Nikole Hannah-Jones' Remarks About Going Where You're Wanted Might Be A Rallying Cry For Black Professionals
The New York Times journalist opened up about her experience in an exclusive interview with Gayle King.
July 06, 2021 at 7:08 pm
Renowned journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has broken her silence after denying a tenured position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, citing the immense effort and toll the experience took on her to receive it. Her reasoning behind the decision was an echo of the disheartening prejudices faced by Black professionals.
“I was so excited to have the opportunity to engage with students the way that my professors engaged with me,” she said in a CBS interview with Gayle King. “This has been one of the most difficult periods of my life, which is why I have been really silent about it.”
"It was a difficult decision, not a decision I wanted to make," the 45-year-old explained. "Instead, I'm going to be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University."
When asked why she decided to pivot to Howard University, the UNC-Chapel Hill alumna shared that she was tired of navigating spaces that she did not feel welcomed.
“I have spent my entire life proving that I belong in elite white spaces that weren’t built for Black people,” she lamented. “I got a lot of clarity through what happened with the University of North Carolina and I decided that I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
“Black professionals should feel free and perhaps an obligation to go into our own institutions and to bring our talents and resources to our own institutions and help to build them up as well,” Hannah-Jones, who authored the 1619 Project, proclaimed. “It’s pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition, because of discriminatory views against my viewpoints and I believe my race and my gender.”
Hannah-Jones' remarks were particularly jarring when considering a recent report that 97% of Black professionals don't want to return to the workplace, in part because of microaggressions and the pressure to code switch.
The award-winning journalist also revealed that she was the first person to be denied tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill, something that she called “embarrassing.”
"Every other chair before me, who also happened to be white, received that position with tenure," she said. "And so, to be denied it, and to only have that vote occur on the last possible day, at the last possible moment, after threat of legal action, after weeks of protests, after it became a national scandal — it's just not something that I want anymore."
As a recent North Carolina Media Hall of Fame inductee and co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which is housed at UNC-Chapel Hill, Hannah-Jones argued that she was highly qualified for the role. Despite her extensive resume, her credentials were questioned by the university.
“To this day, neither the Chancellor or the Provost or anyone on the Board of Trustees has told me why my tenure wasn’t taken up in November, why it wasn't taken up in January and even the public statements about needing more information about my credentials, they voted without asking ever me or receiving more information than they already had in November,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist shared.
According to a Pew Research study, Black people who have received higher education are more likely to say they have faced discrimination. About 81% of Black people say they endure discrimination regularly and 57% with at least some college experience feel their race has hurt their ability to succeed.
“It’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina,” Hannah-Jones said. “That’s the job of the people in power who created this situation in the first place.”
Despite her case receiving public attention, Hannah-Jones is turning her setback into a setup for the future of journalism in a space that is going to appreciate her for all that she is.
In an effort to give back to the craft that shaped her, Hannah-Jones is bringing $15 million in resources to help develop the investigative reporting and journalism program at Howard University and other historically Black colleges "with a clarity, skepticism, rigor and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today's journalism."
"One of my few regrets in life is that I didn't go to Howard as an undergraduate and I have long wanted to be a part of the Howard family,” she said. “It's just so clear this is the right thing for me to do at this moment. Something great came out of this.”
Workplace equality may still hold be holding space on the public's conscience following last summer's resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. For both employers and employees alike, Hannah-Jones' CBS This Morning interview adds to a very necessary conversation.