I can't stand Nikole Hannah-Jones
And I would sooner have bowel surgery in the woods with a stick than read any more of the 1619 Project.
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With much fanfare in August 2019, the New York Times published a special 100-page edition of its Sunday magazine called the “1619 Project.” Consisting of essays and artistic works focused on “placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are,” the occasion was the 400th anniversary of the initial arrival of 20 African slaves at Point Comfort in Virginia, a British colony in North America. This, the project claims, was the true founding of our nation.
When it was first released, I didn’t pay much attention. I thought that the purported goal of the 1619 Project — centering the contributions that African Americans have made to the country throughout history — was a noble one, and that any ambition to reframe America’s conversation about race in accordance with egalitarianism was laudable. But I recently watched the 1619 Project documentary on Hulu and found that it offers only ahistorical nonsense in the form of totalizing assertions that don’t withstand further scrutiny.
Then I learned about how thousands of schools have made the 1619 Project part of the curriculum. So, I decided to read the thing in its entirety. And oh boy, it’s pretty infuriating. The project is little more than a series of essays presenting American history as an interminable struggle between African Americans and white racism—a politically motivated, reactionary, race-based falsification of our nation’s past that distorts the truth and instead promotes a deliberately skewed, monocausal narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded. All of history is to be explained from the existence of a supra-historical emotional impulse. Slavery is viewed and analyzed not as a specific economically rooted form of the exploitation of labor, but as the manifestation of white racism, and this invocation of white racism takes the place of any concrete examination of the economic, political, and social history of our country.
“Our democracy’s founding ideals,” the lead essay by founder Nikole Hannah-Jones, proclaims, “were false when they were written.” According to her, the U.S. is supposedly founded upon not just slavery but “white supremacy,” and present-day American politics, economics, and culture are rooted in concerted efforts to subjugate African Americans. Among other things, the project argues that modern accounting methods, urban traffic patterns, resistance to adopting universal health care, overconsumption of sugar, and American capitalism itself are some of the insidious ways that the legacy of slavery continues to shape our society.1
The 1619 Project’s central thesis — that the American Revolution was launched as a conspiracy to defend slavery against pending British emancipation — is nothing less than bizarre. Hannah-Jones writes:
Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. … [S]ome might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.
Never mind that slavery wasn’t abolished in the United Kingdom until 1833, nearly six decades after the Declaration of Independence—we’re supposed to ignore this and every other fact that doesn’t mesh with the project’s historical retelling, because, as Hannah-Jones and her obsequious editor Jake Silverstein argue, they’re creating “a new narrative” to replace the “white narrative.”
This Isn’t History
Anyone who has a basic understanding of and respect for American history will see the 1619 Project for what it really is: propaganda. That is truly the only conclusion to draw from what is essentially an unethical, error-riddled mythical racial narrative that ignores the actual social development of the African American population over the last 150 years.
It is not history.
The 1619 Project doesn’t even have a bibliography, for God’s sake. The authors and editors didn’t consult any scholarship on slavery, the American Revolution, the abolitionist movements, the Civil War, or Jim Crow segregation. No reference to any piece of scholarly work is ever used to substantiate a claim.
Moreover, Nikole Hannah-Jones has never once demonstrated she knows anything more than the intersectional version of American history she no doubt picked up in some overpriced freshman seminar hall. She wouldn’t know Gettysburg from a Super 8 in Valdosta. Indeed, she herself has admitted that despite peddling the project as an attempt to educate, this was not her goal. Her goal was to distort and pervert history in the service of a political agenda:
You cannot read the entire magazine and not come away understanding that a great debt is owed and it’s time for this country to pay. . . When my editor asks me, like, what’s your ultimate goal for the project, my ultimate goal is that there’ll be a reparations bill passed. . . I write to try to get liberal white people to do what they say they believe in. . . I’m making a moral argument. My method is guilt.
Although she acknowledged that a reparations bill is unlikely to happen (and just to clarify, when she says reparations she means cash payments), Hannah-Jones wants “this project…[to] get white people to give up whiteness.” And in any event, “it can certainly expose for them what whiteness is.”
Her assertion, which is repeated over and over again, that our unprecedentedly multicultural and multiracial democracy today is a mere front for “white supremacy” is ridiculous. Here’s a partial list of the national origins of U.S. citizens whose median earnings are higher than that of white people in America: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani, Iranian, Lebanese, Sri Lankan, Armenian, Hmong, Vietnamese. But we’re supposed to believe that the modern United States is some kind of apartheid nation in which being white is integral to happiness and success.
The 1619 Project has been widely criticized by leading historians, and rightly so. To wit, five of the world’s foremost scholars of the period were quick to point out the deep historical carelessness and oversights in a very public letter to the editor, even while explaining “we applaud” the project’s spirit. The Times largely dismissed the scholars’ serious concerns, offering a relativistic explanation that “historical understanding is not fixed; it is constantly being adjusted by new scholarship and new voices.”
Separately, a dozen Civil War scholars and political scientists wrote a letter to the New York Times Magazine, but their letter was never published. The researchers, who teach at Princeton, Yale, Notre Dame, Washington & Lee, Loyola, Villanova, and other universities, published their complaint and the Times’ response, independently, at a later date in George Washington University’s History News Network.
Gordon Wood, a leading historian of the American Revolution and emeritus professor at Brown University, told RealClearInvestigations that the Times material “is full of falsehoods and distortions.” In its current form, without corrections, the only way to use it in the classroom, he said, would be “as a way of showing how history can be distorted and perverted.” Northwestern University professor Leslie Harris, who teaches the history of African American life and slavery, explained in a Politico essay how she was chosen as a fact-checker for the project and that despite her objections and advice, they still didn’t fix anything.
I could probably spend days going through all the ways the 1619 Project is an utter abomination, but many people much smarter than me have already done an excellent job exposing the thing as the hot garbage that it is.
So, why am I writing this, and why does it matter?
With the imprimatur of the New York Times and its partners, the 1619 Project has been adopted as educational material in thousands of classrooms across the country; in many cases, entire school districts and systems have made it part of the curriculum. Free material from an “authoritative institution” like the New York Times is attractive to schools that are struggling financially, and it’s concerning that this kind of egregious, outcome-oriented material is being taught without undergoing the normal vetting required for textbooks. I cannot emphasize this enough: The 1619 Project is a deliberate falsification of history, one that uses a monocausal argument to explain hundreds of years of complex, cumulative events that have led us to contemporary America. For this to be taught to today’s youth is a travesty.
I think it’s absurd that Nikole Hannah-Jones has been showered with accolades when there have been so many documented incidents that reveal her true character, her lack of professionalism, and her disregard for journalistic ethics. It’s an indictment of the Pulitzer organization and the MacArthur foundation. There are so many writers and journalists out there who are more deserving of the opportunities and awards she’s been presented with despite her lengthy rap sheet of being a garbage human being. More on this below.
The UNC Episode
Nikole Hannah-Jones was the subject of media outrage after it was reported that she didn’t receive a tenured professorship at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Instead of a life-time appointment for her first academic position, Hannah-Jones, who has a Master’s degree in journalism from UNC and was awarded the school’s Distinguished Alumna Award in 2019, was offered and accepted a fixed five-year sinecure with the possibility of tenure at the end of her term.
She was thus appointed the school’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism as a Professor of Practice with funding from the Knight Foundation. Previous Knight chairs got tenure right off the bat; Hannah-Jones did not. Somewhat ironically, the decision was roundly decried on the Left as an example of “cancel culture,” even though she was not in fact cancelled, she just didn’t receive tenure.
Hannah-Jones receiving tenure despite having no academic background, a lamentable claim to fame due to just a single, error-riddled piece of revisionist history that continues to be foolishly celebrated by people eager to express fealty to woke politics, and a laughably scant history of merit, not to mention her history of being a crappy person, would be the equivalent of an NBA rookie with a history of petty crime and multiple sexual assault allegations receiving a super-max contract before playing a single game as a professional. Professors who receive tenure almost always have an academic background; Hannah-Jones does not. Professors who receive tenure almost always have a doctorate; Hannah-Jones does not. Professors who receive tenure almost always have a breadth of scholarly works; Hannah-Jones does not.
She’s been given some of the most prestigious awards in scholarship despite being woefully undeserving of them. Her total body of work at the New York Times consists of just 27 bylines (only 18 of which were solo) over the course of nearly a decade. And the woman is utterly obsessed with presenting every single issue, from education and policing to the founding of our country, through a racial prism.
There are thousands of people who have dedicated their entire lives to producing scholarly works, and they often go years struggling to find a steady job. Graduate students hoping to attain an academic position in their field of expertise toil year after year, and they do so while making next to nothing as teaching and research assistants. For your standard academic types, the process of actually getting tenure usually takes about seven years, and it entails all manner of hoops one must jump through before receiving approval by a board of trustees. Despite its importance for protecting academic freedom, it’s rare for academics to achieve the status of tenure, with the American Association of University Professors reporting that the share of faculty with tenure in the U.S. has declined to 21%. Meanwhile, Hannah-Jones was being handed a five-year tenure-track position at UNC on a golden platter.
Back in January 2021, the provost submitted a package of faculty appointments to the UNC board of trustees for approval, including a proposal to offer Hannah-Jones a tenured position at Hussman. Chuck Duckett, the trustee who chairs the relevant board committee, replied with questions about Hannah-Jones. Other tenured appointments were approved. The board never voted on hers one way or the other. Instead, UNC converted its offer into a five-year contract, which Hannah-Jones accepted.
What concerns did Duckett and presumably other trustees have about giving Hannah-Jones immediate tenure? This is a private matter about which they declined to share details, at least not on the record, which of course means the media had a field day speculating, accusing the board of racism, sexism, and infringing on academic freedom. Hannah-Jones devotees alleged that the trustees were all “Republican-appointed,” which means #Fascists. Any sensible person applying an ideological litmus test would find that the majority of professors who receive tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill are politically left-of-center, but of course her acolytes don’t fall under the sensible category, they’re just looking to twist reality until it conforms to their preconceived worldview, as all political fundamentalists are wont to do.
Ultimately, Nikole Hannah-Jones backtracked, telling UNC that she wouldn’t join the faculty unless given tenure. You’ll be shocked to learn that UNC immediately caved, only for Hannah-Jones to decline the tenure she had been complaining about and instead join the faculty at Howard University.
The truth is that what really distinguishes Nikole Hannah-Jones is her poor character. It starts with her lack of humility and ends with all the times she’s been caught lying. When she was challenged about her sloppy, if not intentionally inaccurate research and her empirically indefensible half-truths, Hannah-Jones ducked, and weaved, and then proceeded to personally smear her critics.
But let’s talk about the time Hannah-Jones “doxxed” another reporter.
It should come as no surprise that she’s been a key cog in the machinations and drama in the New York Times newsroom—drama that resulted in the very public defenestrations and (forced) resignations of several notable colleagues, including Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, and Don McNeil. The case involving Don McNeil, which had previously been investigated and dismissed by the paper in 2019 before Hannah-Jones and her fellow woke colleagues decided to bring it up again in February 2021 so they could get him fired, concerned his one-time usage of the N-word within an academic context.
“We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent,” Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, told staff in an email following McNeil’s departure. A spokesperson also stated that racial epithets had “no place in the newspaper.” And yet, just six days before McNeil’s dismissal, the Times had used the N-word in an article entitled, “He Wants to Save Classics From Whiteness. Can the Field Survive?”
Aaron Sibarium, a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, sent a professional email to Hannah-Jones about all the times she has used the N-word on X and whether her intent mattered. Instead of replying back, she took his inquiry — which included his personal information, like his cell phone number — and posted it on her X account (a violation of X’s terms of service). She left it up for 47 hours, deleting it only after the Times was notified, claiming that she “hadn’t known it [the phone number] was there” despite Sibarium’s pleas for her to take it down (he received a torrent of hateful text messages and voicemails, of course).
The Times stood by Hannah-Jones and claimed that she had “inadvertently” posted the phone number. This was easily proven a lie considering that Hannah-Jones acknowledged she posted it:
When confronted with proof that she’d flat-out lied, she deleted her entire X history and proceeded to claim that the sudden erasure had nothing to do with her being a scumbag and was purely coincidental.
While we’re talking about X, let’s pause and take a gander at her bios above. I think this is revealing, and I’d ask that you keep in mind she’s considered a figure of repute who was even selected as the Knight Chair at UNC.
The quasi-appropriation of the name Ida B. Wells? I’m not going to touch it. Seems a little questionable, but okay.
Let’s start with “AKA The Beyoncé of Journalism.” Cute. What is this, sophomore yearbook class?
“Slanderous & nasty-minded mulattress.” Why would anyone even jokingly refer to themselves in this way?
And saved for last, “smart and thuggish.” Allow me to submit that anyone who feels compelled to publicly announce they’re “smart” is, beneath the guise, probably not the brightest star in the intellectual Orion. That, or they’re just so arrogant that they can’t help themselves. And “thuggish”?
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised after Hannah-Jones wrote that “it would be an honor” to call the 2020 unrest that caused $2 billion in (insured) damages to businesses across the country “the 1619 Riots,” and claimed that property destruction does not amount to violence.
Stealth Editing and Deception
Perhaps the crown jewel of examples highlighting the dishonesty of Nikole Hannah-Jones, her chief cheerleader and New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein, and the New York Times organization as a whole was the attempt to memory hole the key claim that came to symbolize the Times‘ blurring of historical analysis with editorial hyperbole: That the true founding of our country was not in 1776, but 1619.
Luckily, since Hannah-Jones is an X queen — the sort of person who’s always on the social media platform and thinks a successful argument is a post that goes viral amongst people who already agree with her — we have plenty of proof that she’s actually arrogant enough to think she can go on live national television and just lie with impunity.
Hannah-Jones on CNN: “Of course, we know that 1776 was the founding of this country. The Project does not argue that 1776 was not the founding of the country.”
And yet, here’s what she said previously:
Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Hannah-Jones tried to alter her self-depiction of the project’s aims. She attempted a similar revision a few months prior during an online spat with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.
As if that weren’t enough already, the Times made another edit to further conceal the “true founding” bunk. Prompted by the discovery of the first deletion, some people discovered another change to the project’s text. The early print edition of the 1619 Project contained an introductory passage reading:
The Times didn’t disclose these edits of one of the most controversial claims in the entire 1619 Project. They simply made the problematic passages disappear, hoping that nobody would notice—a complete lack of professional ethics and intellectual integrity.
Note that these are not mere word changes. The “true founding” claim was the core element of the project’s assertion that all of American history is rooted in and defined by white racial hatred of African Americans. According to this narrative as trumpeted by Hannah-Jones, the American Revolution was a preemptive racial counterrevolution waged by white people in North America to defend slavery against British plans to abolish it. As Tom Mackaman and David North pointed out:
The Times’ “disappearing,” with a few secret keystrokes, of its central argument, without any explanation or announcement, is a stunning act of intellectual dishonesty and outright fraud. When it launched the 1619 Project in August 2019, the Times proclaimed that its aim was to radically change what and how students were taught about American history. With the aim of creating a new syllabus based on the 1619 Project, hundreds of thousands of copies of the original version of the narrative, as published in the New York Times Magazine, were printed and distributed to schools, museums and libraries all across the United States. A very large number of schools declared that they would align their curricula in accordance with the narrative supplied by the Times.
The National Association of Scholars wrote a damning public letter with 21 signatories calling upon the Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind the prize awarded to Hannah-Jones. Included in the letter is the following passage, which is worth quoting at length:
Hannah-Jones’s refusal to correct her errors or engage her critics, we have recently learned, was accompanied by surreptitious efforts by the New York Times to alter the record of what it had published in the original magazine of August 18, 2019. Providing no public explanation or acknowledgment of its actions, the Times amended the digital version of the Project text. Not until September 19, 2020, when historian Phillip Magness compared the original and digital versions of the essay in the journal Quillette, did the alterations come to light. These were not changes to Hannah-Jones’s essay itself, but to the crucially important introductory materials whose claims—for example, the ‘reframing’ of American history with the year 1619 as the nation’s ‘true founding’—form the underlying rationale of the entire Project.
Correcting factual errors in their published works, of course, is an important responsibility of both the journalistic and scholarly press. But such corrections are typically and rightly made openly and explicitly. The author and the publisher acknowledge an error and correct it. That is not what happened in this case. Rather, the false claims were erased or altered with no explanation, and Hannah-Jones then proceeded to claim that she had never said or written what in fact she has said and written repeatedly, assertions that the Project materials also made. Fortunately, we have a documentary record to the contrary, in the form of the original publication, in addition to extensive video footage of Hannah-Jones (and Silverstein) making precisely the claims that she now denies having made.
The duplicity of attempting to alter the historical record in a manner intended to deceive the public is as serious an infraction against professional ethics as a journalist can commit. A ‘sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay,’ as the Pulitzer Prize Board called it, does not have the license to sweep its own errors into obscurity or the remit to publish ‘deeply reported’ falsehoods.”
It’s important to note that the case I laid out includes only the more prominent examples of lies and deception. Regardless, the 1619 Project shouldn’t be part of any curriculum, and Nikole Hannah-Jones doesn’t belong anywhere near a classroom. Her trite writing, unprofessional conduct, lack of scholarship and accountability, propensity for smearing and falsely accusing others, and disdain for journalistic ethics would disqualify anyone else from teaching at any university, let alone tenure at a prestigious, taxpayer funded institution.
Every organization has standards. Professional standards, ethical standards, dress standards, intellectual standards, decorum standards, speech standards, behavior standards. Even if these specific standards aren’t penned and posted, they’re still tacitly agreed upon and enforced. And when you compromise those standards, you don’t just run the risk of establishing a slippery slope, you send a message to the world. The message coming from the Times and Howard University couldn’t be more clear.