1619 Project founder says US ‘not an exceptional nation,’ Founding Fathers ‘did not believe in democracy’

Nikole Hannah-Jones said anyone who has criticized the project as 'anti-American' has 'clearly not read the project'

New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones on Monday denounced the idea of America being an “exceptional nation” and argued that the country’s founders “did not believe in democracy.”

Hannah-Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the “1619 Project” made the comments during a talk for Mount Holyoke College’s Common Read Keynote event.

Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, who interviewed Hannah-Jones, said that the 1619 Project is unfairly portrayed as being “anti-American.”

Reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones attends the 75th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony held at Cipriani Wall Street on May 21, 2016 in New York City. 

Reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones attends the 75th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony held at Cipriani Wall Street on May 21, 2016 in New York City.  (Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic)

Hannah-Jones said that anyone who has criticized the project as “anti-American” has “clearly not read the project.”

“Also, I don’t think we’re an exceptional nation. I think that’s ludicrous for any nation to make that claim, and we certainly cannot make that claim,” she added. “We’re a nation founded on genocide, and chattel slavery, and classism, and gender discrimination. We’re not. We had exceptional ideas but we’re not an exceptional nation. But if you believe that, then your country can certainly withstand scrutiny.”

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Hannah-Jones then characterized the way history is taught in American schools as a “nationalistic agenda.”

“It’s not about truth, it's about giving us a shared sense of American exceptionalism and American identity and because of that you had to downplay genocide, you had to downplay what happened with chattel slavery, you had to downplay what happened to most marginalized groups," she said.

In response to whether true democracy in the U.S. will ever be realized, Hannah-Jones said the U.S. “did not believe in democracy” at its founding, and called the American Revolution “the Revolution of the elite.”

She said it was a “fairytale” that “the demographic destiny of our country will turn us into a more interracial democracy," and that when White people start to “lose an American majority, they always found ways to hold onto power."

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Hannah-Jones’ keynote appearance came just one day after President Trump said that the Department of Education is examining the use of the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project in schools, warning that institutions that teach this version of American history could lose federal funding.

Fox News Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.