Left-wing pundits and legacy media on the prowl for conservative hypocrisy have been crowing that the latest example can be found in the right’s rejection of the 1619 Project and its creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was refused tenure at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she will begin working in July.
“Hey conservatives, this is why leftists don’t believe you care about free speech,” was the title of an op-ed by Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post. The Atlantic featured same-day articles entitled “Why Conservatives Want to Cancel the 1619 Project“ and “The Cancellation of Nikole Hannah-Jones.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s headline read: “Nikole Hannah-Jones and the secret history of the real ‘cancel culture’ on U.S. campuses.”
Are conservative repudiations of the 1619 Project, and the many criticisms leveled at Hannah-Jones an example of “cancel culture”? Have leftists identified yet another “gotcha,” demonstrating that for all the right’s bemoaning of cancellation, they are just as guilty of it as those on the left? Are conservatives who complain about Amazon’s ban of Ryan T. Anderson’s book on transgenderism but rally to keep the 1619 Project out of their school districts hypocrites who only care about free speech when it suits their ideological agenda?
In short, no. Rather, left-wing pundits and media have conflated two fundamentally different trends in our socio-political distemper.
Woke capitalists are banning dissident voices, delisting their books so that consumers cannot purchase them. Left-wing media are silencing those who question their agenda even in the most tempered, deferential manner. Americans, including card-carrying leftists and Democrats, are losing their jobs and being blacklisted because of things they did years ago, or controversial comments for which they quickly apologized.
Not so following conservative disapproval of Hannah-Jones and her 1619 Project. The New York Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical-revisionist program elicited criticism from prominent historians and academics soon after it was published. Professional historians called it “a very unbalanced, one-sided account,” “wrong in so many ways,” “not only ahistorical,” but “actually anti-historical” and “a tendentious and partial reading of American history.” Stories emerged that fact-checkers of the project had been ignored and sidelined.
How did Hannah-Jones and her employer react to critiques of their popular, trendy work? By claiming that criticisms of the project were motivated by racism and a desire to oppress black people, among various other ad hominems painstakingly cataloged by scholar Peter W. Wood in his book “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project”; by dissembling the language of the original 1619 Project then discreetly making minor editorial revisions; by deleting tweets to hide various examples of offensive language aimed at detractors and opponents.
Unsurprisingly, conservatives have been outspoken in repudiating the 1619 Project and Hannah-Jones. They have resisted attempts to incorporate the themes and content of this alt-history into local curricula. They have highlighted Hannah-Jones’s uncharitable, unprofessional, hostile language (including her attacks on white people as “devils” and Columbus as “no different than Hitler”).
This is not “cancel culture.” It is culture. Of course citizens would reject public school curricula that feature content even the most preeminent American historians have called erroneous. Should we allow our students to be taught any idea, even if it is flatly wrong? Of course citizens would express reservations with a public intellectual who provocatively tars her interlocutors as racist bigots. Why would we promote the writings and opinions of a “public intellectual” who has shown little regard for the fields of history and journalism?
Frankly, conservatives are incapable of canceling Hannah-Jones, even if they desired. She is a darling of the leftist elite and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize (which reflects terribly on the current prestige, professionalism, and standards of that award). Conservatives simply want to resist the erroneous doctrines The New York Times seeks to impress upon the American public and own children.
I would presume that as a mother Hannah-Jones would shield her own child from much content. Conservatives believe her journalism and scholarship — driven by simplistic, racialist, and blinkered dogmas — is dangerous to the American body politic.
And please, no serious conservative is arguing that Hannah-Jones should be silenced. Indeed, conservatives have been trying, unsuccessfully, to engage her, the other contributors of the 1619 Project, and The New York Times in respectful, intellectual debate. That Hannah-Jones reacts to criticisms of her work with name-calling and emotivist jeremiads demonstrates the unseriousness with which she takes honest public discourse regarding her own work.
Moreover, why should UNC-Chapel Hill grant tenure to Hannah-Jones, someone with no prior experience in the academy? Her most famous professional accomplishment has been pilloried by academics, earning recognition only from award-givers who now care more about paying what Kyle Smith has called the “woke tax” than honoring their impartial criteria for excellence.
Is it not enough that UNC granted Hannah-Jones, a UNC alum, a five-year contract? Why is she automatically entitled to tenure, anyway? I have multiple friends who labored for years as adjunct faculty, teaching and writing articles for peer-reviewed journals before they were awarded tenure.
Hannah-Jones has many opportunities to express her views openly in the public square. No doubt she could secure book contracts for the rest of her life if she so wished. She secured a position at UNC-Chapel Hill despite behavior that under less racially frenetic circumstances would have resulted in serious consequences to her career. If I lived in the Tar Heel State and my state taxes went to fund UNC-Chapel Hill, I would certainly have a vested interest in how that university spent its money, including on celebrity faculty with checkered resumes.
Such concerns over the 1619 Project and its creator emanate not from a desire to “cancel” anyone or limit free speech, but a desire to ensure that the education Americans receive is truthful and oriented towards good citizenship. The 1619 Project fails on both accounts. It is less history and professional journalism than an overt ideological agenda aimed at reparations — indeed, Hannah-Jones has explicitly said as much.
If this is the best our university journalism schools can offer their students, it just goes to show how impoverished a public education has become.