Community & Government

Black People and the Promise of Democracy

Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project, shares how Black American resistance has historically been a major democratizing force in America, and offers insight on the complicated relationship between Black citizens and patriotism.

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Topics include: The Most Inconvenient People • 1619: The Founding Paradox • "We" in "We The People" • Claiming the Legacy of our Ancestors

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: We are told from the moment we take a breath in this country that America is an exceptional nation. We are the freest nation the world has ever seen because we were founded on these majestic ideals that most of us can recite from the Declaration of Independence without even having to look at the paper. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with inalienable rights." This is central. It is the heart of American identity. And yet, we were not a democracy at our founding. We were not a democracy until centuries of Black American resistance got us as close to democracy as possible with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So I wanted to begin taking on that idea of democracy and who is truly bad, the democratizing force in America, and therefore who are truly this country's founders, which I argue, of course, are Black Americans. My name is Nikole Hannah-Jones, and I'm a staff writer at "The New York Times Magazine." I am a veteran journalist who has been writing and investigating racial inequality and the way that it is maintained through official policy and action for the last two decades. I am the creator of "The 1619 Project." "The 1619 Project" was a multi-platform effort to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first Africans being sold into the colony of Virginia. That anniversary was August of 2019. And so we released a special issue of the magazine, an entire special section of the newspaper, as well as a podcast. And the purpose of that was to really show that the date 1619 had been largely obscured from the American narrative, and yet it's one of the most foundational dates in American history because that marks the beginning of American slavery. And so much of our modern institutions, everything from capitalism to the music we listen to, to our politics, even to our congested highway systems, can be traced back to that moment in 1619 and the legacy of American slavery. So as the creator of "The 1619 Project," I knew that probably the most important essay-- the essay that had to open the project-- would be an essay on democracy. It would be an essay that was really looking at the unparalleled role that Black Americans have played in establishing democracy in our country. Most of us acknowledge that Black labor built some wealth in our country, but we actually played a much more unparalleled role. It was more than our brute labor. It was the idea of democracy and forcing our country to actually live up to its founding ideas. And that's what the essay on democracy in "The 1619 Project" that I wrote is really about. It's a journey taking us through how Black people have been the factors of American democracy, even though we don't get that credit. I begin the essay therefore with my father and this flag. I talk about as a high school student, how my father, a military veteran, a man born into...

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From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

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Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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