ANALYSIS: Critical Race Theorist Nikole Hannah-Jones should not be headlining an MLK event
Northwestern University is bringing Nikole Hannah-Jones to campus for their annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK and Jones are very different figures, making the university’s decision to host her for this event a questionable one.
Northwestern University, a prestigious college in Illinois, has invited Nikole Hannah-Jones to give the keynote address at their annual 2022 MLK Dream Week. Academia’s obsession with Jones, contrasted with her relative obscurity in everyday American households, speaks to the key distinction between her and the man she’s being tapped to represent.
While attractive to elite sections of society, Jones’ framework for historical analysis is soundly rejected (and rightfully so) by the bulk of the American people.
Through the 1619 Project, the work for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Jones argues that the American experiment is inextricably stained by the institution of slavery. Both she and her ideological kin maintain that White Americans are guilty of the wrongs of their ancestors and must repent. She even goes as far as to call slavery America’s “original sin”.
Between blaming White people for all of society’s ailments and making a mockery of Christian teaching, it is no surprise that American intellectuals can’t get enough of Jones. Equally unsurprising is that middle America either has no idea who she is or cannot stand her.
Compare King’s approach to that of Nikole Hannah-Jones. MLK channeled the ideas of our founders to inspire the American people to actualize the vision that they had laid out. Being a reverend, he didn’t shy away from using religious rhetoric to capture the hearts of the American people. Jones, on the other hand, admonishes our nation’s foundation and has no regard for what normal Americans think.
King's message was one of hope and potential. Jones' is one of condemnation and doom. What incentive do people have to listen to a woman who tells them they are culpable for wrongs they did not inflict and must compensate people they never harmed? Jones is so concerned with her reputation in academic circles that she ignores the toxicity of her ideas to pretty much everyone else.
Jones' ideas are almost comically unpopular even though she has the enthusiastic support of corporate America and the press. Even Democrats running in blue states have shifted from defending Critical Race Theory to claiming that it isn’t even being taught. These liberal entities don't even want to defend CRT on its merits. Admittedly Jones didn't create CRT, but her ideas are certainly adjacent to it, and a substantial portion of her work falls under the label.
King by no means had the kind of institutional support afforded to Jones, and he managed to alter the course of American history nonetheless. The federal government spied on King, newspapers sharply criticized him, and business interests certainly did not support his message of racial equality. King overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles and, consequently, is remembered as one of the most influential thought leaders in American history for his lasting impact on public life. Jones, despite being given every opportunity to succeed and every platform to showcase her ideas, can’t seem to penetrate the public square of everyday Americans.
It’s true that MLK had radical ideas, comparably radical to some of Jones’, but he also had the good sense not to put them at the core of his movement. King expressed sympathy for socialism, criticized President Johnson’s war on poverty for not going far enough, and argued for the “radical restructuring of the architecture of American society.” Perhaps in terms of their theoretical ancestry, King and Jones are not so different. King, however, understood some of his ideas were not feasible and that expressing them would inhibit what influence he did have. Jones’ political instincts aren’t quite as good. She has a knack for claiming that White people owe Black people reparations for slavery, a position only 1 in 5 Americans support. Not exactly conducive to forming a winning coalition.
In simple terms, Jones is an elitist, and King was not. Real change in American society seldom comes from an ivory tower. Progress is a function of mass action, something Jones is incapable of inspiring.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is in no way comparable to Martin Luther King Jr. To have her headline an event in his honor is nonsensical.