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Black History, Uncensored: Nikole Hannah-Jones took GOPers to school

Republicans have spent years targeting Hannah-Jones’ highly acclaimed “1619 Project,” but her reporting has threatened the conservative psyche for years.


It’s not lost on me that conservatives’ framing of Nikole Hannah-Jones and her “1619 Project” as dangers to American classrooms targets a woman who likely knows more about the U.S. education system than all of the people trying to hide her work combined. 

Hannah-Jones isn’t just a nonthreat to American students — through her work, she’s an advocate for them. An ally to them. Her years of education reporting, and the accolades she has won as a result, show a woman who knows that the biggest threats to American students are neglect and disinvestment — not books by Black authors. 

I think this is what makes her a target. Jones was known among some conservatives years before “The 1619 Project” dropped. But the release of the project only accelerated attacks on her work, which zeroes in on the systemic issues plaguing American institutions.

That’s why Hannah-Jones gets the spotlight in today’s “Black History, Uncensored” feature. All month, we’re celebrating works from Black authors targeted with right-wing book bans. Jones has been placed at the center of conservatives’ effort to revise history, and you can’t understand the derision toward her in the present without reading some of her earlier work and seeing how it roils the conservative psyche. 

The feature-length article she published with ProPublica in December 2014, about modern-day segregation and its impact on Missouri schools, is a prime example of the work I’m talking about. 

In “School Segregation, the Continuing Tragedy of Ferguson,” Hannah-Jones uses the police killing of Michael Brown to highlight the obstacles that he and other Black students had faced in Missouri, years before Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson.

She wrote:

About half of black male students at Normandy High never graduate. Just one in four graduates enters a four-year college. The college where Brown was headed is a troubled for-profit trade-school that a U.S. Senate report said targeted students for their 'vulnerabilities,' and that at one time advertised itself to what it internally called the area’s 'Unemployed, Underpaid, Unsatisfied, Unskilled, Unprepared, Unsupported, Unmotivated, Unhappy, Underserved!'

In that passage, she commits two mortal sins as far as the modern Republican Party is concerned: She acknowledges systemic racism and targets a system of for-profit schools that the GOP has grown to love over the past decade

And Hannah-Jones doesn’t stop there. 

Later in the piece, she diagnoses the roots of Missouri’s school segregation issues. 

“Decades of public and private housing discrimination made St. Louis one of the most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the country,” she wrote. “Out of that grew a network of school district boundaries that to this day have divided large numbers of black students in racially separate schools as effectively as any Jim Crow law.”

And here’s the haymaker: 

Since Aug. 9, the day Michael Brown’s lifeless body lay for hours under a hot summer sun, St. Louis County has become synonymous with the country’s racial fault lines when it comes to police conduct and the criminalization of black youth. But most black youth will not die at the hands of police. They will face the future that Brown would have faced if he had lived. That is, to have the outcome of their lives deeply circumscribed by what they learn and experience in their segregated, inferior schools.

That line undercuts frequent claims out of the Republican Party that personal responsibility is a remedy for systemic racism. And it came from a woman who, contrary to many of her detractors, had facts to back up her case. 

It’s no surprise that conservatives, who are averse to expertise and fear facts about true U.S. history, see Nikole Hannah-Jones as an obstacle in their effort to whitewash it.

Read previous “Black History, Uncensored” posts about Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and more.