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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.