In addition to being a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times bestselling author and a professor at Howard University, Nikole Hannah-Jones might as well list “calls out racist BS” as a profession. The architect of The 1619 Project has constantly battled attacks and criticisms from academics, politicians and online trolls since 2019, when she debuted her examination of the centrality of slavery and racism in American history. With the recent release of the project’s book form, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, the hate from conservative academics, elected officials and social media denizens has exploded again.
On Sunday, Hannah-Jones appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to talk about the controversy surrounding the project with host Chuck Todd. And, oh boy, Todd got more than he bargained for. Todd, attempting to give voice to the project’s critics, posed the question to Hannah-Jones:
“I think this is coming, basically, through a racial lens, but parents are saying, ‘Hey, don’t make my kid feel guilt, and I know a parent of color is going, ‘What are you talking about? I’ve got to teach reality.’ When do you do it and how do you do it?”
Hannah-Jones, no doubt drawing upon her own journalistic expertise when it comes to shaping a narrative, called out Todd for the premise of the question and the way in which he proposed it.
“You should just think a little bit about your framing,” Hannah-Jones challenged at the beginning of her response. “You said ‘parents.’ And then, you said ‘parents of color.’ So, the ‘white’ is silent.”
One thing is for certain: Todd’s head definitely wasn’t cold as he left the NBC studio that day, because Hannah-Jones handed him his hat on live TV.
Todd, to his credit, did not double down but merely conceded with a “fair enough,” because, really, what else could he say?
Hannah-Jones went on to note that “white parents are representing fewer than half of all public school parents and yet they have an outsized voice in this debate.” She continued to explain that “our children are being raised in a racialized society,” leaving little choice but to talk about racial issues in this country.
This exchange quickly went viral. One post of the clip, from journalist Jan Wolfe, has gathered more than 30,000 likes and nearly 7,000 retweets as of Monday morning. If you haven’t watched the clip, it’s worth seeing for yourself.
Todd: “Parents are saying ‘hey don’t make my kid feel guilty.” And a parent of color is going…’I need to teach reality.'”
Hannah-Jones: “You should just think a little bit about your framing. You said ‘parents.’ And then you said ‘parents of color.’ So the ‘white’ is silent.” pic.twitter.com/D0RA7HzQDn
— Jan Wolfe (@JanNWolfe) December 26, 2021
Coming back to the concerns of the white parents regarding the 1619 Project curriculum and teaching about racism and slavery more generally, Hannah-Jones said that in her two decades covering education as a reporter, “I’ve never seen a teacher of any race tell a white child ‘you are responsible for what happened in the past’ … and all of the people who have claimed that that has happened have not been able to produce a shred of evidence that that is true.”
Todd presented another criticism that has been raised against the project, arguing that “you paint [slavery] as a uniquely American issue, when sadly civilization and slavery went hand in hand for a couple thousand years.“
“We don’t talk about all of slavery in all of the world because that expectation is never the expectation of scholarship on the Americas,” Hannah-Jones countered. “When we talk about the American Civil War, the expectation is not that you talk about every civil war in global history.”
She further explained that, while slavery has existed in societies throughout history and was prevalent throughout the Americas, ”what was unique [about slavery in the United States] was that we practiced chattel slavery while saying and professing these beliefs of equality and universal rights of men.”
During the interview, Hannah-Jones also described the process by which the 1619 Project was converted into school curriculum, a process that she says is common for newspapers. “It’s only become controversial because people have decided to make the 1619 Project controversial.” She also clarified that the use of the 1619 Project in schools is meant to supplement other instruction. “No one is replacing the curriculum with the 1619 Project.”
Despite shooting down the various criticisms levied against her and the project by using facts and evidence — a novel approach in today’s current public discourse — Hannah-Jones’ efforts to respond to critics have been met with further hostility. The attacks on Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project have been both personal and political.
Washington Post columnist George Will, in a standard conservative tactic of using racially coded language and pretending that it’s not, wrote a vitriolic article in which he called the project “malicious” and “historically illiterate.” As Hannah-Jones pointed out that parents’ views about curriculum should not replace the knowledge of experts, outlets such as Fox News have framed her stance with the out-of-context quote, “I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught.”
— Kevin Tober (@KevinTober94) December 26, 2021
On Monday, Hannah-Jones posted samples of some of the media attacks and hate speech she’s received after her Meet the Press interview.
I can always tell when the right wing propaganda campaign has coordinated its coverage against me because these are the emails that flood my inbox. It’s all good. I’m not posting this because my feelings are hurt, but I am going to expose it. pic.twitter.com/49sDir8K3q
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) December 27, 2021
But the attacks have gone beyond words. As Hannah-Jones noted, states such as Georgia, Florida and Texas have banned teaching of the 1619 curriculum, and there are proposals to do the same in states including Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee. PEN America, a center focused on promoting freedom of expression, has documented 17 bills introduced or passed in state legislatures this year alone that explicitly ban the 1619 Project from school curricula. A number of these laws also ban Critical Race Theory, a separate, scholarly framework for analyzing the racial foundations of American institutions; the 1619 Project and CRT are often lumped together by conservatives who attempt to paint both as dangerous, despite rarely understanding what either of these actually entails.
“When we think about what type of society bans books or bans ideas,” Hannah-Jones told Todd on Meet the Press, “that is not a free and tolerant democratic society. That is a society that is veering towards authoritarianism.” Hannah-Jones concluded her interview by tying these laws to a broader effort to subvert voting rights and scale back abortion rights and LGBTQ freedoms.
“We’re going to have to decide what kind of country we want to be.”
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, containing contributions from a number of authors, was published in November by One World. The full interview between Chuck Todd and Nikole Hannah-Jones can be viewed here: