Yesterday Biden made history as he signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. But with renewed media attention on both the holiday and slavery more generally, we would do well to heed historian Walter Johnson’s words of caution: “It is a commonplace to say that slavery ‘dehumanized’ enslaved people, but to do so is misleading and worth resisting.”
In the lead forum essay from our first relaunched issue four years ago, Johnson notes that while there are plenty of right-minded reasons for adopting the notion of “dehumanization,” it is ultimately harmful as it “suggests that the humanity of enslaved people needs to be proven.” Using Cedric Robinson as his guide, Johnson goes on to argue that we should use the history of slavery as the source rather than the subject of knowledge, and asks how this approach might shape our notion of justice today. With responses from Donna Murch, Peter Linebaugh, Peter James Hudson, Manisha Sinha, N. D. B. Connolly, and more, it remains Boston Review’s most popular forum.
The remaining essays in today’s Juneteenth special form a rich and varied list. From the history of a popular folk song, to the history of the Fourteenth Amendment, to the history of modern business management, the pieces below investigate how slavery’s cultural, political, and economic legacies still impact us today.
What if we use the history of slavery as a standpoint from which to rethink our notion of justice today?
The New York Times’s new 1619 Project argues fiercely for a new understanding of what it means to believe in America—and it is cracking the very foundations of conservatism.
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The “culture of poverty” isn’t about moral failure but about reasonable adaptation to circumstances.
Segregation Is Still a Problem in the United States
As the United States has grown more diverse, it has moved from being “two societies, one black, one white,” in the words of the famous Kerner Commission, to two societies, white and nonwhite.