It is racist to be sure. Hannah-Jones, who is Black, was the founder of the 1619 Project, an ambitious piece of historical investigative journalism that recalibrated the history of the United States to the year the first slaves were brought here. It’s a seismic piece of work that has already upset many powerful white people, including those on the UNC board of governors. Those are the folks — almost entirely political appointees from our GOP-led legislature — who bungled the Silent Sam episode, and also are ultimately responsible for denying Hannah-Jones tenure for the Knight chair, which has been the norm for white folks who have held the position.
And none of them have ever been as qualified as Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer for her work on the 1619 Project, and was awarded a MacArthur Genius grant in 2018.
It should also be noted that she is an alumna of the Hussman School of Journalism, Class of 2003.
So, in this way it is also a travesty of justice: There is no journalist working in the United States today who is more qualified than Hannah-Jones for this particular post. In fact, she may be the most important working journalist in the country right now. She could literally have whatever job she wanted. That she wanted to teach students in North Carolina is a huge point of pride for UNC-Chapel Hill, the Daily Tar Heel and the journalism program.
And we need her now more than ever.
The deliberate snubbing of Nikole Hannah-Jones coincides with other national news reports that show everyone else just what is happening in our beleaguered state: A ProPublica longform piece about white supremacy in Alamance County, and an NBC News segment about people who have died in police custody after being hogtied, centered on Greensboro’s Marcus Smith, who met his fate that way in 2018.
But while the UNC Board of Governors points fingers, obfuscates and hides, it may be too late. On Monday, Hannah-Jones removed her affiliation with UNC from her Twitter bio. She can clearly do better.
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