Torture: What’s Race Got to Do with It?

Mainstreaming Torture

This article originally appeared on the Oxford University Press Blog.

June is Torture Awareness Month, so this seems like a good time to consider some difficult aspects of torture people in the United States might need to be aware of. Sadly, this country has a long history of involvement with torture, both in its military adventures abroad and within its borders. A complete understanding of that history requires recognizing that US torture practices have been forged in the furnace of white supremacy. Indeed the connection between torture and race on this continent began long before the formation of the nation itself.

Every torture regime identifies a group or groups of people whom it is legally and/or morally permissible to torture. To the ancient Romans and Greeks, only slaves were legitimate targets. As Hannah Arendt has observed, the Greeks in particular considered the compulsion to speak under torture a terrible affront…

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