A national political reporter recently asked me how I would explain North Carolina politics to a class of college students.
“One word,” I told him: “Race.”
It has always been about race. It still is.
The latest front is the battle at UNC-Chapel Hill over tenure for a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Conservatives cloak their objections to her in academic robes. But they dislike Nikole Hannah-Jones, a UNC alumna and New York Times reporter, because she produced The 1619 Project about slavery’s impact on America.
As with conservative complaints about public schools teaching “critical race theory,” opposition to her is aimed at stifling uncomfortable discussions about history — and stirring political passions.
The 1619 Project goes to an inescapable and fundamental contradiction in American history: Our great nation is the only one founded on a set of ideals: freedom, liberty and equality. Yet, our nation was also built on the cruel, ugly brutality of human slavery.
Our Constitution was designed to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Yet, it also protected slavery.
Thomas Jefferson wrote eloquently in our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Yet, Jefferson owned slaves and fathered children by an enslaved woman. Four of our first five presidents — George Washington, Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe — owned slaves.
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