Race, towards an understanding: Interview with Vanessa Holloway, Historian & Philosopher


Vanessa Holloway is an American historian and philosopher of political theory, legal history, law and policy, race and rights.


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NP:  In your studies of race in the United States is there an ebb and flow to our understanding of the intricacies of class, racial and sexual distinctions?

Holloway: Yes there is an ebb and flow, and the causes are the economy. When social privileges are given to whites, but denied to nonwhites, the effect leads to a struggle to find one’s place in society.

NP:  James Baldwin, the essayist, social critic and writer, wrote about, among other things, how we close our eyes to reality and the moment we do, we invite our own demise. Has slavery the institution served as the foundation for the psychology of racism and do we have the potential to rid humanity of its devastating impact? Is there such a thing as racial literacy?

Holloway: Using the mutual causation theory, slavery encouraged racism directed at people of color. That is, slavery was responsible for inducing racial discrimination and because of its systemic character, eliminating racism requires a radical change in local, state, and federal institutions. Interventions at all levels must also develop economic programs. Is there such a thing as racial literacy? Yes, and when using tools of critical discourse analysis, racial literacy is necessary to address cultural differences.

NP:  Within any given society skin color, gender and names serve as opportunities for labeling and discrimination or intolerance. If everyone’ skin was transparent, we would all be witness to our inner workings and I suspect for most it would not be a pleasant experience. Is there something more provocative at work than mere skin color concerning our intolerances and fears?

Holloway: We must unlearn what is untrue about people. Instead of seeing the person, we are conditioned to see a skin color and fear and distrust it. When our differences are reinforced and institutionalized through socialization, we begin to see the effects of “symbolic interactionism.”

NP:  What has surprised you the most in terms of student knowledge about racism?

Holloway: Students are not learning its full historical context. Many are misled about the close and complex relationships between race and law.

NP: Where are race relations headed today based on our history? What has the effect of political leadership or lack thereof on that future?

Holloway: Race relations today are better than they were 50 years ago, but in order to move toward a greater positive direction, we must breed an atmosphere of trust in every facet of our social, political, and economic institutions. Effective political leadership is essential to this and must facilitate attainment of public goals.