Dialogs: Critical Race Queries by Nikole Hannah-Jones at the Chicago Humanities Festival.


Host Joy Bivins and guest Nikole Hannah-Jones. Photo by David Kindler / Chicago Humanities Festival.

“We were taught the history of a country that does not exist.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is the Ida B. Wells of today, both fearless women and revolutionary African-American journalists (Hannah-Jones’ Twitter account is Ida Bae Wells). In addition to being a feminist and suffragist, Wells was a leading anti-lynching activist. Hannah-Jones, too, questions the fundamental, ubiquitous and deadly identity of America’s white supremacy.

During his talk at the Chicago Humanities Festival, at the Symphony Center, just north of Ida B. Wells Promenade, Hannah-Jones spoke to an enthusiastic, grateful and multiracial crowd about her foundational work, Pulitzer Prize winner The 1619 project, first a New York Times Magazine extra charge and now a increased pound.

Host Joy Bivins and guest Nikole Hannah-Jones. Photo by David Kindler / Chicago Humanities Festival.

Hannah-Jones was interviewed by Joy Bivins, former director of curatorial affairs at the Chicago History Museum and currently director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Interdisciplinary artist Avery Young opened the program with a witty song-poem, describing black bodies – “nothing but tanned silk for the skin” and “onyx lambswool” for the hair – before iron was wrapped around these Human being.

Young invoked slavery because it is the subject of Hannah-Jones’ Monumental Project, an anthology of essays, poems and photos by many notable creators first published in 2019, as the introduction:

“In August 1619 a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It was carrying over 20 African slaves, which were sold to settlers. No aspect of the country that would be formed here was untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of that fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story with truth. “

This claim, currently misinterpreted and rejected by trolls as a critical race theory, frames the foundation of the United States on the original sin of slavery, and how slavery, segregation, discrimination, racism and the lie of “separate but equal” influences every aspect of America’s life, including education, housing, health care, wages, and so on. She said, “We cannot overcome slavery because our country did not. “

The 1619 project was mentioned in both impeachment trials, and Hannah-Jones has been (and is) constantly under attack with attempts to discredit and delegitimize her and her production by GOP lawmakers and the former guy. But she just wanted to straighten out history often seen through racist colored glasses, saying “we are shaped by what we are not taught as well as what we are taught.” She also ironically noted that “Republicans don’t buy my book, they sell it.”

She was born and raised in a black, working-class community in Waterloo, Iowa, where her African-American history teacher first shared the date of 1619 with her, a year before the founding of the country of more than a century and a half. . She read all she could on the subject and felt “angry, but empowered” to finally know the ships that landed here long before the Mayflower. The story she had learned before “didn’t explain the world I lived in.”

Expressing himself through journalism came to him early. She published her first letter to the editor at the age of 11 and has since challenged the status quo. “I don’t think the ancestors gave me this platform not to talk about this shit,” she joked, one of the afternoon’s many bittersweet jokes. She wanted to learn more and fight erasure by learning about African American history rather than just wearing African medallions and Kente fabric. She wanted to portray the captured Africans as more than empty ships. She wanted to document those who degraded, demeaned and degraded people of color in the past, which earned her the same shameful treatment from modern racists.

Avery Jones performed a spiritual song poem. Photo by David Kindler / Chicago Humanities Festival.

Hannah-Jones’ alma mater, the University of North Carolina, initially offered him a faculty position with a term for his predecessors, but declined his tenure due to his project and sometimes backlash. She decided to join Howard University instead, as a Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, although she will share this work with “the constellation of HBCU. She will proselytize there alongside fellow award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who among many media outlets writes for Black Panther comics and for Atlantic, including his must-see essay “The case of reparations.

But if it hadn’t been for hindsight, “I would have failed this project,” Hannah-Jones said. She added that the book is both a testimony and a testament, and that “the role of a journalist is to disconcert the authorities”. She compares her research, project creation and eventual dissemination to the premise of the Matrix films: “take the red pill to see the architecture that built this society.” Become Neo and start resisting this shit. (She added that she liked the movie franchise.)

She remains in one way or another motivated for this work – “I am built for the weight of this” – and must now not only fight against the existing segregation, as well as the inequalities of income, incarceration and health care, but also the growing conservative legislation against the teaching of critical race theory. , which is a rare college-level study and doesn’t infiltrate kindergartens like some would have you believe.

Hannah-Jones sheds light on American apartheid and deconstructs the mythology of American exceptionalism. “We believe in Thomas Jefferson’s ideas, even though he didn’t believe them,” she said.

But she doesn’t believe in mere hope, as this can lead to inertia. She thinks it will be difficult for this country to let go of the settler colonial mentality of those who “have never stopped punishing blacks for daring to be free.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones, courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Nikole hannah jones was thrilled to visit the Windy City and was proud that Chicago Public Schools was the first nationwide district to do The 1619 project part of his program. The nearby town of Evanston is also the first town in the country to move towards order repairs. A documentary about the project is currently being filmed and should be released next year. She said she is also proud to know that her ancestors built this country.

In what, hopefully, is an ongoing plea for greater responsibility when sharing history, reminders of white supremacy are being razed or suppressed in the United States. More precise representations are raised instead. Chicago’s old Balbo Drive, originally named in honor of the Italian fascist aviator, was recently renamed in honor of Ida B. Wells. The 1619 project is another new and necessary monument.

The Pulitzer Center offers you many free resources teach The 1619 project, including podcasts, a reading guide, lesson plans, story cards, and more.

To come up Chicago Humanities Festival events include virtual programs as well as an in-person event with photographer Annie Leibovitz on December 7th.

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