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The 1619 Project’s creator Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses its cultural impact

Today, we take a fresh look at US history—and the role Black people have played in it—with a woman who is reshaping that national conversation. When Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones published the “1619 Project” in 2019, not even she could have predicted its cultural impact. It’s hard to think of another piece of modern journalism that has garnered such praise while also sparking such intense outrage. Now, her new book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, expands upon her initial work. She joins Ian Bremmer for an in-depth look at how she’s trying to reshape US history, and the backlash it has caused.

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Nikole Hannah-Jones blames backlash against 1619 Project, CRT on the myth of US "exceptionalism"

Why is there such a strong conservative reaction to the 1619 Project and critical race theory?

For Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work as creator of the 1619 Project, a big part of the problem is that we, "as Americans, are deeply, deeply invested in this mythology of exceptionalism.

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Was modern America built on slavery?

At the start of the Revolutionary War, slaves made up 20 percent of the population in British North America. They later built iconic buildings of US democracy like the Capitol and the White House in Washington.

But what if slavery was more than just America’s original sin? What if the institution of slavery itself was foundational to modern America?

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Nikole Hannah-Jones: America chose slavery — and benefited from it

Many people today still think US slavery was only prevalent in the South. They are wrong, says Nikole Hannah-Jones. All 13 colonies had slaves upon America's independence.

It's not just that the Founding Fathers were slave-owners, which we all know. Slave labor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist points out, powered the US Industrial Revolution by producing cheap cotton for textiles.

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Why do Black people feel "erased" from American history?

Growing up, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones only learned a little about the plight of Black people in America during Black History Month. The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project studied some usual suspects such as Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass, and then discussed slavery to cover the Civil War.

But then Black people like herself, she says, vanish from the narrative until the civil rights movement.

“There was no really larger understanding of how Black Americans fit into the larger story of America. And there certainly wasn't the teaching of Black people as actors in the American story."

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Counter narrative: Black Americans, the 1619 Project, and Nikole Hannah-Jones

According to the 1619 Project's’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, America was founded on liberty, equality, and…slavery. The institution of slavery, she argues, was the foundation upon which the country achieved its economic and political greatness. It’s a claim that set the cultural world on fire when the 1619 Project was published in the New York Times in 2019 and now, as she compiles and expands upon that project in a new book, controversy has erupted once again.

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Nikole Hannah-Jones pushes back against "disqualifying" 1619 Project criticism

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has often had to defend her work as the creator of the 1619 Project, a piece of modern journalism that has gained as much praise on one end of the US political spectrum as it has sparked outrage on the other.

Hannah-Jones admits some of the criticism was fair game — and that's one reason she’s just published an extended version of the project in book form, entitled The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. But she rejects those who’ve tried to disqualify her and the project.

"People were saying these facts are wrong... [and] that this journalism needed to be discredited, and that's not normal," she explains. "And I don't agree with that type of criticism because... it's not true.”

According to Hannah-Jones, part of the problem is the mistaken perception that the 1619 Project claimed that slavery was uniquely American. It did not, she says, but did argue that the history of US slavery is quite exceptional in another way.

"There is something clearly unique about a country engaging in chattel slavery that says it was founded on ideas of individual rights and liberty. And that was not Brazil. That was not Jamaica. That was not any of the islands in the Caribbean. They didn't pretend to be a nation founded on God-given rights. We did."

Watch all of Hannah-Jones' interview with Ian Bremmer on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.

An election for these interesting times

Ian Bremmer talks about how the "interesting times" of this election match up to those of the late 1960s and it has become harder for many Americans to vote in recent decades.

Watch the episode: What could go wrong in the US election? Rick Hasen on nightmare scenarios & challenges

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