Event Recap: Melvin Rogers on History, Responsibility, and Atonement

Author: Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government

On Friday, January 19, 2024, Professor Melvin Rogers of Brown University delivered a lecture titled "On James Baldwin: History, Responsibility, and Atonement." Professor Rogers is the Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Brown University. He is also an award-winning speaker on race and democracy in American culture and politics. 

Professor Rogers discussed the history of racial injustice in America, and the responsibilities that Americans bear as a result of it. Drawing on the theories of the late James Baldwin, Rogers argued that we must reject our own ideas and feelings of innocence in order to confront the sins of our nation’s past. In accepting our shared responsibility for racial injustice, Rogers argues, we will be freed from the web of lies and self-denial created by the history of white supremacy.

However, Rogers clarifies, although the country does have the fatal flaw of the enslavement of black people in its history, this does not mean that black people should not love their white counterparts. Indeed, through love for each other, which Rogers argues is a “powerful emotion,” the country can heal by accepting its past and moving forward.

Professor Rogers also urges that we follow the lead of James Baldwin and dispense with the idea of redemption. Instead, Rogers argues that we must work towards the ideal of atoning for the past “by bending the nation’s will toward freedom.” True victory, Rogers says, comes from following Baldwin’s exhortation not to defeat the past, but to prevent it from dominating our lives.

Watch the lecture.

Article contributed by CCCG Writing Fellow Luca Fanucchi.


Originally published by Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government at constudies.nd.edu on February 08, 2024.