Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones on Tuesday urged public education supporters in North Carolina to organize to fight “anti-history laws” promoted by Republican lawmakers.
Hannah-Jones said the left had not gone “crazy enough” in opposing the “culture war that was engineered by the right” which led to laws banning schools from teaching such things as his 1619 project.
She told an online North Carolina educators forum that people are going through “a dark and scary time” where teachers are “even afraid to teach and to talk about their children’s experiences.”
“We’re underarms right now and I think that’s because it’s not an issue that angers people on the left enough,” Hannah-Jones said. “People on the right are very angry and anger is often what inspires you to organize and push for laws and for these changes.”
Hannah-Jones was the keynote speaker on Tuesday at Education color summit, a two-day virtual event attracting 1,600 people “to engage in critical conversations centered on issues of racial equity and education.”
The summit is sponsored by the Public Schools Forum at the Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity in North Carolina, the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University,
Project manager 1619
Hannah-Jones is a writer for the New York Times Magazine specializing in racial injustice, best known for her work on The 1619 project. The project reframes the legacy of slavery and places the contributions of black Americans at the forefront of the country’s history and is often cited in the local, state and national debate on teaching critical race theory.
Hannah-Jones was appointed the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University this summer after she turned down a similar position at UNC-Chapel Hill, which sparked national controversy. She was due to join the faculty of UNC-CH this fall, but was not initially established by the board of directors of UNC-CH. Some have argued that the decision, or the lack of it, was rooted in Conservative politics and the 1619 Project.
She is a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and was recently recognized as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
1619 Project under attack
Project 1619 was cited by Republicans at the federal and state levels to introduce legislation banning the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis is among the sponsors of federal legislation to fund any school system that uses Project 1619 as educational material, The News & Observer previously reported.
“Project 1619 is a revisionist and racist account of history which threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded,” states the federal legislation.
Republican lawmakers passed a law they said would prevent North Carolina public schools from promoting critical race theory. The legislation was vetoed by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who said the bill “pushed for calculated and conspiratorial policies in public education,” the N&O reported.
Opponents of Critical Race Theory have accused that it presents an overly negative view of the nation’s history in which teachers say whites are unfairly getting privileges because of their race.
Hannah-Jones said critical race theory was only taught in colleges. But she said “bad faith actors” have redefined critical race theory to target American history, black history and anti-racist texts taught in K-12 public schools.
“You teach in a school district that was separate by law,” Hannah-Jones said. “To speak of this is not to teach critical race theory. It is about teaching the history of our country and helping our students.
If these “anti-history laws” are upheld, Hannah-Jones said the nation risks teaching students to support inequalities in society.
Nation in “dark and frightening times”
Valerie Bridges, the superintendent of public schools in Edgecombe County, asked Hannah-Jones how educators can empower parents who support mask mandates and support learning of all races. Criticisms of mask mandates and critical race theory have surfaced at school board meetings across the country.
Hannah-Jones said educators need to show parents what is being taught as opposed to what the right says students are learning. She said parents and other education supporters should organize themselves to speak out in meetings and write letters to editors like the opposition.
“We pay attention to those who are the loudest when we need to pay attention to those who are more rational and act in good faith,” Hannah-Jones said.
Hannah-Jones said the situation in North Carolina had worsened since she was a reporter for News & Observer.
“We have to stop being so passive in believing that things will eventually work out,” she said. “They aren’t. Believe me, as a history student, we are actually in a very dangerous time.