The Middlesex School in Concord invited Nikole Hannah-Jones to speak during Black History Month. Then canceled


Paraphrasing the email on a call with a Globe reporter, Hannah-Jones said the person who wrote the email, whom she did not identify, said she postponed sending because she was trying to “help the school and the board to make a different decision.” But “the school principal and the school board” were uncomfortable having Hannah-Jones as a Black History Month speaker, the person wrote.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we are at a time when schools are facing intense pressure not to invite speakers who are seen as too racially and racist and the experience of blacks in the classroom. ‘American history,’ Hannah-Jones told The Globe on Tuesday. . “We know there have been several high profile articles published in the press or by former journalists who, you know, castigate these elite white prep schools for daring to undergo anti-racist training or for daring to invite anti-racist speakers. , so I think I’m clearly caught in that. And then obviously myself, through a very successful right-wing propaganda campaign, I also became a symbol. “

David Beare, principal of the school in Middlesex, released a statement to the Globe on Tuesday afternoon about the canceled interview.

“We have the utmost respect for Nikole Hannah-Jones, both for his contributions to journalism and to the broader discussions about race in this country,” the statement said. “While we are confident that her ideas would have been appreciated by our students, we were concerned that people outside our community might inadvertently distract from the ideas and perspective that she intended to share. We apologize for not reaching out more formally to express our appreciation for her professional accomplishments and contributions in the field and to discuss the situation with her. “

Hannah-Jones said she was “both surprised and not surprised” that her lecture was canceled. She was surprised, she said, as she and Middlesex were well advanced in coordinating her visit, with the conversation surrounding her interview starting in April and her flights being booked since August.

However, Hannah-Jones also noted the timing of the cancellation, as schools across the country that teach racism are the target of “indoctrination” allegations.

“But again, I think that’s why I can’t ignore that over the past month, a month and a half, we’ve seen several of these stories that have tried to describe the efforts of these preparatory schools to ‘elite to talk about race and racism like indoctrination or something that was harmful to white children, “Hannah-Jones said.” We saw [many] of those stories, so timing is how I make that connection.

Hannah-Jones’ Project 1619, which reexamines the legacy of slavery in the United States, has become a focus anger of right-wing figures, who have embarked on disinformation campaigns as they protest against the discussion on race and racism in schools. Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2020 for the project’s introductory essay and won a MacArthur “genius grant” for her reporting on racial segregation in America. Critics have focused particular anger on the 1619 Project’s reexamination of key events in U.S. history as being motivated by a desire to maintain white supremacy.

Earlier this year, Hannah-Jones accepted a position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina, but the question of whether she would be offered a term remained stuck for months amid the complaints from one of the school’s main donors. His application for tenure was halted and then resubmitted to the board in May before the board reversed in July and offered it. Hannah-Jones then said she would join faculty at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, DC.

“I’m not surprised that I literally didn’t get a start vote because of who I am and the job I do,” she said of the Middlesex downing. “So what other institutions in this kind of moment of hysteria around ‘critical race theory’, around how we teach and talk about this point in our history, that I would be shunned in places not surprisingly, although it is deeply disappointing. “

The cancellation raises concerns about “where our company is at the moment,” she added.

“Like so many things, I just became the symbol of a much bigger problem,” Hannah-Jones said. “I think we’re in a very difficult time, and that has an impact, for sure, because I really think all of this effort to erase the history that’s uncomfortable, speech that is uncomfortable, and this feeling among too many mainstream journalists that the greatest threat to free speech is the progressives who want to talk about anti-racism, not the governments that legislate against the teaching of history, is deeply distressing.

Hannah-Jones said this was particularly concerning as actions that suppress speech lead to policies that hurt vulnerable people.

The fact that her speech was canceled clearly shows that campaigns to make her a controversial figure have been successful, she said. But on Twitter Monday, she said she didn’t feel “canceled”, noting that she still had a platform and that she “would speak where I’m wanted.”

“Actually, I’m not a controversial reporter,” Hannah-Jones said. “I was certainly part of a targeted right-wing campaign, which was once again quite successful, but in journalism, I am not controversial, my work is not controversial.

Hannah-Jones’ disinvitation comes just days after the school’s 34 administrators and Beare issued a “letter to the community” strongly endorsing intellectual diversity and support for the diversification of the student body and staff. The letter was shared on October 15, after a year-long review by diversity, equity and inclusion consultants after the directors launched an internal review in August 2020.

“As an educational institution, we believe that an open exchange of views is essential for student development and intellectual excellence,” the letter read. “We believe that respectful debate and disagreement is not only healthy, but the very ground on which a learning community thrives. We realize that sometimes this talk can become uncomfortable. “

The letter was signed by Beare, chairman of the board and New York-based developer Stephen D. Lari, and vice president Brickson Diamond, founder of the Blackhouse Foundation, which helps “creative voices and black executives. to better establish itself in the [film] industry.”

Lari and Diamond were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

“Together we [the 34 trustees] are consistent in our belief that the breadth of personal identities within Middlesex is a key element that makes the school a special and vibrant place to learn and grow, ”the letter states. “The Board recognizes that there is still work to be done between our core ideals and the lived experience of many Black, Hispanic, Asian American, LGBTQIA + students, faculty, staff and alumni,” Jewish, international and disabled.

The board has pledged to provide resources to create permanent positions focused on diversity issues at Concord School, where tuition is currently $ 67,920 for boarders and $ 54,340 for day students, according to the letter and school website.

“We sought to transform the meaning of a Middlesex education from power and privilege to a sense of openness and opportunity. It’s a story we’re proud of – and one we intend to build on, ”the directors said in the letter. “The work of the Council is continuing.

In response to the letter, Hannah-Jones said that “being turned down to speak during Black History Month speaks volumes about the seriousness of this statement.”


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ amandakauf1. John R. Ellement can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @JREbosglobe.



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