Creator of 1619 project says ‘we have to be honest’ in confronting role of race in America –


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GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project, says Americans must be honest about the role that race has always played in our society.The New York Times Magazine journalist and professor at Howard University said Americans tends to reject the power that race has in today’s world, instead viewing racism and anti-Blackness as a thing of the past.“We are a country that is obsessed with race – you have to have a race on your birth certificate, there’s a race on your death certificate, and everything in between, your marriage license‚” Hannah-Jones told listeners during a virtual discussion hosted by Grand Rapids Community College Monday evening.“We are obsessed with race, but then we also want to negate its existence and its power, and the way that the structure of race has ordered not just our society, but our opportunities and the lives we live,” she said. “The first thing we have to do is what Ida B. Wells said: ‘The way to right wrongs is to (turn) the light of truth upon them.’”Confronting the nation’s relationship with race, and the way racism and slavery were foundational to American society, was the goal of the 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones said. The 2019 project was a journalistic and historical examination of the legacy of slavery, which sparked conversation and debate as intended.Hannah-Jones, a journalist at The New York Times Magazine and the Knight Chair of Race and Journalism at Howard University, delivered the keynote discussion as part of this year’s Diversity Lecture Series at GRCC on Jan. 31.Over 600 people tuned into the virtual moderated discussion, where Hannah-Jones talked about academic freedom and systemic racism in a presentation titled, “Crossroads: Academic Freedom and (the) Ivory Tower.”Hannah-Jones, who tuned into the lecture from the campus of Howard University, said she never expected academic freedom to be part of the narrative as a result of the 1619 project.The journalist was at the center of controversy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last spring after the university’s board of trustees denied her a tenured position after complaints from conservative groups over her involvement in the 1619 Project, The Hill and other news publications reported.After much criticism, the UNC board later offered her tenure, but Hannah-Jones turned it down to accept her faculty position at Howard University, the historically Black institution in Washington, D.C., where she is founding the Center for Journalism & Democracy.Hannah-Jones said academic freedom is “under attack all across the country right now.”“This critical race theory propaganda campaign, and that is what it is, is being very successful,” she said. “It is limiting what educators can teach by law, but it’s also having the effect of making educators afraid to teach certain things even if they are not legally prohibited from doing so.”The professor said higher education is a place where people should be exposed to new ideas, even if it makes them uncomfortable.“The classes where I learned the most were the classes that got me out of my comfort zone, that challenged my worldview; even if ultimately I didn’t agree or I was offended by some of the things I learned,” she said. “That’s how we all stretch and grow.”“We are in, I think, quite dangerous times because, as you all know, a society that bans ideas and bans texts is not a healthy society.”Hannah-Jones said she embraces her status as a controversial figure, and doesn’t fear making people feel uncomfortable about the truth.“If I’m going to be in these spaces, I’m not there to make you feel good,” she said. “I’m not there to make you feel comfortable. I will have squandered the position that I’m in and the opportunity I have if that’s what I do.”She talked about a controversial speech she delivered to the Union League Club of Chicago on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this month, where she recited excerpts of King about “radical” structural change that stunned some audience members, the Chicago Tribune reported.“I’m like, I’m gonna make everybody in that room feel very uncomfortable, because the truth is uncomfortable,” she recalled.While she’s mostly known for her role with the 1619 project, Hannah-Jones said the bulk of her career her been dedicated to reporting on education and segregation in schools. During Monday’s discussion, she talked about the 1619 Freedom School, an after-school program she founded in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa.The program focuses on increasing literacy rates while also teaching students about Black history, she said. Hannah-Jones said Black children are taught to believe a myth that Black people don’t value education. The 1619 Freedom School seeks to disprove that myth.“We all know Black children are not inherently less intelligent, or inherently less motivated, but they just don’t get an equal shot at a quality education,” she said. “Everything about the school is intentional. It is intentional to affirm Black children specifically, to put their their drive for learning within a historical context.”More on MLive: Grand Rapids keeping longer isolation timeline for students, staff, in updated district COVID protocolsFree COVID tests available in vulnerable counties through state partnership with philanthropyJackson community mourns unexpected death of child remembered for style, creativityNote to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.
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