What is it about?

For years, experts have asserted that group cultural traumas arise out of shocks to expected or the usual. This article explains how cultural trauma can also arise out of routine occurrences, such as the routine acquittals or non-indictments of white men or officers who have killed non-threatening or unarmed black male. To do so, this article describes how African Americans as a group experienced cultural trauma as a result of the acquittal of the two men who murdered Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. These two men were widely known to be guilty, and one of them later bragged about the killing in Look magazine.

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Why is it important?

This article extends cultural trauma theory by challenging a long-held understanding that cultural traumas arise only due to shocking or unusual incidents. In so doing, the article analyzes the cultural trauma process for African Americans after the acquittal of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, two white men who murdered the fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. The analysis in this article sheds much light on African Americans' experiences today with cultural trauma in the face of non-indictments and acquittals of those who have killed unarmed black males, such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. In this sense, this article joins the conversation today about how law and law enforcement repeatedly fail to communicate that black lives matter.


What is the effect of the many acquittals and non-indictments of police officers that seem to communicate to society that black lives do not matter? How do these effects shed light on theories about trauma, such as cultural trauma? Read this article, and find out.

Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig
University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Trauma of the Routine, Sociological Theory, December 2016, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0735275116679864.
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