Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Slavery-United States-History, Whites-United States-Psychology, Whites-United States-Attitudes, United States-Race relations, Whites-Race identity, Slavery, Psychoanalysis, Psychodynamic, Whiteness, Whiteness studies, United States, Race


This qualitative study explored how contemporary white Americans remember and make meaning of U.S. slavery and assessed if there is psychological conflict in relationship to slavery. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 participants who identify as "white" and were born and raised in the United States. Participants were asked to reflect on their memories of learning about, talking about, and knowing about the history of slavery; to share their internal representations of slavery and how they imagine their familial, personal, and imagined relationship with slavery; to report their beliefs about the impact of slavery on themselves personally and on contemporary society; and to share their ideas about how slavery should be taught to children. The findings indicated that many contemporary white Americans have an intense and conflictual emotional and psychological relationship to U.S. slavery. Participants' responses suggested that psychological defenses, such as denial and disavowal, are used to avoid intense feelings of shame and guilt associated with slavery. Another critical finding was the pervasive interpersonal silence around slavery among participants. This study indicates that slavery is an important site of white racialization and that talking about slavery is essential for the mourning process that all Americans must undergo if we are to mediate slavery's pernicious legacy in the United States.




iii, 134 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2010. Includes bibliographical references (p. 120-127)