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Nikole Hannah-Jones: ‘I’m No One’s Diversity Hire’

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates had a lot to say about joining Howard University, the importance of teaching at HCBUs and why it’s about much more than racial equity.

After Hannah-Jones said “Thanks, but no thanks” to University of North Carolina’s insulting offer of tenure, the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalism professor decided to join Howard University along with the acclaimed Ta-Nehisi Coates. The two joined Tiffany Cross on Saturday to discuss what they plan to bring to the HCBU.

Coates said he’s not there to “preach to the choir” of Black students. He wants to have deeper conversations about the role of race in broader issues.

COATES: When I went to Howard University there were conceptions about Blackness, about myself that I had. There were private conversations that I needed to have outside of the conversations that we have with white people. Private debates that needed to be had, debates about sexuality, debates about gender, debates about colorism, geography, et cetera. And you don't really get to have those conversations if you're trying to prove to people your humanity, when they don't believe in your basic intellect. You spend all your time in what is supposed to be educational trying to prove to people that you're actually worthy of fighting battles with them.

There are different axes of our existence besides Black and white, different aspects of our humanity besides Black and white. And one of the beautiful things is, when you're in a place where you're surrounded by other intelligent, brilliant Black people, that card of intellect, that card of humanity is off the table. And what's left is all the other questions about yourself that you had.

Hannah-Jones agreed. She said she did not create The 1619 Project only to “teach white people something about our history and who we are as Americans,” but because “Black Americans have also been largely deprived of a true understanding of a lot of this history as well.”

She stressed that she’s going to Howard to teach journalism, not to bring racial justice to campus. But her larger goal is to teach journalism from a Black perspective and doing so to Black students may be especially beneficial in accomplishing exactly that:

HANNAH-JONES: I'm coming to Howard the same way I was coming to the University of North Carolina, was to teach journalism, to teach the fundamentals of journalism, investigative journalism and how to infuse journalism with a historical and a racial understanding. Certainly journalism students at Howard University deserve that type of instruction, and also they are having to learn journalism now at institutions like HBCUs that are chronically underfunded, that have never received their fair share of funding, that don't have massive endowments like an institution like the University of North Carolina.

[…]

My message is that we are absolutely vital to these institutions, even as they often treat us as if we should feel lucky and blessed to be there. Diversity doesn't matter in newsrooms because it feels good or because it's politically correct. It matters because we are simply unable to cover our country with the truth and accuracy that this moment requires if the only people who have the levers of power in these institutions are the people who have always had the levers of power in these institutions. So, I'm no one's diversity hire. I bring something. Black girls bring something very specific to newsrooms and that's why we deserve to be there. And we deserve to be treated like we deserve to be there.

You can watch the full interview here:

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