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Say It With Us: ‘I Refuse’

Say It With Us: ‘I Refuse’
Say It With Us: ‘I Refuse’

On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure are clapping for Nikole Hannah-Jones and clapping back at racist bullshit.

  • It was a hell of a week in the news. First, 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones rejected the University of North Carolina’s much-delayed offer of tenure in favor of a position at Howard University.

  • Then we heard that track star Sha’Carri Richardson was not chosen for the U.S. 4x100 relay team, and won’t be heading to Tokyo for the Summer Olympics. Plus, the International Swimming Federation denied certification for athletes to wear a swim cap designed for natural hair.

  • While these stories aren’t surprising, they’re emblematic of the institutional racism entrenched in nearly every aspect of our lives. How can we push back against (or opt out of) these systems that disrespect and exclude us?

  • In New York City, retired police officer and Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams won the Democratic primary for mayor.

“We dedicate this episode to the lovely people at the University of North Carolina,” says Toure, “who are probably stewing in bitterness, shame and embarrassment after Nikole Hannah-Jones rejected their offer of tenure, like Dikembe Mutombo rejecting a weak shot from Brian Scalabrine.”

Hannah-Jones chose instead to teach at Howard University, the venerable HBCU, alma mater of our vice president, and home to faculty like Ta-Nehisi Coates, who also recently accepted a position. Toure thinks those two “superstar names” might encourage bright young students to choose Howard over other elite institutions.

When he was growing up, his parents told him that, as Black people, “we have to be twice as good to get what white people have. But Nikole Hannah-Jones' resume is about five to 10 times as good as anyone else.”

That resume includes a Pulitzer Prize, a Peabody, a McArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship, and a high-profile position at the New York Times.

So Toure is still stunned that the “politics and fear over what she's doing with the 1619 Project, would play such a role in her ascending to be a professor.”

But “how glorious is it for her to be able to say, fuck your job. I'm going where I'm wanted?” he asks.

Danielle thought “that was the most beautiful thing of it all. Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.”

That’s just one of the rant-worthy stories this week. Our hosts break down the heartbreaking exclusion of Sha’Carri Richardson from the Summer Olympics, a racially-charged dustup at ESPN, NYC mayoral candidate Eric Adams’ primary victory, and more.

Episode Highlights –– Nikole Hannah-Jones for the Win

The elegant f***-you of ‘I refuse’

Danielle particularly appreciates Hannah-Jones' statement about why she denied UNC’s offer of tenure –– which was finally granted by its board of trustees after many months of deliberation. The board’s approval was the final step in a process that included unanimous approvals from multiple faculty committees –– and the fact that, since the 1980s, everyone who preceded Hannah-Jones in the position she was seeking (the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Reporting) entered with tenure.

“It was beautiful in its refusal to bow to the applause and acceptance of white people,” Danielle says. “I cannot express to you, as a person who wanted so greatly to attend an HBCU but did not, the fuck you tthat Nikole Hannah-Jones in her eloquence, in her brilliance, provided.”

She was particularly fond of a particular passage in Hannah-Jones’ statement:

For too long, powerful people have expected the people they have mistreated and marginalized to sacrifice themselves to make things whole. The burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it. I say to you: I refuse.

“I refuse,” says Danielle. “Black women –– Black people –– never get to utter that phrase with boldness, with the straightness of our backs, and the liftedness of our chins to say, I refuse. I refuse you, deciding at the end of the day, after seven months, to accept me.”

The power of Black institutions

Hannah-Jones’ story illustrates “why we need Black institutions in our lives,” Toure says. “So we can go somewhere where we are valued, and we don't have to change and kowtow and accept the bullshit from white institutions.”

Too often, Black people are forced to go into places that marginally accept them and then tell us that is enough.

However, UNC is Hannah-Jones’ alma mater, and “she wanted to teach there; she wanted to teach the next generation,” Danielle adds.

“I feel terrible that she had to go through such trauma publicly. But I appreciate that we all got to see what many of us have experienced behind closed doors, which is: You've played by our rules, but we've changed the rules. We're not going to provide you with any reason why. You just need to accept it. When we decide you are worthy, you should just receive it with a grin. Nicole Hannah-Jones said –– what? I refuse.”

The E at ESPN is for embarrassment

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported on a year-old conversation in which Rachel Nichols, the host of ESPN’s “The Jump,” talked shit about her colleague Maria Taylor’s rise as an NBA reporter at the network.

Apparently Nichols suggested Taylor, who is Black, was given more airtime not due to her talent, but something else: “If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it — like, go for it,” she said in audio the Times obtained.

“Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or take my thing away," Nichols added.

After the story broke, ESPN removed Nichols from sideline reporting at this year's NBA Finals.

“She has shown a lot of grace and poise through a very difficult professional situation,” Toure says of Taylor.

He has met Rachel Nichols, and he “saw that thing that we talk about that I think we fear sometimes as Black people: the well meaning, left-leaning white person who still perpetuates and stands up for white privilege.”

Weed isn’t a performance-enhancing drug

Sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, whose victory in the women’s 100 meters event at the U.S. track and field Olympic trials was invalidated due to a positive test result for marijuana, will not be going to Tokyo at all.

Fans hoped she would be chosen for the 4x100 relay team, which allows coaches some latitude in selecting runners. But officials announced Tuesday that the coaching staff already selected the relay team before Richardson’s positive test became public.

Toure is “really sad about that,” he says. “Yet again, our stupid backwards policy around marijuana has led to a Black life being changed. The notion that, well, she knew the rules, and she shouldn't have smoked, is really small-minded.”

He thinks it’s easy to blame an individual for their behavior. But it's more thoughtful to look at the institutions that make rules and ask whether they are moral and just, whether they’re outdated, and whether they make sense at all.

“If marijuana is a natural substance that does not provide performance enhancement, and it is legal in the place where she's using it, why is she being banned from the Olympics for using it one time to deal with grief? It doesn't strike me as moral or just.”

Another Black casualty in the war on drugs

What troubles Danielle the most about Sha’Carri’s situation “is not just the weed issue of it all, which is problematic, given the fact that we have such a patchwork of rights and restrictions in this country,” she says.

“We also understand the ways these laws have been established to incarcerate our people. Am I applauding her use of marijuana? No, but I'm saying it shouldn’t be the thing that disqualifies her from competition.”

Marijuana has been “the thing that has disqualified us from participating in society,” she adds. “By throwing the book at us, while giving licenses to white individuals who are opening up dispensaries and delving into a multibillion dollar industry.”

Sha’Carri Richardson’s story is sad –– “and a little boring,” in the sense that it centers on such outdated rules, says Toure.

“They don't have anything to do with our current understanding of the world, or the way these drugs work. Continuing to ban them is really silly. And the Olympics have lost out on a fairly obvious superstar. People watch the Games for the people in them.”

A hair-raising swim-cap controversy

Making matters worse, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) denied certification for athletes to use swim caps designed for natural (non-Caucasian) hair on the grounds that elite athletes "don’t require caps of such size.”

“What the f*** does that mean? That the only people who excel in swimming are white, who can use a close-fitting head covering?”

So many aspects of our lives have been “so steeped in white supremacy and white normalcy that we have never had to push back against it,” Danielle points out.

Decisions of every kind and at every level, not just about swim caps and weed, are really about “the ways in which the world sees Blackness, and Black and Brown people,” she says. “But we've never been in a position of power to question their logic. So right now is our time to be like, yeah, so... no, this doesn't work for us. This doesn't make sense.”

That’s why we’re hearing the rumblings of a boycott of the Olympics this year. Black athletes in particular are “just like, this isn't for us. It wasn't built for us,” Danielle explains.

It's not altogether different from what Nikole Hannah-Jones is saying: Why am I trying to fit into places that never made room for me, that were never built for me?

“This is the question of our time for Black and Brown people,” says Danielle.

An NYPD veteran in Gracie Mansion

Toure is “super disappointed that our home city has elected a 20-year veteran of the fucking NYPD to be mayor,” he says.

Well, not quite yet: Eric Adams, the retired cop and Brooklyn borough president, narrowly won the Democratic primary for New York City mayor, edging out his more progressive rival Kathryn Garcia by just over 8,400 votes. It was the first citywide race to utilize ranked-choice voting.

But it’s likely Adams will win the general election (over Republican Curtis Sliwa) handily in a majority-Democrat city.

“It was just a year ago we were marching in the streets against police violence, for police accountability. And now many of us have voted for a cop. We cannot get real police reform from somebody who is indoctrinated in the system.”

‘Stop and frisk’ is still a threat

And although Adams co-founded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group for Black police officers who back criminal justice reform and sometimes speak out against police brutality, “the issue is not about caring,” says Toure.

“The issue is not about being nice to people, or about the relationship between cops and the community. The issue is about police, who are judged based on the number of arrests they make. They are tasked by their supervisors and allowed by the Supreme Court to be more aggressive in who they stop in high crime, a.k.a. Black, areas.”

There is crime in both cities and suburbs. But in white neighborhoods, the bar for traffic stops is much higher. The police well understand that “about 5% of people commit about 95% of crime,” Toure says.

“Still, Eric Adams is in favor of ‘stop and frisk,’ which is just a democratizing way of attacking almost any Black person for any furtive movement.”

What is a furtive movement?

“Anything the officer wants it to be,” Toure adds.

Adams: Former cop, and reformed… Republican?

Adams was not in Danielle’s top five choices for mayor.

“Anybody who took until 2006 to recognize that, as a Black man, the Republican Party was not for you, it's incredibly problematic for me.”

That’s right: the Democratic nominee for NYC mayor is a former member of the GOP. But it’s really his past as a police officer that’s problematic.

“I am not anti-cop, and I've never been anti-cop,” Danielle says. “What I am is anti-police brutality.”

She also wonders why –– because we hear so much about how blue lives matter –– why there hasn’t been a “cacophony coming from police departments about the inquisition into what happened on January 6? Where is the noise about the 140 ‘blue brothers and sisters’ who were tormented, terrorized and tortured?”

Law enforcement is like a sorority or fraternity, she adds.

“These people pledge their allegiance to these groups, not to the citizenry they are sworn to protect … So the Eric Adamses of the world get a fucking middle finger from me.”

Big anti-racist energy

Toure’s favorite video of the week came from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, where cops arrested Edward Cagney Mathews, whose vile, racist rants directed at his neighbors went viral.

“It was just such a beautiful sight watching this racist get his comeuppance, being escorted out of his house into a waiting police car,” he explains. “While hundreds of Black people are around him, throwing things, chanting things, playing music and –– just the chef's kiss –– when a Black Lives Matter flag came down on his head, almost like blessing him or whatever the evil equivalent to blessing would be.”

Apparently, neighbors have repeatedly complained about Mathews, who “dared Black folks to show up at his house, as if he thought that he was going to be able to use his whiteness as currency to get him out of reality,” Danielle notes. “That's where I think we are right now: racist white folks emboldened and empowered to spout out some of the most heinous, disgusting shit ... I hope that this is a cautionary tale.”

The cheers of Black people as a notorious racist is detained by cops on his own property: “That's the energy that I want us to keep,” says Toure. “That's the energy we need to sustain in the face of white supremacy in the face of privilege.”

Danielle agrees. She wants us to harness the spirit of Nikole Hannah-Jones: I refuse.

“I refuse your bullshit. I refuse your nonsense,” she says. “I refuse your gaslighting. I refuse your lies. I refuse your discrimination. I refuse your hatred. That's the refrain that we need to keep.”

Check out the frustration, rage and absurdity that was the 2020 election on democracy-ish as Danielle Moodie and Toure discuss the current state of the political climate and our country from a Black perspective.


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