Holloway said that a small book done the right way can be just as effective as a big one.
“I could ask large questions that were thematic, that I felt tied together African-American history or at least allowed people a way to access that history,” said Holloway.
He said the book comes at a very relevant time, with renewed calls for social and racial justice. But who is Holloway’s intended audience?
“The first audience is really curious people who actually want to know more about this country’s history. Now notice I didn’t say curious people who want to know more about African-American history. I see them as the same thing. And so, frankly, given all the traumatic social and racial upheaval of 2020 in particular, there is a new group of people who want to learn, how did this happen? How did we get here?”
The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, brought about a major shift in this country in the fight for equality.
“He fits in the perspective of this is nothing new. I mean, that’s the horrible thing to say. But Floyd’s murder is part of a continuum of what I will call the disregard for the black body in this nation’s history,” said Holloway.
He said there was also something different about the aftermath of Floyd’s death and the new ways it has resonated with so many Americans.
“One is the continuation of the way that we live our lives in a socially mediated way. Smartphones, digital uploads and things are instantaneous, and there are witnesses everywhere. The other thing that we can’t ignore is that we had a nation that couldn’t go anywhere because of the pandemic and more specifically, we had a nation of people who are deeply inconvenienced,” said Holloway.
The pandemic took a toll on everyone, but Halloway said it hit especially hard for many minority communities that were already struggling.
“I think at some unconscious level there is a recognition of, my God, this happens on a daily basis for individuals like Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, I mean, every single day, and now they could bear witness to it.”
The pandemic brought light to long standing inequities for people of color.
“It pulled away the blinds from those who refused to see that health disparities, clinical disparities, clinical care disparities, differences in life expectancies. These were not new phenomena. But now there is no hiding,” said Holloway.
A big question now is whether the country is ready to confront these issues head on.
“Something has shifted, but my optimism was torn to bits on January 6th,” said Holloway.
But he also chooses hope.
“There are too many moments in our history when people have done heroic things and no one’s been looking, cleaning up the messes, you know, guiding people away. And the country, I think, has been built on that kind of history. I definitely don’t believe the insurrectionists are the majority in this country.”
Jonathan Holloway is president of Rutgers University and the author of “The Cause of Freedom,” published by Oxford University Press.
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