"The Great Force of History”: White Innocence, Historical Justice, and Making Black Lives Matter

Thursday, November 16, 2017
4:30 PM (ET)
Russell House
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Jennifer Tucker
History Department
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As the need for the Black Lives Matter movement and reams of economic and sociological data make clear, racial inequalities in the United States remain deep and pervasive. Yet many white Americans today believe that that they, not people of color, are the primary victims of racism, and many refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for slavery or other historical acts of oppression. This talk explores what James Baldwin calls “white innocence” and black philosopher Charles Mills terms the “epistemology of ignorance,” or namely the willful ignorance of many white Americans about the depth and extent of racism and racial violence in the nation’s history. Drawing on scholarly literature about the consequences of historical injustice and the possibilities for historical redress, the lecture will explore the phenomenon of white innocence as a consequence of unresolved historical injustice and will consider whether common mechanisms of redress such as trials, truth commissions, and commemorative practices could play a role in fostering a less racially divided United States.


Renee C. Romano is the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History and Professor of Comparative American Studies and Africana Studies at Oberlin College. Her work explores issues of race and historical memory in America’s recent past. She is the author of Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America (Harvard University Press, 2003) and Racial Reckoning: Prosecuting America’s Civil Rights Murders (Harvard University Press, 2014), as well as co-editor of the collections, The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (with Leigh Raiford, University of Georgia Press, 2006) and Doing Recent History: On Privacy, Copyright, Video Games, Institutional Review Boards, Activist Scholarship, and History that Talks Back (with Claire Potter, University of Georgia Press, 2012). Her next book, a collection co-edited with Claire Potter about the musical Hamilton, will be published by Rutgers University Press in early 2018.


Renee C. Romano
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