Race and the U.S. are inseparable for writer and historian Jelani Cobb

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Civil Rights Act, Jelani Cobb



Jelani Cobb gave the audience a history lesson Thursday night in the Abramson Family Founder's Room, showing how America’s foundations are rooted in race, even today.

“We cannot understand the United States without understanding race,” Cobb, a writer for the New Yorker, historian and journalism professor at Columbia University, said.

During the event, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and AU Student Media, Cobb recounted his experience covering the Dylann Roof trial in South Carolina.

He said that the trial felt like he had been at a funeral and couldn’t wait to leave. He left for San Francisco, but when he landed the first person he spoke to was from Charleston. Their childhood librarian, Cynthia Graham Hurd, was one of the victims.

“Our issue of race is not an issue that is geographic or local or one that can be confined to a particular locale,” he said. “It’s one that occupies the borders of the nation we inhabit.”

Using the Roof trial as a starting point, Cobb spoke about how no one can leave race behind when talking about the country’s past, saying that despite the “toxic hatred of the ideology” that Roof took up, it was pretty much in line with the history of the Confederacy.

Cobb mentioned the fear of Southern legislators in the 1960s that the Civil Rights Act would create white inequality, planting the “seed of opposition” toward the current civil rights movement. He also cited the movie “The Birth of a Nation,” which portrayed Black men as rapists and re-ignited the Ku Klux Klan after its release.

He pointed out that after Roof killed nine people on June 17, 2015 with the intention of “protecting” the country from black rapists. The murders occurred one day after Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign and “said in short that he was running to protect the country of Mexican rapists,” Cobb said.

“I’m not saying there’s a causal relationship between these two things,” Cobb said. “But what I am saying is that they’re responding to this same antique fear, that antique fear-mongering around race and rape.” ...




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