Exclusive: Nikole Hannah-Jones Says Journalists Aren't Covering CRT Backlash With 'Proper Urgency'
In an interview with Blavity, Hannah-Jones said the lack of urgency and context around critical race theory coverage is one of the reasons she'll be founding the Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University.
July 10, 2021 at 1:50 am
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, recently announced her decision to decline the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill's offer to be a tenured faculty member. She'll instead be heading to Howard University.
Days after her announcement, Hannah-Jones joined Blavity News for a Facebook Live discussion about her move to Howard, the need for Black journalists to defend democracy, and the balance between fighting racial inequality and maintaining self-care.
The New York Times Magazine correspondent gave more insight into the situation that led to her refuting her alma mater's offer and choosing to teach at Howard, instead. After being recruited to UNC for a Knight Chair – a tenured position offered to practicing journalists around the country – Hannah-Jones was initially denied the tenure that comes with this position. Once the story became a “national scandal,” a number of schools reached out to her with offers, leading Hannah-Jones to decide to join the faculty of an HBCU.
"I decided that if I wasn't going to go to the University of North Carolina, that I was going to go to a historically Black college," she told Blavity.
“Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is a good friend of mine, we started to have some conversations,” Hannah-Jones recalls, “and he introduced me to Dr. Wayne Frederick, who is the President of Howard, and everything just kind of came together to help me fulfill my lifelong dream of being part of the HU family.”
Coates, a fellow award winning journalist and MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner, will be joining Hannah-Jones at Howard.
Hannah-Jones will be founding the Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard, which she believes will serve a critical purpose for the school and the country.
“I really do believe that journalism is the firewall for our democracy,” Hannah-Jones said of her profession. “We’re the ones that provide the check against our institutions and our politicians.”
The Iowa native feels that the current generation of journalists are not prepared to tackle the attacks on democracy that are currently underway across the country.
“So many journalists come from communities where they don’t believe that democracy is being threatened, because that’s never been their experience,” she noted, “or they really have a fundamental belief that American institutions will hold, that they will self-correct.”
By contrast, Hannah-Jones says, “Black journalists have never really had that luxury.”
The Center for Journalism and Democracy will seek to train a future generation of journalists at Howard and HBCUs across the country, providing them with the investigative and historical research skills needed for the current moment.
Discussing the backlash against both her work and the academic framework known as critical race theory, she argues that this current set of attacks resembles previous periods in history.
“We’re not in an unprecedented moment at all. In fact, we’re in a very predictable moment because we’ve seen these patterns historically. I think we’re in a very dangerous moment.”
For Hannah-Jones, this present moment is reminiscent of the Redemption period that began in the late 1800s, in which there was a backlash against the gains of Black people during Reconstruction and an attempt to whitewash history.
“I don’t think journalists are covering this with the proper urgency or the proper historical insight,” she warns, reminding that the establishment of Jim Crow and segregation took place gradually over a number of years.
Concerning the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the spate of voter suppression laws being past across the country.
“We need to look right now at what’s happening and ensure we’re fighting back before it’s too late," Hannah-Jones added.
Returning to Hannah-Jones' move from UNC to Howard, she has advice for her fellow academics as well as students dealing with hostility and systemic racism.
"Every person has to decide when and how and where they want to fight and not allow these institutions to lay the burden of fixing the racial inequality that they created on our backs," she added.
The seasoned journalist will be joining the faculty of Howard University this fall. She will hold the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, a tenured faculty position within the Cathy Hughes School of Communications. She'll also serve as founder of the Center for Journalism and Democracy. Hannah-Jones is also the editor and one of the authors of the upcoming book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, which will be out in November.