"Our Generation Had Nothing to Do with Discrimination": White Southern Memory of Jim Crow and Civil Rights
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The ways in which white Americans understand the racial landscape and their own racial identities are not well understood. Through the lens of the racial past, in this study I investigate how memory operates within the white racial frame, the dominant white-centric worldview, to uphold systemic racism and to maintain whites’ collective and individual identities. Through a narrative analysis of original in-depth interviews conducted with 44 ordinary white southerners – lifetime residents of Greensboro, North Carolina – who lived through the legal segregation and civil rights eras, this research demonstrates the interviewees’ contemporary investment in positive notions of the white self and white society. The respondents' autobiographical narratives of life during legal segregation, a time of overt white supremacy, are typified by nostalgia for a childhood era of safety, security, and "good" race relations. Interviewees' narratives of the civil rights era, including nonviolent student sit-in protests for which Greensboro is known and school desegregation, have themes of disruption, danger, and white victimization. Overall, respondents portray Jim Crow segregation as a calm and peaceful time and the civil rights era as chaotic and harmful to whites, at the same time as they acknowledge, to a limited extent, the unfairness of Jim Crow's blatant racial inequalities. In this work I propose the concepts white victimology, white protectionism, and white moral identity. I argue that white victimology – whites' perception, largely imagined, of their own racial victimization – is a major ideological and emotional facet of the white racial frame, whereby whites dismiss the historical and contemporary reality of white racism. My analysis demonstrates that white victimology is a primary way in which whites assert themselves, individually and collectively, as racial innocents and "good" people. In this work I also conceptualize the dynamic of white protectionism, explanatory and rhetorical ways in which whites "rescue" white acquaintances and family members from potential accusations of racism. Ultimately, I argue that whites' investment in perpetuating white dominance and upholding the white racial frame occurs through white moral identity-making, myriad active and subtle ways that whites continue to construct themselves positively and construct people of color, especially black Americans, negatively.
Civil Rights Movement
white racial frame
Lavelle, Kristen Marie (2011). "Our Generation Had Nothing to Do with Discrimination": White Southern Memory of Jim Crow and Civil Rights. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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