Can the Past Save Us? The Role of History in the Fight for Racial Justice and Multiracial Democracy

While I would love to believe that we could end racism if people just read more history books, I know that’s too simplistic. But historians are storytellers; we craft narratives that help people understand themselves and their place in the world. And I don’t see how we fundamentally change our future in this country unless we come to tell some different stories about our past.

Lecture Description

In the summer of 2020, in the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, books about America’s racial history surged on national best-seller lists as many Americans decided that they needed to educate themselves about the nation’s past if they wanted to be part of the fight against systemic racism in the present. This talk explores, historicizes, and assesses the belief that reckoning with America’s racist past is vital to the struggle for social justice in the present. Drawing on the ideas of thinkers like James Baldwin and activists in the historical justice movement, the lecture explores why promoting a deeper understanding of America’s racial history may be a precondition for achieving a more equitable society, how activists have sought to force a reckoning with history, and the pitched battles that have resulted from these efforts to challenge and change America’s historical narratives.

CATEGORIES

Public History and Memory Race

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