Mount Holyoke College hosted in September its Common Read Keynote with Pulitzer-winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones to talk about The 1619 Project, which was chosen to be this year’s common read.
During the keynote, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Kijua Sanders-McMurtry interviewed Hannah-Jones.
“I think the 1619 Project should honestly be at every college, university, corporation, and school foundationally if these institutions are truly interested in being anti-racist,” Sanders-McMurtry said.
“I think there is this idea out here right now that this is anti-American, and that this is seeking to reframe a narrative that doesn’t need to be reframed, and I think you’ve done a beautiful job saying that this does need to be reframed and here’s why."
Hannah-Jones responded by saying, “For the anti-American comments, I feel like people who make those comments have clearly not read the project."
“Also, I don’t think we’re an exceptional nation. I think that’s ludicrous for any nation to make that claim, and we certainly cannot make that claim. We’re a nation founded on genocide, and chattel slavery, and classism, and gender discrimination. We’re not. We had exceptional ideas but we’re not an exceptional nation. But if you believe that, then your country can certainly withstand scrutiny.”
"Anti-Americanism has been used against Black activists, Black scholars, Black journalists pretty much as long as we’ve been in this country,” Hannah-Jones added. “It’s that our efforts to have our full humanity and full citizenship and to call this country out for its hypocrisies is seen as anti-American.”
As for the project, Hannah-Jones hopes what “that colleges will do is use this one, to lead students to be more critical of what we know, how we know it, how do we get this shared national memory, who created it, what’s left out, what is the purpose of the history that we’ve been taught."
Hannah-Jones called history taught in schools “a nationalistic agenda” and that it’s “not about truth, it's about giving us a shared sense of American exceptionalism and American identity and because of that you had to downplay genocide, you had to downplay what happened with chattel slavery, you had to downplay what happened to most marginalized groups."
She also noted that she would argue that our “inability to be honest about who we are” is the reason why President Donald Trump is in office and why “we don’t know whether or not we’re going to have a fair election this fall or not."
Next, Sanders-McMurtry asked Hannah-Jones if the U.S. would ever have a true democracy, to which she responded that America at its “founding, did not believe in democracy."
She called the American Revolution “the Revolution of the elite” and claimed that “these elite white men” didn’t intend for America to be a “democratic republic” or “for us to have democracy.”
Hannah-Jones also called it a “fairytale” that “the demographic destiny of our country will turn us into a more interracial democracy," saying that when “white people” start to “lose an American majority, they always found ways to hold onto power."
She cited examples of what she sees as “white people” maintaining “power," including Stacey Abrams’ failed gubernatorial candidacy in Georgia, the electoral college, noting that only one Republican has won the presidency with a majority popular vote in the last 30-40 years, and voter suppression laws. Ultimately, Hannah-Jones said that she didn’t have faith in democracy, especially since “an open white nationalist and misogynist” who has “led the most corrupt administration in the history of this country” can still win this November’s election.
“Large numbers of white Americans are willing to suspend democractic principles to maintain racial power, and we’re seeing that,” Hannah-Jones said, citing an unnamed study.
Mount Holyoke’s Common Read Keynote with Nikole Hannah-Jones occurred one day after President Donald Trump announced support for witholding federal funding from schools that teach the 1619 Project.
Campus Reform reached out to Mount Holyoke for comment, but the school did not respond in time for publication.