Nikole Hannah-Jones & Ta-Nehisi Coates: Which Story Will We Tell About America? | Video | RealClearPolitics

Nikole Hannah-Jones & Ta-Nehisi Coates: Which Story Will We Tell About America?

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Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who will be starting a new center for journalism and democracy at Howard University, join MSNBC's Chris Hayes to discuss the debate over how much to make race the center of American history.

"It’s not coincidental that we're having this fight right now over which story we’re going to tell about this country, and the very same people are trying to restrict voting at the polls," says Ta-Nehisi Coates.

"The narrative serves the politics. That's what is so important, right? How do you justify voter suppression laws? How do you justify trying to overturn an election? You have to have a narrative first that justifies that. And this is part of that narrative that is serving a larger political ambition," Hannah-Jones said.


NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: So, you know, I've been thinking a lot about this as you both have. And I think you have to kind of draw a direct line from what happened last year with these global protests, and so many Americans starting to really make these connections that, oh, what happened to George Floyd is not just about an individual incident, this is part of a legacy and a pattern.

And we started seeing corporations, we started seeing polling numbers of white Americans who were who were saying, oh, we actually do think maybe systemic racism is a thing. And so, this backlash is in direct response to that, because what the narrative of American exceptionalism tells us that the inequality we see today, that the fact that in anything that you can measure, black and indigenous people are at the bottom of that, that's just a matter of our personal choices because this is a country where everyone has the same rights, and if you work hard you can overcome.

When people started to question that kind of foundational mythology, that's when we saw really geared up this backlash in the sense that white Americans were losing some personal stake that they had. And as we examine this history, we are now saying that why people are not good as a people, that they are losing something. And the narrative serves the politics. That's what is so important, right? How do you justify voter suppression laws? How do you justify trying to overturn an election? You have to have a narrative first that justifies that. And this is part of that narrative that is serving a larger political ambition...

COATES: And just to piggyback on what Nikole said, it is history that justifies governance and justifies government. These is not a coincidental that you're having this fight right now about what story we're going to tell about this country, and the very same people are trying to restrict voting at the polls. That's not coincidental. Redemption went hand in hand with the lost cause.

When we want to do something, we generally reach back to our collective memory to justify. When we wanted to go into Iraq, the phrase, Jeffersonian democracy, was rooted in this idea that America was the fault of democracy, had always ensured these rights, and could therefore go into another nation, stomp on a group of people, and install, you know, something that we had been doing since 1776. In fact, had we had a more serious reckoning without actual history, maybe, you know, we would have questioned the premise of that in the first place.

The bottom line of what I'm trying to get across is that, you know, history is not something that's just happening over there. It's directly connected to the politics. And that's why, you know, what Nikole is doing, and what she has done, is so dangerous. I mean, here you have, you know, as far as I'm sure, one of our most decorated journalists, period, non- black journalists, period, period. And folks couldn't even you know, fix themselves to take a vote until they were forced to, to come out in the labor day and say, no, we don't want this.


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