On Friday, a white retired professor and historian infuriated conference participants as she made racist remarks during a speech. Lois Banner, a USC professor emerita of history, insisted that if she were Black her career would have been easier during an appearance at Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Adding insult to injury, she also wished she was a lesbian “because they were good at building community and organizing,” according to The Daily Beast.
Banner co-founded the event in the 1970s. Her comment upset listeners so much that several of them stormed out from the talk in protest. On Twitter, attendee and PhD candidate Stephanie Narrow explained exactly what happened.
“Well, the Berks plenary just took a turn. A white senior scholar at the 50th anniversary plenary VERY publicly, and unapologetically, said that she wished she was Black so her professional life would be easier.”
According to Narrow, Banner doubled down on her disgusting claim by stating: “You won’t change my mind—I’m 84 years old.” Narrow added: “She was immediately called out for her blatantly racist remarks, and refused to apologize, let alone listen, to the reason why her remarks were horrifying wrong.”
The speaker who followed Banner was a Black woman, Deirdre Cooper Owens, who denounced what Banner said in person as well as on social media. “The Berks Conference was a beautiful one until it was soiled by Lois Banner’s hatefully racist comments. Yes, I did speak out forcefully against her vitriol because she needed to keep Black women’s name out of her mouth.”
Ultimately, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians dealt with the backlash by addressing Banner’s actions on Twitter. “The Berks officers do not condone or support the inappropriate remarks made by one of the speakers tonight. A formal statement from the presidents will be made after the break.”
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, the co-president of the organization, Barbara Molony of Santa Clara University, explained: “We intend to develop a plan of action that will allow us to heal and better protect our membership and colleagues.”
Banner’s words reiterate how white feminism exists at the expense of Black women.