Sub/conscious Forgetting or Liberal Empty Accountability?

I wanted to highlight a specific line from Harris’ article: 

“Americans learning today of the relationship between universities and slavery respond in differentt ways, but the most common response is simple surprise. This response bespeaks many things, not least the nation’s continuing failure to come to grips with slavery’s scope, scale, and historical significance.”

This line encapsulates so much about how racism is DEEPLY baked into our society and consequentially our educational systems. Harris emphasizes the reach of slavery while also referring to the historical amnesia of Americans who use the notion that slavery was “in the past” as a way to forget (both consciously and subconsciously) its lasting damage. I’m thinking Gone with the Wind. 

It’s clear that non-Black Americans typical resolve slavery as an issue of history that we’ve overcome, not seeing its connection to our capitalist organization. This becomes clear when people argue against things like reparations or affirmative action, showing that they see education as an equal playing field rather than acknowledging how slavery’s oppression of Black communities has multiple descendants that disadvantage Black communities in education, healthcare, social mobility, and more. 

It is clear that the United States has this amnesia, but with reading about universities’ public acknowledgements/apologies of their complacency, it makes me question whether insincere/empty apologies are any better all, or perhaps even more harmful. It’s frustrating that some of the most elite schools are at the forefront of this conversation. 

2 thoughts on “Sub/conscious Forgetting or Liberal Empty Accountability?

  1. Matt Brim

    I love the quote you pulled from Slavery in the University too. The false binary of “slavery/university” constructs a distance that the authors expose as nonsense masquerading as sense. We might think of the act of apology by asking what an apology *does* as well as what it says. What do “mere” apologies imagine that they do, hope that they do, leave undone and therefore ever more undoable? We might think of reparations as the material conditions of apology.

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