On Oct. 13, the Roosevelt Institute awarded The New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones the Freedom of Speech Award, one of their Four Freedoms Awards. In her acceptance speech, Hannah-Jones unknowingly revealed the truth about her ahistorical 1619 Project, as well as the Orwellian nature of the award she received.
Hannah-Jones has a way of letting slip her true goals. The 1619 Project was published in New York Times Magazine to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown, where it “reframed” American history by replacing 1776 with the year 1619, when our real Founding — as a “slavocracy” — really began.
In her Oct. 13 remarks, she confirmed this project is actually advocacy journalism. She gave the game away when calling the project a “narrative.” She also noted “the narrative allows for policy.” The policy she was referring to was reparations.
The bestowal of the Roosevelt Institute award came only weeks after Hannah-Jones gave the annual Kops Freedom of the Press lecture at Cornell University and served as featured speaker at “Banned Books Week” events. The stream of accolades is astounding. But they have much to do with the image of persecuted speaker of truths Hannah-Jones has cultivated through social media and television appearances.
The performative ritual was put on display at the Oct.13 ceremony as Dorian Warren, president of the nonprofit Community Change and cohost of a Nation magazine podcast, interviewed Hannah-Jones in the fawning manner to which she has become accustomed. He marveled at her “resilience.” How are you “holding up?” he asked.
Hannah-Jones acted as if she were being hounded by the U.S. attorney general and the FBI — like the parents voicing objections at school board meetings to the kind of curricula she supports. It depends “on the day,” she sighed. She took the hostile reactions as a “testament” to the power of journalism.
The work of a journalist, you see, is to make “an impact on society,” one she takes to heart. She made “connections,” claiming it was not incidental that the same states passing these laws were passing laws allegedly restricting voter and women’s reproductive rights. “As somebody who has studied history,” she laughably said, she knew that rights are taken away “a bit at a time,” as was the case after Reconstruction with the enactment of Jim Crow laws.
Actually, Hannah-Jones picked up her view of history — as the constant and unmitigated oppression of white against black going back to 1619 — in a high school black studies class when she was introduced to the writings of Lerone Bennett, a radical magazine writer who coined the term “Black Power” in 1966.
We can blame the educational system, which in 1992 offered the unhappy biracial teenager a class taught by a radical. We can also blame the larger changes in scholarship, the replacement of the mode of objective interpretation to “a mode of perspectivism.”
The result is a conspiratorial view that sees “problems in the contemporary world” as “emerg[ing] from a single development or incident in the past,” as Jeffrey Polet put it in a recent forum. For Hannah-Jones, all problems, such as disparities in income and incarceration, trace back to the racism that she claims inspired and justified slavery. Even the January 6 protests, she has stated on MSNBC, “can be explained by 1619.” They were a manifestation of a desire to “hold onto white power.”
On Oct. 13, Hannah-Jones insisted her work was attacked because it made “connections” showing “institutional inequality.” Hannah-Jones also admitted that her “history,” being a “narrative,” by definition is not directed by the evidence. Secondly, she expressed a core tenet of critical race theory when she maintained that racism is “institutional” and must be studied that way.
This is not the first time that she has displayed confusion over the difference between such a conspiratorial view and real history. Nevertheless, she insisted that an “honest accounting” of the past was “healthy”: it provided opportunities to “do things to repair the harm” — namely through reparations.
It is no coincidence that in June 2019, Hannah-Jones’s friend and collaborator, Ta-Nehisi Coates, while testifying before Congress for reparations used the same grossly inflated claims by Edward Baptist about the economic contributions of slave labor (by 1836, “almost half of the economic activity in the United States derived directly or indirectly from the cotton produced by the million-odd slaves”) that were used two months later in the 1619 Project. (Baptist, a member of the neo-Marxist New History of Capitalism school has been charged by economic historians with innumeracy.)
In April 2021, in what Politico called a “historic feat,” the House Judiciary Committee voted to bring H.R. 40, a bill to establish a commission to study reparations, out of committee. Several days ago, on Oct. 14, New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman tweeted, “Let’s talk about reparations in 2021 like we did in 2020. We’re not waiting for the midterms.”
In June, 11 mayors across the country pledged to take up reparations. California, the first state to set up a reparations task force, last week conducted hearings where complaints about “anti-Black racism in housing, education, banking and the environment” were heard. At the United Nations General Assembly meeting last month, countries, such as South Africa, Cameroon, Cuba, and Malaysia, asked for reparations for slavery—not from the West African countries that profited from selling slaves, but the United States, Britain, and Germany.
Hannah-Jones’s words have proven to be “prophetic,” but not in the way Nation magazine publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel claimed during the Oct. 13 ceremony as she read aloud the passage by Hannah-Jones that in large font take up an entire page of the 1619 Project: “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written. Black Americans fought to make them true. Without this struggle, America would have no democracy at all.”
The true prophecy comes from George Orwell: that history would be pushed down the “memory hole” and be rewritten, and that terms, like censorship, would be redefined under Newspeak.