Contesting “Racial” Truths

White Supremacy & the Black Freedom Struggles in the U.S. since 1865

by Jana Weiß

My project is part of a larger, comparative research project that analyzes the struggle for political and social participation of African Americans and Native Americans in the U.S. By focusing on struggles for and competitions of truth, we seek to cast a light on the dynamics between protest movements on the one hand and their corresponding counter movements on the other, with a focus on the latter. Hence, the spotlight is on the discursive and performative practices of whites (individuals and groups) to “create” evidence during times of crisis and upheaval such as during Reconstruction and the 1970s. 

After the Civil War, the “white racial frame” (Joe R. Feagin) was consolidated not only through racist violence but also the whitewashing of memory and history. My aim is (1) to decipher the (dis-)continuities of (re)interpretations and repressions as well as (2) to trace the effects of media changes on strategies, especially how (new) medial arenas have been exploited and staged publicly to legitimate truth claims, such as holidays, academic conferences, or court rooms.

By taking up the subject of “racialized truths” the project touches on central research questions in established fields like Postcolonial Studies and Critical Whiteness Studies. It builds on the extensive body of research on the “long” civil rights movement and the racist legacy behind the Western idea of freedom and thus, stresses the continuity of white supremacy in the U.S. Moreover, I follow recent studies that highlight both, the similarities and the diversity of white counter movements. 

Within the scope of the network I would like to zoom in on the trans-Atlantic entanglements of white supremacist networks and how their strategies resembled and/or differed. The focus will be on German and U.S. memory cultures of colonialism, slavery, and the Holocaust, touching on current discussions on whether post-Nazi Germany is a model of atoning for the past.