Race and the Politics of Loss: Revisiting the Legacy of Emmett Till



This paper explores the idea that mourning can help us to bear not only personal but also political losses. It focuses, in particular, on the proposal that legacies of racial loss and violence should be collectively mourned. I argue that Mamie Till Mobley was developing such a proposal in 1955, the year her son Emmett Till was lynched and in which she brought his body before all Americans, calling on them to look at it so that they might, together, say what they had seen. Mobley’s proposal challenges what I take to be the leading rival position on the relationship of grief to political life, namely, that it is, at best, a catalyst for the achievement of political ends. But as I argue, Mobley’s proposal also raises challenges for present-day efforts to articulate a politics of loss, which are quick to assume either that such losses cannot be mourned collectively or that they have always been ours to mourn together. I will argue that these efforts have failed to take into account the insight behind Mobley’s invitation. My aim, in clarifying its significance, is to expand philosophical inquiry into the relationship between the emotions and political life and, more specifically, to contribute to an evaluation of the prospects for a mournful politics.


How to Cite: Atkins, A. (2022) “Race and the Politics of Loss: Revisiting the Legacy of Emmett Till”, Ergo. 8(0). doi: