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Critical Race Theory Matters

Critical Race Theory Matters

The recent denial of tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones: Are you familiar with this topic? Here it is #ICYMI.

In short, this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times journalist, and MacArthur Fellow was set to become the newest Knight Chair, a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that usually leads to a tenured position. Once a professor earns tenure, they possess a certain measure of academic freedom as well as job security: Although university policy outlines actions that can lead to termination, tenured professors who are in compliance can’t get fired. 

I have two journalism degrees and am working on a PhD in public communication, so I am well past my undergraduate days. However, to be taught by a journalist of this caliber would have been incredibly influential. 

Professors are such a critical component of the educational experience. Therefore, this position (as well as the tenure that usually accompanies it) would have been of significance not only for Hannah-Jones, but also the students who would have had the honor of being in her classroom. 

Instead, the Board of Trustees only offered her a five-year teaching position. No tenure.  

But her qualifications stack up, right? Of course they do. 

So, what’s the problem? 

Remember the “Pulitzer Prize-winning” part? Here’s why she won journalism’s highest honor: The 1619 Project, a special section of the NYT (and the accompanying podcast) that outlines when the first ship of enslaved Africans made it to the shores of what is now America. I listened to the podcast on one of my drives to Mississippi. I remember thinking, This is what we should have learned in school. 

My mother was always active in our education, and I vividly remember her telling us that what we learned about slavery was not the full picture. As she would say, “Those slaves weren’t happy!” 

I vaguely remember watching “Roots” but there have been other movies about slavery that have served as my real education. Also, my visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture was earth-shattering. “The 1619 Project” is also another component of my ongoing education and understanding. 

It’s a shame what we are told to believe and what we actually learn about slavery and the outcomes that are still very present. 

This is where Critical Race Theory (CRT) comes in. This is a major part of my research as a PhD student, and I’ve even led a discussion on this theory for one of my classes. 

Here’s a snapshot: 

  • Racism is ordinary and is difficult to address 
  • This theory provides a foundation to understand the effects of historical racism on people’s lives
  • Racism is embedded in systems (such as education, law, politics, law enforcement)
  • Racism benefits White people and restricts non-White people 

From the Time Magazine article linked above: “Over the past year many Americans have called for an examination of systemic racism — in part through education such as the teaching of The New York Times’ 1619 Project in schools. That Pulitzer Prize-winning project reframes American history around the date of August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores.” 

So, let’s put these pieces together: 

  • A Black female journalist develops a project that provides a comprehensive view of slavery and how remnants of this institution are still ever present in our world today.
  • She earns the highest award in journalism, despite pushback from conservatives (mainly White men) who view CRT as racist. 

More pieces: 

  • Black people are still marching for equal rights because #BlackLivesMatter. Countless unarmed Black men and women are murdered by police on suspicion but not actual evidence. Black people lead peaceful protests only to get attacked and arrested by police. 
  • A blatantly racist White, privileged male won the 2016 presidential election. On Jan. 6, 2021, his (mostly) White supporters stormed the Capitol. Freely. 

Also this: 

  • Microaggressions (subtle forms of racism) are physically, emotionally, and psychologically damaging especially for Black women who typically find themselves as the only one who looks like them in the workplace. 
  • Black children are often considered more aggressive and older than they appear. 
  • Black people are viewed as threatening just based on notions and stereotypes associated with race. 

Therefore, the only thing racist about CRT is the actual racism that is subjected toward Black people (and other people of color). However, several lawmakers have spoken out against including CRT in school curriculums. Even the former president said this when he wanted to eliminate anti-bias training in federal agencies … the hypocrisy of it all. 

Recently, a White male mentioned a “new form of slavery” and told me I should write a book about it. What he actually was referring to is the not-so-new ideology of white supremacy and the belief of a racial hierarchy. Not only was this incredibly ignorant but extremely racist as well. And the audacity of telling me that I should be the one to write the book on it took the cake. 

Racism isn’t new. Race matters. How we move through the world, the things we experience, the things we think and say, how we treat others … race affects all of it. 

Hannah-Jones’ denial of tenure matters because it is completely insulting and discriminatory. She wrote a groundbreaking piece of journalism, writes for one of the most influential papers in the United States, has decades of experience, and has earned accolades of which many in her field can only dream. And the Knight Chair historically includes tenure. 

If you have any other justification for her denial other than racism, then you’re part of the problem, too. 

Here’s how to support the 1619 Project: 

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