CJR’s latest episode of its podcast The Kicker is a conversation with Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose 1619 Project at the NYT two years ago has been such an enduring occasion for foolish right-wing tantrum-throwing and abuse. Appreciating her thoughts here, addressing decisions she made in response to a big-donor-backed push to deny her tenure at UNC this spring, as I continue to ruminate on problems of organizing and re-ordering / re-centering.
This moment felt like a moment that I could — when people were trying to diminish me — that I could come into my power in a very particular way. That, instead of using whatever power I have to force my way into an institution, I could actually use that power in a way that builds up institutions that already exist to support people like me and students who are like I was. And to send, really, a message. You know, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that reading all of the things that Walter Hussman, the wealthy donor who I think obviously had some influence over what happened with my tenure situation, was saying about the type of journalism I do, what he considers the right way to do journalism — which I’ve long disavowed. It helped me understand that maybe my role was more than just teaching kids in a predominantly white school journalism in a classroom; that there needed to be a larger push-back and a larger effort to weigh in on the values of our profession and what should be our higher calling in this moment.
Someone told me, ‘It seems like the most powerful message you could have sent was to go to Duke.’ I actually think that would have been less of a powerful message, and the most powerful message is to say: At some point we have to stop deriving — as Black Americans, as members of marginalized groups — we have to stop deriving our power from these institutions.