Nikole Hannah-Jones

("Nikole Hannah-Jones" by abraji_ is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Black people are constantly erased from history, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said at a panel discussion on Friday. 

“And when we were in it, it was always as people who were acted upon,” Hannah-Jones said. “White people enslaved us; White people freed us; And then we disappear from the story for 100 years.” 

At the virtual event, “Nikole Hannah-Jones on ‘1619 and the Legacy That Built a Nation,”’ she and her fellow panelists covered issues of racism in schools, the erasure of non-White experiences in history and the legacy of slavery in sports. They also discussed the role of journalism and what it means to be objective. 

The panel included New York Times investigative reporter, Nikole Hannah-Jones; Assistant Professor of Race and Sports Courtney Cox; and journalism student and Co-Director of UO’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, Shyann Montgomery. Andrew DeVigal, director at the university’s Agora Journalism Center, served as the moderator. 

Hannah-Jones joined the panel put on by the School of Journalism and Communication to discuss her creation of “The 1619 Project.” The multimedia project explores the lasting impact of slavery and highlights the role of African American people in creating American democracy. The project brought national attention to the year 1619, the year when White colonizers first captured and forcefully brought African people to what is now America. The project also started conversations across the nation about the role of slavery in this country.

“I wanted to force the year 1619 into the national lexicon,” Hannah-Jones said. “And also to reckon with the legacy of slavery that we still live with.” 

“The 1619 Project” was controversial and received a fair amount of criticism from the public. Hannah-Jones knew this would be the case before publishing the project. Some states have brought forth bills to ban the use of “The 1619 Project” curriculum in schools. For Hannah-Jones, this highlights that Black people and their experiences have always been politicized. 

“We’re often told as journalists of color that if we do projects that center our communities, that they won’t find a mass audience,” Hannah-Jones said. “I hope that the success of the project makes it much more difficult for editors to shut down similarly ambitious projects that excavate the experiences of marginalized people.”

The panel acknowledged that in order to reimagine democracy, the role of journalism must also be reenvisioned. For Montgomery, this means that different voices need to be heard and actually listened to. Cox discussed the importance of critiquing the power dynamic between journalists and editors — whose stories are being published and who feels able to speak up. The overall consensus, summed up by Hannah-Jones, was that newsrooms must be multiracial in order to accurately represent the country. 

Moderator DeVigal brought forth the question of objectivity in journalism and whether or not it is dead. 

Objectivity never existed, Hannah-Jones said. Everyone, including journalists, have opinions. “Objectivity to me is the luxury of folks who haven’t lived in a country that was structured against you,” she said. 

UO assigned “The 1619 Project” as the 2020-21 common reading for incoming freshmen. The project started out as a piece in the New York Times Magazine, but the Pulitzer Center has since turned it into a curriculum that is reaching schools across the nation. The project is in the process of being turned into a multi-book series by Random House Publishers. 

Nika is a writer at the Arts & Culture desk. Send her an email if you know of any local artists or events that should be featured!