Department Statement on Race and Racism

Racial injustice has a history. Everything does. To understand and combat racial injustice in the present requires serious inquiry into the past. For this reason, Mercer University’s History Department is committed to the rigorous study and teaching of the history of race and racism.

Historians trace our current racial inequality at least as far back as the colonial project, when Europeans seized land from indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans to make those lands profitable. In this context, Europeans and their descendants created a new racial hierarchy, one that drew on the late Roman and medieval impulse to persecute cultural outsiders, especially those who differed by religion or appearance. They embedded this new hierarchy in long-lasting cultural practices and legal and economic systems, and defended it with violence.

The kinds of violence, cultural practices, and systems have changed over time, as the context has changed. Some fought to reinforce the racial hierarchy and others to dismantle it. Yet, the effects of that racial hierarchy remain evident in the inequality we see today in wealth, employment, health, education, and criminal justice. The problems we face today have a long, painful history and cannot be understood as the work of only a few bad actors.

Some of us might be tempted to turn away from this hard history, especially given that it seems so at odds with our nation’s stated values of liberty and justice for all. But respect for one’s country demands staring honestly at its past and present. Anything less than that is mythology.

The Department of History at Mercer pledges to write, teach, and contend for racial justice and equality today, and such a commitment demands an unflinching and careful study of the past. 

As a member of the American Historical Association (AHA), the Department affirms the AHA’s Statement on The History of Racial Violence in the United States (June 2020) and recommends it as a good example of how studying the past helps us understand race and confront inequality in the present.