Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones | 2017 MacArthur Fellow

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones | 2017 MacArthur Fellow


What we have seen is that racism, that racial
motivations, they haven’t changed but they have adapted to the times. As soon as we could
no longer explicitly use race, we just found another way to do the same things and to talk
about the same things with a sheen of deniability. My name is Nikole Hannah-Jones and I’m a investigative
reporter and I write about racial inequality. I knew from the beginning when I wanted to
be a journalist that I wanted to write about race. But I wanted to write not just about that
racial disparity exists, but how it comes to be and why it still exists. And that if I really wanted to drill down
into why black Americans still are at the bottom of every indicator of well-being in
this country, you had to start with housing and you had to start with schools. Many people think that when the Supreme Court
rules in 1954 that school segregation is unconstitutional that that was the end of solving the problem. And the same thing when Congress passes in
1968 the Fair Housing Act. But all those were were legal proclamations,
and they didn’t undo anything. I think that when we look at racial inequality,
police violence for instance, it’s very visible and it’s very visceral, and it’s very easy
to have a reaction to that. But it’s much harder to see, you know, why
are neighborhoods segregated? Who’s pulling the strings? How did this happen? And I see my job as exposing how things are
working behind the scenes to create the reality that we all live in. One of the pieces that I’m most well-known
for is a piece I did with This American Life called “The Problem We All Live With.” And I came to that piece while sitting at
home watching the news after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson by a police officer. There was an interview of his mother. And what she says in that interview is, “Do
you know how hard it is to get a black man to graduate?” And I just remember thinking as a parent,
that if my child had just been killed, the last thing I would be thinking about was schools. But I’m also a reporter who writes about
school segregation, so I knew instantly what type of school system Michael Brown had gone
to. Five minutes on Google and that was confirmed
that he went actually to the worst school system in the state of Missouri. And I knew that was going to be my next story. While I was writing for The New York Times
Magazine on school segregation, I enrolled my daughter in a segregated, high-poverty
school. And shortly thereafter that school became
embroiled in its own integration battle. I didn’t initially intend to write about my
own experience or my daughter’s school, but it ended up probably being the most popular
and well-read story that I’ve written. And I think it was because it was a very personal
story about how even parents who want to do the right thing, find it hard when you have
such an unequal system. I think the most important part of my work
is to show that the inequality we see today is intentional. Many of us would like to believe that it’s
all a legacy of our past, or it’s just a matter of income disparity. But I think what my work pretty systematically
does is show that every day leaders, policymakers are making decisions that maintain inequality,
particularly racial inequality, and that all of this is intentional and very little of
it accidental.

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