[create] a space to share with the public [NARA’s] ultimate goals for reparative description, demonstrate [NARA’s] commitment to the process, and address any barriers that [NARA] may face in achieving these goals.”