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What Does the History of Enslavement in the USA Mean for the Rest of the World Today? Patricia Williams

Festival of Ideas
Patricia Williams

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Patricia Williams argues that beneath the current debates around immigration, freedom of speech and culture wars lies the history of enslavement in the West.

Post-abolition and emancipation, slavery lives on in how we speak to one another, in how we treat one another, in how our societies are organised.

Williams begins her story in the American South with Gone With the Wind (still the second most popular book in the USA after the Bible), that nostalgic tale full of the myths of the Southern belle, Southern culture, ‘good food and good manners’. The scene is seductive, but only from a distance.

Williams’ maternal great-grandmother was a slave, her great-grandfather a slave-owner, and not speaking about such painful legacies has left the USA today more segregated, incarcerated or separated than ever before. Williams considers which ideas brought the richest and most diverse nation on the planet to the brink of resurgent and violent division and what this means for the rest of the world. 

In conversation with Christienna Fryar.

Patricia Williams’ Giving A Damn: Racism, Romance and Gone With The Wind is published by TLS Books. Buy a copy from Waterstones, our bookselling partners. Read an extract from the book here.

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Christienna Fryar

Christienna Fryar was Lecturer in the History of Slavery and Unfree Labour at the University of Liverpool and now leads the MA in Black British History at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research looks at Britain’s centuries-long imperial and especially post-emancipation entanglements with the Caribbean.

Patricia Williams

Patricia Williams is University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She is published widely in the areas of race, gender, and law, and on other issues of legal theory and legal writing. Her books include The Alchemy of Race and Rights; The Rooster’s Egg; and Seeing a ColorBlind Future: The Paradox of Race. Williams has also been a columnist for The Nation.

Image Credit: Mark Ostoff 2020

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