Changing Meanings of Race

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September 2, 2019 9 pm
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
When: 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Harman Academy, DML 241
Wednesday, September 4, 2019 - 18:00

One of the lessons I’ve learned from the study of law “from below” is that we can get a sense of when “subaltern” people are shaping the law from how much anxiety they provoke in the master class.”

--Ariela Gross


How did Africans in the Americas change into Black Americans?  In her forthcoming book, Becoming Free, Becoming Black, Professor Ariela Gross transforms how we look at the legal history and legacies of manumission, citizenship, and black identity. Gross reveals that as free persons of color challenged slaveholders’ notions that being black was synonymous with slavery, it became clear that the law of freedom, not the law of slavery, was most crucial for establishing the meaning of blackness in law.  The laws regulating manumission and freedom suits, Gross found, determined the possibility of changing one’s status from slave to free.  Contests over freedom then, determined the boundaries between black and white, with the freedoms of citizenship afforded whites and degradation and oppression imposed on blacks. “We are still reckoning with the legacy of the injustices that tied citizenship with racial identity,” writes Gross.


Gandhi exhorted us to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Systemic racism in this country seems hopelessly intractable.  Join Professor Gross in a polymathic exploration into the past to inform and empower us to be the change in our present and future. 

Ariela Gross, Professor of Law And History

Ariela Gross, whose research and writing focus on race and slavery in the United States, teaches Contracts, History of American Law, and Race and Gender in the Law. Gross received her BA from Harvard University, her JD from Stanford Law School, and her PhD in History from Stanford University. In 2017-18, she was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and an American Council of Learned Societies Collaborative Research Fellow. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Frederick J. Burkhardt Fellowship of the American Council of Learned Societies, and an NEH Huntington Library Long-Term Fellowship to support her research for her book What Blood Won’t Tell.