Date of Award
Department or Program
Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
Klaus J. Milich
Donald E. Pease
In the public discourse around American slavery, there is an apologist evasion that can be summarized as such: that slavery was “just the way it was back then.” The word “just” in that phrase connotes a rather casual finality - that slavery in the American colonies, and then in the United States, could not have been avoided. But even a cursory overview of slave rebellion history and abolitionist history prove that this is not true. This reaction is an attempt at evading the feeling of guilt often associated with historical atrocities. However, as Americans avoid their guilt, they also evade responsibility. The three case studies in this essay - Blue Lives Matter, the removal of Confederate Statues, and Critical Race Theory - exemplify how the failure to tease apart the differences between guilt and responsibility results in a cultural cognitive dissonance. By leaving the history of white supremacy unchecked and unquestioned, the structure of white supremacy continues to mutate and gain strength in the cultural consciousness.
Mahoney, Sommer, "“That’s Just the Way it Was”: A Critical Analysis of Guilt, Evasion, and White Supremacy" (2023). Dartmouth College Master’s Theses. 73.