On November 18, 2020, a distinguished panel of scholars consider what the question of reparations means for this freedom’s fulfillment and what kind of future could follow for African-Americans beyond 400.
Read a recap of the event here: https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/11/19/the-case-for-reparations/
Bertrall Ross: Hello everyone, my name is Bertrall Ross. I'm the chancellor's professor of law at UC Berkeley School of Law, and also a chair of the diversity democracy cluster at the Othering and Belonging Institute here at UC Berkeley. I'm here to moderate a wonderful panel on the future of freedom, reparations after 400 years. But I wanna start with a land acknowledgement. Before we begin today's panel, I'd like to acknowledge and thank the Ohlone people for allowing us to work at UC Berkeley on their beautiful land. We recognize that UC Berkeley sits on the territory of Huichin, the ancestral and unseated land of the Chochenyo Ohlone, the successors of the historic and sovereign verona band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people. We recognize that every member of the Berkeley community has and continues to benefit from the use and occupation of this land, since the institution's founding in 1868. Consistent with our values of community and diversity, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and make visible the university's relationship to native peoples. By offering this land acknowledgement, we affirm indigenous sovereignty and we'll work to hold the University of California, Berkeley more accountable to the needs of American Indian and indigenous people.
Bertrall Ross: I also now like to thank the sponsors of this program, which include the Othering and Belonging Institute and the Goldman School of Public Policy. So the protest against police brutality and racial injustice following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and shootings of Jacob Blake and others brought renewed emphasis on the debate about reparations. The debate about compensating the descendants of American slaves. This summer, democrat lawmakers and Congress proposed a bill that would establish a commission to study the consequences and impacts of slavery and make reparations for reparations proposals and the number of States, including California have also proposed plans to examine the issue of reparations.
Bertrall Ross: Although, recently emphasized, the idea of reparations is certainly not new. The idea goes back to the end of the Civil War when union leaders met with a group of black ministers in Savannah, Georgia to develop a plan to help the thousands of freed slaves. After that meeting, General William Sherman issued a special field order 15, which set aside 400,000 acres of confiscated Confederate land for freed slaves. And it was proposed that each family to have a plot of not more than 40 acres of tillable land, tillable ground. This plan came to be known by the phrase 40 acres and a mule. This plan would never be enacted. After Lincoln's assassination, President Andrew Johnson, reversed Sherman's order and gave the land back to its former Confederate owners. With few economic options left, many African-Americans became sharecroppers, often working for former slave holders. In over 150 years later, African-Americans as a group, continue to find themselves at the bottom of the American economic scale. Uncompensated for their work and building and creating so much of America's during the nearly 250 years in which they were enslaved.
Bertrall Ross: Here to help us illuminate the issue surrounding reparations is an extraordinary group of faculty whom I have had the, whom I have the great pleasure and honor of introducing. I'll start with Katherine Franke, who is the James L. Dohr Professor of law at Columbia University where she is the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and faculty director of Law, Rights and Religion, of the Law, Rights and Religion project. Her most recent book "Repair: Redeeming the Promise of Slavery's Abolition" which was published by the Haymarket press in 2019, makes the case for racial reparations in the United States, by returning to a time at the end of the civil war, when many formerly enslaved people were provided land explicitly as a form of reparations for slavery. Katherine writes and teaches extensively on race and gender justice and is currently leading a research project at Columbia on Columbia Law School in slavery, documenting the many ways in which slaver and its after, slavery and its after life have permeated the law school's faculty, student body, curriculum buildings and financing. Columbia Law school was founded in 1858.
Bertrall Ross: Jovan Scott Lewis is the second panelist, is an assistant professor of Geography and African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He also serves in the economic disparities research cluster at Berkeley's Othering and Belonging Institute. Jovan recently published books "Scammer's Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica" explores the overlapping wakes of colonial independence and structural adjustment and how the post-colonial condition of poverty produced therein is responded to through crime. Jovan is currently working on a second monograph based on research conducted in Tulsa, Oklahoma which traces the consequences of 1921 Tulsa race massacre. In 2016, Jovan founded the Berkeley Geographies Project which is ongoing.
Bertrall Ross: And last, but certainly not least, Michael Ralph is associate professor at, in the department of social and cultural analysis in the School of Medicine at New York University. Michael's book "Forensics of Capital'' demonstrates that the social profile of an individual or country is a credit profile as well as a forensic profile. Michael is currently working on two books that center on race, insurance and incarceration. And a book project titled "Life", Michael demonstrates a life insurance was built from the legal rationale and commercial logic of Marine insurance and later slave insurance. The second book project engages in ethnographic research in Eritrea and explores the clinical practices and vernacular strategies of Eritrean, medical experts and soldiers used to conduct forensic analysis and to best develop scientific explanations for cause of death.
Bertrall Ross: Now the panelists will each speak for 20 minutes and at the conclusion that, of that, of the presentations, we will have a Q&A session. We ask that those are Facebook and YouTube to submit questions through the chat and I will then receive them and answer them, and ask them during the Q&A session. So without further ado, let me turn it over to Professor Frankie.
Katherine Franke: Thank you so much for Bertrall for inviting me to be part of this wonderful conversation and also to the Othering and Belonging Institute for sponsoring it. Let me say first, since we're not in California, I'm not in California, nor is Michael. I want to acknowledge the people on whose land I sit and Michael does as well. As I look out my window up here in the Catskills in New York, I am thankful everyday for this land and aware of my own occupation of the land in a way that daily hopefully is, has a kind of reverence and respect for those people.
Katherine Franke: You know, as we're it's, we sit at this incredibly opportune time to talk about the issue of reparations, as I think we, as a country have been undergoing a kind of racial reckoning with the kind of violence that black people have experienced at the hands of police, other private parties a kind of way in which we've mobilized in the streets around the intolerability of that violence and structural anti-blackness in this country. And finally, we have Congress paying attention to the issue of reparations, which of course has been raised for a very long time by activists and members of Congress. But finally it got a hearing, the bill did this summer. There are a couple of key questions I just want to begin our thinking about reparations with our consideration.
Katherine Franke: First is to think really in a complex way - and I know my co-panelists do as well - about the ways in which the past, our history, makes particular pressing moral demands on us today. So often we see the opponents of reparations, the opponents of really meaningful structural remedies for racial injustice for anti-blackness say, well, that's the past, that doesn't matter, and if the past is the past and it's no longer with us. And I think part of thinking about reparation seriously is thinking about what sort of continuing moral demands that past imposes on us and from which we can not look away. The second thing, and I think an even harder question or equally difficult question, is whether there's any necessary relationship between emancipation and freedom. And I think when we look at that past, when we look at the history of slavery and of emancipation, we can see that for black people in this country, being freed is not the same thing as being free. And that's part of why we continue to talk about reparations, not only as a remedy for the horror of enslavement, but also reparations as something that is necessary to create even the possibility of black freedom in this country, then in the 1860s and now today.
Katherine Franke: So let me bring, and whenever I talk about slavery and about reparations and about the work that, historical work that I've done it's always important to me to bring in the room the people about whom we're speaking. Just as we summoned native American people, I feel like we need to summon also enslaved and formerly enslaved people. So I'm gonna share my screen just for a little bit as part of this discussion. So first of all here's this, the book that Bertrall was so kind to mention. And I'm just gonna shift, I'm in New York and the sun is setting and I had a kinda halo behind me before, but I can move away from that halo now.
Katherine Franke: So here we have an extended family of people who have been enslaved and were just recently freed on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, just outside Buford. And with Bertrall's introduction, it was interesting, he mentioned Sherman's special field order number 15, which actually was quite a bit later, several years later than the emancipation of these people in the Sea Islands. And part of what our history tells us by looking at the experience of the people in the Sea Islands, but also with a community just outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi, is that reparations were delivered to the people who had been enslaved well before Sherman came up with the idea. And it wasn't just that meeting in a church that Sherman held where people came to him and formerly enslaved people came to him and said, “What we need is land, what we need our material resources in order to be truly free.” Many military officials, Northern military officials, as they traveled through the South occupying and emancipating the people who had been enslaved, enslaved in those communities heard the exact same thing: That what we need a form of reparations in the material land, in which the soil, in which we live.
Katherine Franke: And so I just want to be for a second with some of these people in the strength that we see the resilience that I think we see in this image speak so loudly about how they knew what it meant to steward themselves in their communities from enslavement to freedom. And what we hear from the history with Sherman and the military officials that were there before Sherman is that remarkably they listened and they learned to the kind of the ideas about freedom that the enslaved people had in these communities. So this is one of them, Rufus Saxton, who was in charge of ministering to the transition of, from enslavement to freedom of the formerly enslaved people in the Sea Islands. And what he noticed from listening to them was two things. One, that they had a kind of mortgage, there was a kind of mortgage on the land, a debt owed to the enslaved people of the Sea Islands. I kind of-- what was later described by Martin Luther King during the Poor People's Campaign in Mississippi, was that we've come with an IOU that white people own enslaved people. Partly for lost wages, of course slavery is a theft of labor, but it's so much more. And so reparations in the form that was, that General Saxton recognized in listening to the free people of the Sea Islands was a backward looking matter of a kind of repair for certainly the theft of labor, but also the horror, the whipping, the killing, the rape, the family separation of what it meant to be enslaved, the loss of dignity.
Katherine Franke: So it was a backward looking recognition of that horror, but it was also a forward-looking recognition that people could not really be free if they were emancipated into a condition of abject poverty. That material resources and a place were necessary in order for a people to heal and for them to build new free lives together. And as Saxton, and then later Sherman sat and listened and absorbed what people were saying, there were two things that were the most fundamentally important to them. One is that communities were set up for black people where white people could not enter. So exclusively black communities on land that they owned. They needed a place, a home, a community that was theirs. And they needed it to be theirs - separate and apart from white people. And if you look at the actual language of Sherman's field order, it says, absolutely, it says exactly that: That white people cannot set foot on the land on those 40 acre plots in those communities that he set aside somewhat later from this period of time.
Katherine Franke: So what we saw take place in the Sea Islands was under Saxton's supervision but really in response to the demands of the free people was the allocation of title, actual paper title to properties on the Sea Islands that would be the, that would be owned outright by not just individuals of freed people, but communities of freed people. And here is a representation, is an image from one of those deeds where you see collectively the people of the Sea Islands, freed people of the Sea Islands making claim to a particular plantation. And here, this is the the fruit plantation on, in just outside of Buford on St. Helena Island. Of course, the people could not sign their own names because teaching an enslaved person to read or write any form of literacy was a crime at this time. And so they marked their names with an X, and this is an enlargement of that paper, that title. And I have to say as I went through these documents at the national archives a couple of years ago, opening some of them for the first time, since they had been put into the archives and seeing the places where a shaky hand perhaps blurred the ink, and some cases there was ink on their palm - and you see the palm print was so moving.
Katherine Franke: These were the first acts not just for freedom, but a personhood, that these people were undertaking. I just can't imagine how transformative signing these documents, legal documents must've been for them. And you can even see here what some of the people did is went out and drew maps of the land that to which they were making claim. And they weren't drawing maps that were rectangles as Europeans marked out plots of land. They were marked where things like the bavarian ground creek, the pasture field, other creeks, these were the places where their families had been buried, where their families had been enslaved, where their ancestors remained. And they were making claims collectively to this property where they were going to build new lives. Now, just one thing worth noting about this document and this is the Pleasant Point Plantation to which I'm gonna return, just a little bit, is you have Mary Brown and Nancy Wilson among the several people here freed people who are making claim to this land. Black women were getting titled to land through this project in the Sea Islands, long before Sherman arrives. And this 1861, '62, '64 at a time when white women could not legally own land. At this point, in South Carolina and through most of the South, white women did not have a legal identity apart from their husbands. So they couldn't own property, they couldn't own, they couldn't have a bank account, they couldn't work in their own name et cetera. But black women were able to get titled to land. And I found that quite impressive and actually quite amazing to see the black women we're getting title here.
Katherine Franke: Now, just one last image in terms of just how powerful it was that people were signing these documents in their own names, even if they couldn't write their names, their signatures were distinctive. And you see, just looking at these, you can see the agency behind Prince, behind Isaac, behind Tom, behind the second Isaac of marking these documents in their own names. So eight hundreds, thousands of acres of land, very, very valuable land because of the kind of cotton that could be grown in the Sea Islands was transferred through these titles, to the formerly enslaved people at this time. And then as Bertrall mentioned, Lincoln is assassinated, Johnson becomes president and one of the first things he does is offer to the former Confederates, the Ironclad Oath. Well, they will slip, they will fall, they will affirm allegiance to the United States or reunited United States. And all of their property will be restored to them except slaves. So all of this property that these people were promised was stolen from them often violently. And then, if they chose to remain on the property or in the Sea Islands, they were forced by the US military to enter into labor contracts with their former enslavers. That's what it meant to be freed, but not really free.
Katherine Franke: Now, at the same time that this project is going on in the Sea Islands the Homestead Act is enacted by Congress where hundreds of thousands of acres, actually 1.5 million acres or excuse me, what was it? 246 million acres of land, I'm sorry, was allocated through the Homestead Act to adult male citizens who would settle on the land, work it, and then within five years would be allowed to get free title to that land. This was 10% of the land of the United States, actually about the size of California and Texas, was given free and clear to white people. Very few black people took advantage, were allowed to take advantage of the Homestead Act, almost overwhelmingly was black people who did. In a recent study of a few years ago showed that 46 million adults in the United States - about a quarter of the US population - were the descendants of people who had gotten land through the Homestead Act, white people. So no land for freed people, free land for white people, all at the same time. And this of course explains a lot about the racial wealth gap in this country. In so far as white people were able to get landm sit in, sit on it with the one, with the best investment one could have intergenerationally in this country. Black people never really got in on that deal, right? As part of why I think this allocation of land is so important as part of a reparations project.
Katherine Franke: So the last thing I wanna say, I mentioned, remember I mentioned the Pleasant Point Plantation before. That was where there was that beautiful sort of kidney shaped property that the freed people had drawn. This is Pleasant Point Plantation today, that same land. It is a gated senior community with two beautiful golf courses, wonderful, beautiful location right on the water in the Sea Islands, and in their “About Us” section, they talk about their history. There is no mention of enslaved labor. There is no mention of land reapportionment to the black people, to the freed people explicitly as reparations. There's no mention that that land was stolen and then returned to the former slave owners. There's an interesting little anecdote at the bottom here about Tuscarora Jack, but that is so insignificant compared to what the real, what real history is in that the soil is in that land. And so part of when we talk, when we think about reparations, is taking responsibility for that history, knowing who has lived in the places where we lived before us. The kind of innocence that you see in the people who live at Pleasant Point Plantation now inoculates them from any kind of responsibility for the history of the place where they live. So to my mind, we need material resources, absolutely as part of what we do as reparations. But I think we also have to see our memory, our history as being an active part of our present that makes moral demands on us in our present as essential also to what it means to repair this past. I'll stop there, thanks so much.
Bertrall Ross: Thank you, Katherine, for that powerful presentation - the contrast between the land acknowledgement at the beginning of this particular panel and the Pleasant Point description of their history is quite striking. Now I wanna kinda turn it over to Professor Lewis for his presentation.
Jovan Scott Lewis: Thank you Bertrall. Thank you everybody for being here today. So I wanna share an idea about reparation that emerges from the overlapping wakes of colonial independence and structural adjustment in Jamaica. So each of these moments are equally weighted and enduring, and they have each, in their own ways, defined and limited the scope and scale of opportunity for mostly poor urban and black Jamaicans. And with these circumstances and with these Jamaicans and how these Jamaicans mitigate those circumstances that my work has noted by Bertrall's kind introduction in the book "Scammer's Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica" how from within that work I was able to kind of you know, develop an appreciation for a kind of novel sense of repair and a framework for reparation. And so the sense comes from the experiences of three friends who participated in a Jamaican lottery scam, which is you know, best understood as an intricate scheme that has, you know, in fact, over the past decade defrauded thousands of mostly white and elderly Americans out of what has often amounted to their life savings. And, you know, so the practice of the scam as I, you know, demonstrate throughout the text, and as I wanna talk a little bit about here today, you know, it demonstrates the kind of mechanism by which these goblins refashioned themselves and their country and the broader global relations within both, within which both of them are set.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so these scammers, they, you know, they understood that the world as it existed was not meant for them. As the aphorism in Jamaica goes the jackass or the donkey says that the world isn't level. And so what they did was they drew out novel logics of capital and criminality and their own blackness as a kind of formulary for thinking about post-colonial black repair in order to kind of make a world for themselves and on their terms. And so it's with this notion of making a new world on your own terms that I wanna kind of think and meditate on this, the possibilities for repair might mean and how reparations might actually be facilitated. And so thinking about this from within the Jamaican context again, mentioning the overlapping wakes of colonial independence, as well as structural adjustment. This possibility becomes materialized following the liberalization of the Jamaican telecommunications industry in the early 2000s. What that liberalization did was it spurred the development of an offshore call center industry in the country. And so located in Jamaica's primary free trade zone in Montego Bay, where my work was set and where I personally am also from, you know several companies developed to offer data and customer service offerings and services for companies like Amazon. So the call centers would soon come to actually compete very closely with the tourist industry in terms of dominating the local economy of Montego Bay.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And obviously, and I think understandably you know, scores of young Jamaicans were drawn to these call centers, right? For the kind of promise of a white collar career. However, as we know through lots of literature about these call centers, as they existed in developing worlds, you know, they were marked by low wages and high attrition, and it produced frustration if not dismay for the workers who sought opportunity within them. However, in spite of the kind of dire circumstances of the call center, they did actually produce some kind of opportunity. And so with the access that call center workers had, right? To the kind of thousands of US-based customers, and having learned the kind of art of customer service, meaning how to talk to Americans, in a way the lottery scam was born in this context and would prove that the industry might after all be profitable for local Jamaicans, however much more differently than originally anticipated. And so while many people have theorized that the kind of practice of the lottery scam began as a part of the kind of upper class elites. So in some ways the luxury scam is, in many ways figured by the kind of poor you know, poor black Jamaican, you know, some theories of its origins begin with members of Jamaica's leading political parties and that kind of thing.
Jovan Scott Lewis: The truth is that, however, it did start, right? The practice did spread throughout Montego Bay's poor Garrison communities. And what it did was it became a very radical means of accumulation for poor people who would otherwise not have access to this amount of capital. And so scammers mainly targeted vulnerable white American senior citizens and promised them various awards from cash to cars. But the group that I worked with, you know, these scammers, these three friends they use a relatively sophisticated form of credit relations to facilitate their scam. And they told their victims that they had been overcharged through a miscalculation of the credit cards APR. And in order to receive the refund, they would have to pay a processing fee. And so working with the crew, right? I wanted to understand the moral framework of the scam and how they could really justify you know, fleecing who, you know, were very easily identifiable as elderly people. But I was surprised when in their articulation of their justification, they had been inspired by what was in a very popular song by dancer, artist Vybz Kartel who was arguing on behalf of the scammers in a way that the scam function as a form of reparations.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so doing the thing that I thought that ethnographer should do and taking vernacular claims very seriously I decided to try and think very, very meaningfully and deeply about this claim. And so the crews were prior to justification, right? While being very convenient, again, starting in many ways, being inspired by the kind of viewpoints of popular a dancer artist. What they were able to do, however, right? Was articulated repetitive rationale, right? In my, or in response to my request for explanation. And so again, I took the claim seriously. And so what I learned is that for the crew, the reparations they claimed from the victims had very little to do with the normative basis upon which reparations are so typically based, right? So rather than being situated within a kinda argument about slavery, reparations for them were explicitly a matter of contemporary concern. The contemporary poverty that they experienced and used, you know, the use the scam to kind of use that rationale to kind of escape that poverty was more meaningful and identifiable to them than the kind of injury of slavery or this kind of inherited legacy of enslavement. And so in this way, the crew departed from a kind of global, the kind of global question of reparations that had been taking a place across the formerly colonized world and is continuing today.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so, in choosing to take the claim as a valid one again, and I say valid because it was born out of a kinda genuine circumstance of the intergeneration and structural sense of post-colonial impoverishment. I would find that the scammer framework would serve that global project, nevertheless, of thinking about reparation and not actually not undermine it, right? So the service to that notion of global reparations is because the scammer claim did much to kinda disrupt the usual discursive hindrances to reparative claims, namely, you know, recognizing who are deserving victims and critically identifying those complicit and guilty parties. You know, we can, we know, from so much of the public discourse over the past few years, so much of which is political discourse, that, you know, people who identify or parties who we identify as being complicit in the crimes that are in need of repair often use a variety of discursive loopholes to get out of culpability. And so scammers were actually contributing to a kind of reparative framework by giving us an alternative to that framework of thinking about how do we identify who's guilty? and how do we identify who qualifies as a victim? And so in taking this approach, right, the scammers engaged in a variety of ways, what the Jamaican anthropologist David Scott called the kind of rude boys refusal, right? And Scott argues that the swarm of refusal recognizes, in a way the unattractiveness, if not expiration of the old options of liberal progressive rationality.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so my argument is, you know, predominant repetitive frameworks are kind of born out of this rationale. And so they qualify as being a kind of an older modality of thinking about what freedom or emancipation must be and how it must be facilitated. And the refusal is paired, right? With a kind of form of self fashioning produced by a kind of vernacular articulation amongst this gamblers that resist relying on emancipatory ethics. So what does it mean to actually think about repair without the need to feel emancipating? And so the move kind of frees a rude boy from being bound by a liberal, respectable, or representational politics. Again, these are some of the trappings that we see so many of the kind of reparations models falling into. So moreover right, the scammer then as this figure of the rude boy, right? Embodies this notion of refusal and therefore is able to expand beyond the kind of respectability that underpins these reparative frameworks and the proposals from reparations leaders and programs. You know, those frameworks often demand a kind of collective this mode of recognition thatr can simultaneously reflect the kind of scales of injury and recompense. And a good example of this from the Caribbean is the kind of reparative platform from the CARICOM Reparations Commission, right? Which is a kind of joint effort of the Caribbean political and economic group CARICOM to seek reparations from former colonizers.
Jovan Scott Lewis: So the reparations commission, right, is vested, is invested in these kinds of post-independent structural development, right? And that's advance the kind of program that seeks reparations for the various social ills and disinvestment that the Caribbean region has endured since slavery. And these consequences are framed as a collective grievance with the collectivity of the claim demanding the integrations and compliance of our claimants. So in other words, the challenge of that platform is that it has to accommodate the entirety, right? Of the aggrieved party in spite of what variations and variances of identity, political orientation might exist amongst them. So in part because of the criminality, the scammers are discursively, if not morally, excluded from this respectable integration. And so as such, they can prioritize their own preferences and ambitions to shape a more honest, and I think, you know, more novel sense of repair, which is really the, you know, and frankly the kind of capacity to accumulate. And accumulation as a reparative possibility is one that cannot accommodate a need or a scalable articulation. It is one, you know, in the sense that the reparative claim is less of a claim than it is a demand, right? And that has to be fully understood.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so reparations then as an organized, as organized, on a kind of collective as basis requires the ability to accommodate you know, again, this multiplicity of parties and diversity of members, but the scammer demand for goals, the complications of that accommodation by levying the injury that a native repair as being held by the black individual. And that individuality therefore becomes or the claim based upon individuality then becomes like a valid and weighty enough claim, right? Without having this need, or this concern for recognition because repair, you know, according to the scammers is not given, but it is taken, right? And this is the kind of underlying framework for reparations that advance. So the scam therefore kind of qualifies as reparation because the scammer says so, and that's all that's really needed. And so here in one of the most kind of central challenges of any reparations program, right? Which is the ability to argue for the validity of the claim. And this is what the scammers are helping us to kind of think through. So the scammer refuses to argue and moreover refuses to concede the requirement of validation. And so by sitting out and also outside kind of normative demands of recognition, the scammer rationale, you know, enables the scam to be interpreted as a legitimate form of reparations.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so just thinking more about this question of refusal. Refusal, right, the, through refusal, you know, there's a prioritization and there's a temporal shift away from the history of slavery to the contemporary experience of poverty. And so the scams are imperative you know, formulary is radical because it mobilizes a reparative logic that is capable of reformulating the sites and the perpetrators of post-colonial transgression. And they do so in a manner that stretches and bends the kind of conventional history of colonial exploitation. And so, you know, this reformulation is possible explicitly because of the spatial and racial negotiations of scammer recognition. And so, you know, when answering my question about how they could think that scamming North Americans, right? Could pay the reparative debts earned by centuries of British slavery colonialism. I was simply told that listen, they're the same white people. You know, that was it. That's what held together the kind of reparative logic that in spite of a history of British colonialism and enslavement you know, white North America in somewhere like Bismarck, North Dakota could be responsible for that.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so, you know, what we have here is a kind of reconfiguration, right? The, this idea, right, was very unexpected and, you know, but it was unmistakably, you know unique and really radical in a way. And so thinking about if these were actually the same kind of people, white people specifically, you know, we begin to see the possibility for that. If we kind of overgeneralize the kind of Anglo influence on the United States formation in spite of the difference of their colonial past in a way at least in terms of relationship to Jamaica. So what the specific crew member had said to me, right? You know, what he was doing, and what he said to me was lumping together both the British and Americans together in a kinda semiotic maneuver that accounted for a much longer history of Jamaican experience, where the British and then the Americans function in the same capacity. So in other words, the relationality was the same and this is what made them the same white people, you know. So to be more specific, you know, if the British had once, you know, had Jamaicans working on the plantations of the Island, then Americans now had them working in a hotels and call centers that trap them into these like long-term cycles of poverty.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so what is logic is a kind of logic of white fungibility. And it shifted the kind of burden of proof away from black subjects. And we go back to thinking about reparations and how reparations are thought of as being justified. What this rationale did was it shifted the burden of proof away from black subjects, right? Who needed to prove or provide evidence of their injury. And instead place that burden on the whites, you know, and it places a burden on them to disprove their legacy of inducing harm. And so rather than black people needing to reconcile with their inheritance of injury, whites would instead need to reconcile their history and inheritance of harm, right? So we see how, again, we begin to see a shift, right? Where when David Cameron goes to Jamaica, when went to Haiti, right? There's this notion that we have to, you know, black Atlantic subjects have to prove that they still qualify, right? We still qualify for the injury of slavery from centuries past. Instead the scammer, the scammer framework turns that you know, around and says, no this prove that you have in continuously caused harm across those centuries. And you've continuously caused harm, irrespective of a kind of political and national sensibility or identity that you've held, again, the same kind of white people. And so the move like, right, like up ends the kind of troubling calculation in which the United States owes African-Americans, right? And the United Kingdom owes like Anglophone Caribbean blacks as examples, right? In which those logics only serve to kind of reinscribe a kind of colonial property logic, right? Back onto black subjects. In other ways, in other words, you know, the United States own African-Americans demonstrates a kind of ownership of those forms of blackness or of those black subjects.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so beyond that to them, you know, the United States also super conveniently just held the most viable and accessible and certainly more most profitable kind of purses, right? The kind of bounty of repair if we're thinking about accumulation or reparations, thinking about accumulation, right? Should come from United States, right? It's perceivably a wealthy nation, right? The wealth is more accessible. The wealth, given the touristic encounter, is much more visible. And so again through refusal, the crew right? The scammers and the crew that I worked with radically redefined in a normative kind of geographic delimitations of reparative blame. And in a process they uncover, you know, are made bare and apprehensible, the kinda true interconnected and globally conspiratorial crime of Western development. In other words, there wasn't just, you know, one guilty party, it was every party that participated and then benefited from their current poverty and the system that produced it. And so, as I talk about in "Scammer's Yard", the scammers produced a kind of accounting that skips across time and geography, right? In a way that transforms Britain's transgression into the United States transgression, right? And it's a genealogy that can be traced to the kind of post-colonial custodianship of Jamaican exploitation, which over the decades has changed hands, right? And specifically with the kind of geopolitical reorientation of British Jamaican trade relations to that of the United States. So as a result, the scammers kind of explode the geographic remit of injury and responsibility to offer novel and capacious terms of transgression. You know, the mobility of transgression is made possible by, you know, their sophisticated capacity to trace colonial debt through whiteness, both across time and space.
Jovan Scott Lewis: So, you know, I will kind of wrap up here and just say, admittedly, you know, set against the kind of broader movement for reparations which, you know, has over the past couple of years, several years, perhaps seen growing political recognition. The scammer framework, I will admit is one that would very unlikely qualify as a legitimate form of reparations, right? But my point is that, you know, it's been neither to kind of legitimize the scammer rationale nor to endorse the kind of criminal modality by which it's executed, you know, instead that the power and value of the scammer claim however, convenient, however, species, right? Is that among the various reparations frameworks it is a specific impersonal ideas that make up the experience of living in the everyday, you know, the everyday wake of injuries, of injury that matters. Moreover, you know, emancipated, if you will, from the expectations of both respectability and collectivity, the scammer reconfigures a sense of repair as a direct and undiluted satisfaction of those who carry the reparative claim. And so through this reconfiguration you know, scammers append the kind of conventional relations between North Atlantic powers by issuing any expectation for mutuality, right? They recognize that the world, again, is by design never meant, you know, never will function on the terms of equality. And so thus, if not formally, you know, reparations must be taken by whatever means as long as those means satisfy, you know, the kind of individual pursuits and aspirations of black subjects which unapologetically would alternately qualify as repair. Thank you.
Bertrall Ross: Thank you, Jovan just fascinating presentation that raises interesting issues with respect to the global dimensions of slavery and reparations. Often the focus on reparations and slavery is on United States focused, but we have to remember that slavery was a global phenomenon for which reparations is an appropriate conversation. And also the private forms of reparation, right? We think of it in terms of government sponsored reparation, but this is a fascinating account of a private form of reparation. So I wanna encourage those on Facebook again and YouTube to submit their questions via the chat function and they'll be recorded. I've got some questions already recorded for conversation in a little bit. So I encourage you to continue to send those questions in but for now, let me just turn it over to Professor Ralph.
Michael Ralph: So thank you Bertrall, thank you to my fellow panelists. So I want to sort of second the land acknowledgements that we opened with, I think the story of reparations is fundamentally about what it means to be a stolen people on stolen land. And I want to sit with that, and I also wanna build on the insights of fellow panelists concerning the question of freedom and the political and financial stakes of reparations both then and now. And I was really struck by Katherine's example and the language of mortgages and the language of debts owed as a way to think about enslavement and this legacy. And it sort of reminded me about that sort of practical form of slave mortgages, which just to quickly explain how they work often when planters are moving from the upper South to the deep South in the last few decades of legalized slavery as the US was expanding. And when they had enslaved people in their possession, but they did not have land they were sometimes mortgage enslaved people to banks. But often when you look at a slave mortgage policy and then sort of read the stock record, you noticed that a man who might go to the bank and say he has three enslaved people he's using as collateral to take out, to get land is in fact, describing a woman he has purchased years before, has since had children with and they're biracial offspring and multiracial offspring. So in fact, we look to the bank like a planter who owns three slaves, is also living as a family. And I think that intimacy and of sort of commerce in commodification is something really striking and interesting, particularly when the language is one of mortgages and debts owed.
Michael Ralph: And so I want to, I guess, discuss some more formal remarks, take off from a Jovan's implication of David Scott, the anthropologists and social theorist and then the critique Jovan develops here which I think is really important. You know, he's talking about the limits of liberal discourse and its theories of how to govern and what it often overlooks and how to adjudicate debts owed and things like that. And sort of not really highlighting the real structural violence or not noticing the tactical forms of defiance. And I think it's really important about Jovan's divention. I think at the same time, I wanna critique David Scott in terms of how he has discussed at times because he often presents it as exclusively a moral and philosophical problem, bracketing the question of redistributing resources or the specific protocols that are required for facilitating redress. And I guess, I sort of wanna say at the outset for me, you know, reparations is emphatically, not a moral and philosophical problem. And while morality is at times, part of the question to the extent we're talking about who owes what to whom or whether we understand structural violence as illicit or even illegal, or whether we're sort of studying how people are disenfranchised make the best of a distressing economic scenario. So obviously morality figures in those arguments, but I think too often reparations becomes a kind of abstract philosophical debate, moral debate. And I think that when people, you know, not that my panelists here, 'cause I think what I appreciate about this panel is we're all talking about it in concrete terms, you know, but often in the broader conversation about reparations about whether we can establish guilt or innocence and things like that, in the abstract philosophical moral way, it winds up sort of reinforcing, I would say the kind of conservative view of reparations which wasn't being very status quo and not fundamentally about transforming society. And I think, I just wanna sort of underscore that for me the way I think reparations is you could say actuarial and about sort of how to calculate and assess injury liability, you know, so I wanna focus on that specific question.
Michael Ralph: And the transatlantic slave trade, in those kinds of conversations, is often presented as an exceptional situation worthy of debate and research and to demonstrate reparations or even justified how they would be delivered, et cetera. And I would say, you know, by contrast that nothing is more mundane than reparations when we think about it in terms of injury, and that is not much different actually in its structure than sort of car accident - where after a car accident, you know, you have to have forensic experts come in and decide who was at fault and who owes to whom. And I would say that, you know, it's obviously different - we're talking about a stone-cold example in terms of its temporality, like how long it's stretched over time. And it's different in terms of the number of victims, how we establish who was injured, but fundamentally the question of deciding who owes to whom and who was injured by the event, how we described the event I think is rather, actually rather mundane. So I just say that because it's often presented as if it's a kind of really tricky puzzle or something. And so we approach reparations from the actual standpoint is highly controversial. And I said, I wanna talk about a couple of different ways to think about slavery and value and then sort of bring it up to the present.
Michael Ralph: So often when we think about injury and enslavement and valuation, we think about ensalved people in the aggregate, like let's say people in shared as cargo on a slave ship, you know, for instance. And there we think of enslaved people as sort of being laborers, not the most different from livestock per se, the kind of an agricultural technology that enhances productivity. And in this regard, it's notable that a lot of the literature in sort of histories of slavery and capitalism or the new history of US capitalism, or even in versions of racial capitalism, as it's called, focus on sort of plantation slavery and almost treat enslaved people as interchangeable. But I sort of wanna highlight some important distinctions in the way enslave people were sometimes valued in, particularly when we look at what happened with insurance and slavery during the last few decades of legalized slavery also a period that overlaps with slave mortgages. So after 1808, because the slave trade to the US was outlawed, but slavery was still legal, it was difficult to acquire additional slave workers unless you kidnap them or smuggled them in. So enslavement in the US in particular became largely about breeding enslaved people. It also became about renting them from people who had them in abundance. And when people would rent out their enslaved workers, they would often insure them before they were rented out to make sure that they could recover most of the value of the enslaved people they owned, if they happen to die while they're in someone else's possession. And what you see is that sort of huge industry emerged and insured enslaved people and the value of these enslaved people ultimately was based on the skills they acquired when they were rented out to chief industries. And you start to see that it kind of breaks down into three broad categories - one enslaved people who worked in hazardous and dangerous industries like coal mines, railroad, steamboats, enslaved people working as artisans like cobblers, blacksmith, carpenters, barbers, or enslaved people who were bureaucrats like household managers, drivers, and clerks.
Michael Ralph: And so I use this example to highlight the fact that while these enslaved people were property, owned or rented out, their value is based on premium skillsets and the role they played in the US chief industries. And of course enslave people are the only kind of properties value can increase over time based on expertise they acquire. But part of what I'm trying to suggest is that in the same way that their value was based on what could be predicted and calculated in profits that could accrue over time, we can also think of injury that way, right? Like, so what is sort of the compound effect of injuries over generations? You know, not merely in terms of how we calculate it in any given moment, but is there a way that the value of an injury can accrue exponentially over time in the same way that capital accrues value over time, in the same way that, you know, the families and corporations that my colleagues here have alluded to have accrued value over time? And I think that approaching enslavement actuararily enables us to think about these questions and not just make a case for what's paid and what's owed, but just to think about how injuries and harm can be compounded.
Michael Ralph: Now, obviously, you know, when we think about these questions, it can be convenient to say that there's, that one is difficult to calculate but also even if it was possible to tabulate these injuries that if they're sort of astronomical in scope, how could these distributions actually be carried out or how could reparations be executed without crippling the economy, et cetera? And I just wanna sort of come around to some ways to think about how that debt is adjudicated in very practical terms. But first I sort of wanna emphasize that, I think, thinking of it in a reparations actuararily is not like an endorsement of neoliberal financial ideology even if it is a kind of practical effort to grapple with it. So I would say that, you know, in many ways, capitalism does not rely on our endorsement of it to trap us within the, you know. And in fact, you could argue that one defining feature of the system you refer to as capitalism, or the way capital works is that it can often have people act in contrast or in contradiction to their stated economic, political positions or something like that, you know. So insurance is interesting example because insurance really doesn't come about to the last few decades of legalized slavery which we think of as the birth of free society. And really after emancipation, essentially all people are free and able to contract life insurance policies extensively. Yet African-Americans were punished for having weaker vital statistics dating back to poor health from enslavement. And also essentially what actuaries and underwriters do is create a hierarchical calculus in the monetary value of our lives. It's just that it's based on confidential private information like family medical history, risk factors, projected future wages.
Michael Ralph: So what insurance does, life insurance for free citizens is essentially privatized a kind of hierarchy in a monetary value of lives that was blatant and obvious under enslavement was kind of hidden from us in a free society. So in many ways what we're doing when we think actuarially about injury is kind of using the logic of the way that we're sort of exploited and alienated against those who would seek to do that. And I'll say more about how that works in practical terms, but really what I'm just mainly trying to suggest is that it's useful to think of a kind of imaginative approach to forensic inquiry as it allows us to revise our theoretical framework for establishing injury and liability. And I would insist that sort of accounting is key to how capital works, but that accounting is a kind of creative enterprise that like, what enables a high price accountant to secure tax breaks and higher income tax returns for clients is the imaginative approach to narrating the activities and persons in firms. And so if this can be done in other sectors of society to kind of generate capital it can also be done for people who suffer injury to think in the most imaginative terms possible. And to think about how the injury has been compounded over time as a strategy for sort of achieving access to capital that as my panelists have demonstrated has been historically denied. And what this approach does is sort of link accounting to accountability and even to subjectivity, whether referring to people of African descent across generations, or to the American tourists and British colonial officials that Jovan noted some Jamaican scammers feel are the same white people. And this, I think, is interesting because Malcolm X once, in a speech referred to US imperialism, post World War II through an analogy to football saying that, you know it was as if as Great Britain was about to be tackled, it threw the ball to the US, you know. So this, I think is consistent with even how political theorists have thought of the US role in the world in former colonized spaces, post World War II, but also relates to Katherine's point about what it means to have or to be denied legal subjectivity to go from being property to owning property. It showcases the contradictions of the defying capital, as in some instances, black women in the South could conceivably own land before white women. And I think that, this kind of contradiction about how you get access to capital based on what kind of narrative, what kind of argument and what kind of context is precisely the tactical maneuver. I think we should understand as being available to us when we think about reparations.
Michael Ralph: And I guess, you know, one of the reasons why I think it's useful to think actuarially about this is because we do it everyday. Even if we, for instance, did not take a life insurance policy or think of this as essential to our own mobility, if God forbid one of our family members or kin or close friends, did suffer a fatal accident, then quickly insurance agents and actuaries would come up with a figure based on what the person's life was valued at, based on who had injured them or killed them and deliver a check to us, something like that. So we're sort of trapped within this regime. And so I think it's useful to think intentionally about it. And also even in sort of fatal accidents, not occurring with people who were close to just broader atrocities like Agent Orange, Deepwater Horizon, 911, Boston marathon bombing, Virginia Tech massacre. We see this operation happening in the most casual most mundane way. And interestingly, all those atrocities I noted were adjudicated by a specific lawyer - Kenneth Feinberg - which is kind of interesting to think that our broader notion of fairness in society is often adjudicated by particular figures in relation to particular corporate entities. And so the reparations project offers us an opportunity to think of deliberate terms about how we narrate the value of our lives and how we might adjudicate these debts. And when we do that, it becomes possible, as my panelists are helping me to do sort of trace this history from legalizing enslavement, slavery, colonial slavery to Jim Crow to redlining, to police violence even to sort of different kinds of injuries happening throughout the former colonies in the global South. And this kind of what we're calling a historical record is also this kind of account of injury.
Michael Ralph: And I think a concrete example of this is Sarah Hailey Beckles' book, "Britain's Black Debt". I think of sort of very usefully we conceptualize the history of the Caribbean as one of debts and of specific forms of trapping formerly colonized people in forms of indebtedness and that sort of not, coincidentally paves the way for a concrete argument as in the CARICOM you know, reparative lawsuit about who owes what to whom. And this also does kind of shift the infrastructure of debt from the idea that formerly colonized or formerly enslaved people are parasites on their respective national economies to creditors holding debt on their respective economies. And so if we take that insight seriously, it can change how we understand the very nature of governance and I kinda wanna just show an example that speaks to this in closing, one second as I share my screen. So if, one second, so as you draw attention to the US bailout as an example of reparations, that could be argued for, and what I like about this example is that while we usually tell reparations, in terms of underrepresented groups in the issue of slave trade in particular, there are potentially other forms of reparations we could invoke and these are not mutually exclusive. So I wanna know, and this is inspired in part by conversations with the theorist Robert Meister, that at the time of the US bailout 2008, most Americans were opposed to it. So in, given that there was a bail out in the US and that most Americans were opposed to it, you could argue that that bail out was coercive. If the bailout was coercive, you could argue that this is actually money owed to Americans you know, and just to kind of quickly show you some examples of how that money was used: there's $30 billion to first corporate entities, 150 billion for AIG how, meanwhile housing prices were falling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guaranteed 90% on mortgages. So there's a way in which the bailout essentially represented a huge sort of government extraction of wealth from ordinary, American taxpayers and transfer that wealth to corporate entities. So we are in agreement that that's coercive. We could also be an agreement that that the money owed to American people.
Michael Ralph: But in any, and we could even argue that there should be some kind of class action lawsuit against the US government by the injured parties to get this money back. But first we'd have to figure out, like, who the injured party is. And if we think about the injured party, perhaps could be all taxpayers from that year. And I've sort of calculated the value of the bailout, which is backed up by GDP against the value, the number of the injured people in the injured party which arguably is a class involving all US taxpayers. And by that logic, what you see is something like, you know, when you divide GDP from 2008, by number of taxpayers in 2008, so GDP is 14.71 trillion divided by 132 million and 92,000 people you see something in the neighborhood of $110,691. And that would mean every taxpayer would be owed that money from the US government. What's interesting about that is that, that's essentially something like a stimulus. You could say every taxpayer, his family could have gotten $110,000 rather than transferring that money to financial institutions.
Michael Ralph: And I think what's useful about this is that by analogy, even if the number, the amount of money we came up with for reparations for formerly enslaved people was an astronomical amount in the millions of dollars. What it could mean is that African-Americans are just the people deserving those funds could draw upon that money. Let's say it involves free healthcare for a lifetime, free tuition for college, free access to graduate schools, free library memberships, et cetera. And it could just be that rather than receiving money in a form of a discreet payout that African-Americans or the injured parties can draw down on the credit they have in the US government. And that would change the very nature of governance to know that formerly oppressed peoples are essentially creditors and that the US government is a debtor owing money to them.
Michael Ralph: And, you know, I know that some people don't think that it's quite that simple. I don't believe in throwing money at the problem but I sort of wanna close with a quote by the literary there by Terry Eagleton who says that people talk about what money can buy but there's one thing that money can buy and that's socialism, you know, and I think, when we think about what reparations would mean to transform the very nature of governance, it would actually mean that governance in the US government would sort of make social institutions available to certain formerly oppressed people who it feels it owes, to which it owes a tremendous debt. So I'll stop there so you can open up for Q&A but I welcome your insights, thoughts, and critiques. Thank you.
Bertrall Ross: Thanks so much Michael, and I appreciate your presentation in terms of bringing this from the philosophical and abstract to the concrete and the latter part of your presentation in terms of thinking about it as a form of stimulus is a reminder that the best form of stimulus are, is given to those who need it the most. And it could have this broader positive economic effect that we're probably perhaps not thinking most clearly about. What I think that leads me to in terms of Q&A right now. And I wanna kinda, first turn into an audience question and again, encourage others who are out there listening to send your questions via the chat function on Facebook and YouTube. But I think it kind of jumps off of Michael's presentation, quite well. Nicoli Schreiber asks: “What's the best way to provide reparations today operationally speaking? Is it possible to give property or home loans to descendants of slavery today?” And I'll kind of open that up to all the panelists and I guess we'll kind of lead off with Michael and then we'll kind of go to Jovan and Katherine after that, to see what their, what your thoughts are.
Michael Ralph: Yeah, so yeah, I definitely think it's possible but what I would start is actually like we could calculate, as Katherine showed a chart about home ownership differentials and, you know, we could actually quantify, to some extent, the capital sort of the differential between sort of home ownership among white and black you know, residents, taxpayers, et cetera, and sort of point to the decades that African-Americans been denied that opportunity to own homes and generate wealth. Or we could look at the net effect of predatory lending, you know, over the past few decades, there's various ways to do this. And I think, yet, there would be, it would be worthy of redress even just to think about all the sort of predatory and sort of racially exploitative practices African-Americans are having to deal with, right? But then also, yeah, for sure. It's possible. And I think part of what makes it possible is that the US government does not have to cut a check to give people reparations. Something like say college tuition or healthcare. These things are based on a kind of projection of cost, but in the short term it's about just making those things available.
Michael Ralph: There's a way to restructure healthcare for instance, that could give people extraordinarily, extraordinary discount on care and yet not make it more expensive you know, and if we were to sort of be more critical of, let's say, government welfare to corporations or things like that, or even government defense spending there's all kinds of ways to think about where capital is being channeled and kind of hoarded and other places where capital is being sort of diverted from, you know, so I don't think it's possible and not only possible, but it makes good sense as you're saying, you know, Bertrall because as any economist or anyone who studies any society can tell you the best way to grow a society is to give the most support and resources to the most vulnerable, you know, so the youngest member of that society, and then also the most at-risk people that will grow society overall because you'll diminish the problems that eventually impact everybody, so.
Bertrall Ross: Jovan.
Jovan Scott Lewis: Yeah, so thank you. And thank you for your presentation Michael, you know, based upon what you've provided for us today, Michael, right? My view as far as what reparations should look like is cash, right? I mean, if we're thinking that there is an injury that is being compensated for. What does it mean to actually try and set the terms or to kind of reinscribe existing expectations for what, you know citizenship looks like, or what have you and tie that, right, to you know, kind of the repair of an injury? The truth is that, you know, thinking from within the context of the lottery scam what happened with, you know, the guys I worked with, right? Think of it this way: if you work in a call center at Amazon, or for Amazon in Jamaica, at best, you're making $1 an hour US, right? And this is pretax, pre-transportation fees, all of these kinds of things. So that's the best that one could do. Now, here are a group of scammers, well I'll speak about scamming, generally in 2011 alone, the year that I began my fieldwork scamming brought in 300 million US dollars into the Jamaican economy. And for the groups that I worked with, right? They were bringing in anything was in a 10 figure, you know, area, every month, every couple of months, what have you, what did they do, right? They invested in their children's education. They went and they built, they bought property, they built homes, right? They did these kinds of things, the kinds of things that people with money do, right? And so, you know, this idea that somehow that we need to tie to reparations some kind of social program that is meant to kind of also repair people, right? Then what we have is something that is no different than reconstructional, what we have is something that's no different than, you know previous administrative attempts to kind of fix a problem which in the process, you're causing more problems.
Jovan Scott Lewis: So in the book, I talk about how we can think about the kind of long legacy of emancipation and the moments of independence and so forth that followed as a kind of relationship of reciprocity. So what happened is that in every moment that say a colonial power provided some kind of liberty, right? To subjugate its subjects, that colonial power often if, not often, always, got something much, much more in return right? If we're thinking about what emancipation did on the plantation or for the plantation economy but what it did was it created a generation of peasant workers and low wage workers whose low wages also helped to suppress the wages of other people who might not have been enslaved. If we're thinking about what happened with independence in the Caribbean and all across the colonized world, well, each independent nation then became almost immediately a customer for IMF service loans, right? And so in each moment of independence what was granted to the colonizing power, right? Or to the power that was subjugating those parties was actually a greater return. And so my worry is that something that reparations does something like that again. And so, you know, if we are thinking from a moral standpoint, I didn't get a chance to talk about morality too much, but if we're thinking from a moral standpoint that there is an injury and the injury needs to be accommodated and accounted for, then what we do is we're adding increased injury to my view at least, at least what the scammers taught me by setting, you know, by adding strings, right? To the terms of reparations. So for me, it's about money, right? And you know what and it's the liberty to actually do with that money, what you will, you know I shout out the very fantastic Dave from several years ago, where he actually talks about reparations and what folks did with it was so bizarre, but you know what a liberated subject has that right. You have the right to spend the money that you have and that you deserve and that you're owed in any which way that you want.
Bertrall Ross: Thank you Jovan, Katherine.
Katherine Franke: First of all, I just wanna thank my other co-panelists. This has just been a fantastic panel and I'm making lots of notes. I'm learning so much from Jovan and Michael, so thank you. You know, for me, it's nice to bust out of the law school and talk to people in other disciplines. I'm sure you know that to Bertrall. So one of the things that I recommend in repair is that we think about increasing the estate tax. We're in the midst of kind of midway through the largest, most enormous intergenerational wealth transfer that we've ever seen on this planet, of people my parents' age to people my age. And I see that as a kind of, you know, to go back to Jovan framing, a kind of lottery that I got lucky or people like me got lucky to be born to parents who's invested in real estate or their parents did. And I have no greater claim, moral claim to that wealth than do others who didn't have that luck in terms of who they were born, what family they were born into and so capturing that intergenerational unjust enrichment that's passing from hand to hand right now strikes me as a place where we could capture a fair amount of money without having to go to the government to do it. The government's the mechanism by which the private capture is accomplished but it's not, so-called a government program. And I think it would also force a kind of reckoning on behalf of white people about their entitlement to accumulated wealth that, and advantage that often we don't take the opportunity to reflect on.
Katherine Franke: And so in many respects, I wrote this book for white people to kind of take stock of our responsibility for accumulated advantage. And then what I recommend we do in part with those funds that are captured through an increased estate tax. And again, we don't have to increase it to 100%, but it's right now at remarkably low levels, thus creating a kind of dynasties among families who transfer wealth through two or three generations. But I recommend that we think about community land trusts, that we think about land ownership in the black community that is collective land ownership, that takes housing out of a for-profit market, that puts into the hands of black communities. Decisions not only about where they live but what their schools look like, energy independence, urban farms. I look at what's going on in places like Detroit and Jackson, Mississippi, and Baltimore. There are a lot of really interesting collective land ownership projects going on in black communities, where there's a divestment from certain areas and an investment in the black community. So it's not just about writing cheques and creating individual wealth, but it's about building both wealth and power in the community. And then collectively decisions are made about what to do with that wealth and power. So I find those to be attractive options for thinking about what we might do as one of the forms of reparations.
Bertrall Ross: Katherine, your response is a very natural lead into a question that's asked from another audience member. And before I go to that other audience member, there’s a couple of points that are made sort of why not direct payments? Why shouldn't this be proposed as cash reparations? So there seems to be, you know, some thoughts and ideas in favor of cash reparations form of system. But the question that kind of jumps off to your point Katherine, is raised by Atalay Usmonogu, sorry if I mispronounce your name, I'm sure I did: “Should we and can we give descendants of former slaves, their own state they can rule and managed by themselves where they are the only state government in order for them to have peace and prosperity?” I'll start with Katherine .
Katherine Franke: Can we, and should we, I guess those are two very big different questions. And if the questioner spells her name like my colleague Johnson, I'm happy to be reminded of her as well but well, you know, that was the original decision, that was the original option that Lincoln and other colonists had of how we would solve the slavery problem after the war is that Lincoln himself believed that we couldn't all live together. And so much better option, in his view, was to recolonize black people back to Africa, or when that seemed either too expensive or nonstop practical, to settle people out West and out West at that point met Kansas or Iowa. And it was premised upon the white idea of the colonization societies in the US for the most part, although there were certainly some black adherence to this view that living together would be impossible and maybe they were right. Maybe they were right, that the kind of repair that was needed then and remains a wound in this society is one that would necessitate separation of the races rather than the failed liberal promise of something like brown vs board of education. But can we? I think that's a much more difficult question than should we? In some respects, I would be curious to see where Michael and Jovan land on that question.
Bertrall Ross: Let me turn to you Jovan or Michael, Michael you're itching.
Michael Ralph: No, I would say at first I think I liked Jovan's answer to the last question and in relation to this question, 'cause I think first you know, not all black people are sort of people, from African descent, agree on what is to be done. Like some would want to live in a kind of sovereign black nation, even if it was in the US in a different state or others would not want to. But I also think that there's the question about what it would mean for the government to decide to do that - to Katherine's point - but there's also the question of whether even such an idea could work in practical terms. Not because by who wouldn't be able to construct that society or would want not want it but also, I think we've seen historically that examples of black autonomy have been essentially attacked and dismantled, you know. I think these people often invoke as like Black Wall Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1920s, things like that.
Michael Ralph: So I think what that, those examples demonstrate is that even when black people are minding their business, trying to be sovereign autonomous, trying to consolidate resources they can still face all kinds of violent assaults from, you know, domestic terrorism and whiteness mobs and vigilantes, things like that. So it's not clear to me what it would mean for that kind of policy to be secure, right? On, say, US terms. So just from a practical standpoint, I'm curious about what all of that would entail. But I think that ultimately, ultimately it’s kind of a contradiction there we’re sort of expecting to be safe as a black community, as a black policy, when black people aren't safe in US society or something like that. So I think it's the kind of thing, like I'd be wary of making a decision on behalf of all black people, but also I think whether or not someone agrees with the idea in the abstract you'd have to grapple with the idea in more practical terms. That's it.
Bertrall Ross: Thanks, Michael Jovan.
Jovan Scott Lewis: Yeah, so short answer, no, right? And again, going back to the idea of what people do when they have money, right? So let's think about the autonomous sovereign spaces that is the all white neighborhood today, right? This is what people do. These are the geographies that they produce, you know, with the resources that they have available to them. And so, you know, we have to, of course, you know, Michael had a brilliant statement at the beginning of his talk where he said you know, “We're talking about here in terms of reparations is a stolen people on stolen land.” And that latter aspect has to be addressed, right? I mean, and that's the elephant in the room in many ways, or at least perhaps the, you know, the an expected elephant that will arrive in a room at some point. Because we can’t actually start thinking about, you know, these questions about land and land based operations and the formations of States and these kinds of things until we reconcile with native dispossession. You know, I, as I mentioned or as you mentioned, I guess, Bertrall in your reading of my bio, you know, I've been thinking about Oklahoma and specifically a lot about Indian territory and what kind of possibilities, right? So Michael talking about Black Wall Street, you know, Black Wall Street in Greenwood and Tulsa was facilitated, right? By the allotment, right?
Jovan Scott Lewis: The forced transformation of collective sovereign land in spite of it being, right, developed as a result of Indian removal. But nevertheless, right, the Dawes Act demanded the kind of privatization of native property in a way that enabled for allotments to be sold, right? And enabled the development of a place like Black Wall Street or Greenwood that, you know, develops the fame Black Wall Street. So we can't actually think about this notion. We can't really entertain this notion of land, of what we can do with land in this way until we begin to incorporate, you know, a more comprehensive program that deals with the kind of territorial dispossession that is at the root of so many forms of racial violences that have shaped this country's history.What I think, you know, Michael rightly brings up this whole idea of sovereign space and in many ways that's the other question that we have to begin to entertain. It seems as if where politics are, our racial politics are, especially from within the kind of black political movements that we are so now familiarized with today, we're still wrestling in this country with the question of freedom, right? And we haven't even yet began to entertain the notion of what it means to be black and sovereign, right?
Jovan Scott Lewis: What does it mean to no longer be somehow in some way, beholden to the state? And I think, you know, reparations is the first step of thinking about that. Now one answers that we have to kind of look back to the, you know, to the Pan-African roots of our black social movements in this country, right? The notion that somehow that black politics in the United States has always been a kind of parochial, right? Or nationalist politics is entirely incorrect, right? Let's always remember that W. E. B. Du Bois the first Pan-African Congress before he started the NAACP, right? These are the things that, you know, and those kinds of global black politics were a part of the founding of black American politics. So sovereignty is a question that we have to kind of ask and, you know, address when we start thinking about this idea of forming the idea of a state but to get there, we also have to reconcile this question of native dispossession. How do we bring about a sense of repair, if not reparation, right? 'Cause there's a legal history there that makes that a little bit more complicated but we have to wrestle with that question first.
Bertrall Ross: Let me stick with you Jovan. And then we'll kind of extend this to the rest of the panelists. 'Cause one of these questions is more general that is applicable to everyone and then one's more specific to you in your presentation. So the first question that general and applicable to everyone is Linda Sader asks, “Who are the injured persons? Does that include every person who could have been a descendant of slavery?” And then the more specific question from -- is to Jovan's presentation and it's related: “Are you suggesting that Jamaican should receive reparations from the United States even though the United States did not enslave them?” So let me start with you Jovan, and then we'll extend this to everyone else.
Jovan Scott Lewis: Sure, so the first question, you know the injury, and this is what I learned from the lottery scammers, right? The claim of injury, right? Is held in the person, right? And we have to think about the way that blackness works simultaneously as a kind of individualized subjectivity and a collective subjectivity, right? So wherever the black individual goes, that black individual is always and already a black collective, right? And so in a way, from a kind of a very meaningful way, right? So when George Floyd was murdered, he was murdered because of the individuality of his person but also the collective blackness that he represents, right? Or represented but also now represents, however, in a different way. You know, so when we're thinking about the person who is injured it's about the ability to recognize the ongoing possibility for injury, right? We have three black professors on this call, right? And there is nothing about that positionality that protects us depending on where we are in this country, right? And so what that means is that even if we may not have specifically felt in this moment or in a previous moment, an act of injury or an act of harm, we are always vulnerable to that very specific kind of harm that has everything to do with who and what we are.
Jovan Scott Lewis: And so what I learned from the lottery scam is that if we continue to kind of think about the moment of slavery, right? Or these previous moments, right? Then what happens is there a whole host of loopholes that get produced, right? Well, my parents weren't around back then. I wasn't around back then, right? And this goes into the second question, right? So, which is specific to me, let's remember that, you know, majority or not a majority but, you know, a good proportion of enslaved Africans who ended up in Virginia first passed through Jamaica and were broken in Jamaica. So in many ways we can think about the roots of American enslavement in the Caribbean, right? So this is just one example, it's a kind of cheeky example, but it's a meaningful example that demonstrates the kind of globality of this, right? So we tend to think of certain nations, like Scandinavian nations as not actually being slave nations but guess what, you know, you provided the timber, you provided the copper that ended up producing slave ships, right? So there is this imbrication, right? And it's really complicated. And so the work that Katherine and Michael are doing is really important to untangle some of that, but there is this complicity, right? That it cannot be, you know, it should not be reduced to some kind of nationalist discourse.
Jovan Scott Lewis: To put it very bluntly, 'cause if you do so you end up leaving money on the table, right? Because there are a whole host of parties that are in effect complicit. And in effect are beneficiaries of the industry of slavery. 'Cause it's important to remember that slavery, right? Was a business, right? We think of slavery as this kind of moral thing where people were being mean to other people or something, no slavery was a function that facilitated the development of commerce and industry. So in other words, we can't think about, you know the iPhone that I just bought last week without thinking about it being a part of the legacy of slavery. And so to my mind, that means it requires a kind of, we have to increase the scope actually of determining who owes what to who, right? And you're right, the kind of determination of who ends up being paid.
Bertrall Ross: Thank you Jovan. Katherine, do you wanna engage the question who are the injured persons? and does that include every person who could have been a descendant of slavery?
Katherine Franke: I first wanna say that in many ways, there are amazing people working on this issue in the black community. And I think ultimately that question is one for members of the black community to decide not for us to take a vote nationwide. That said, I have a view that can help perhaps inform that decision. There is, many of the viewers are probably aware, there's a huge split in the community of people who work on this issue. And it's one about whether you have to have a DNA, a genetic connection to someone who was enslaved to be a direct descendant from someone who was enslaved, the ADOS movement feels that very strongly, the American Descendants of Slaves. And there are other groups that feel quite strongly that actually, no, this is not about being able to prove the genetic descendants from a particular individual who was enslaved, we're talking about a remedy for something much broader.
Katherine Franke: And I tend to land more in that latter category that reparations and repair are for the impossibility of black freedom that we can trace back to the period when slavery was legal and practice more widely than it is now and where all black people were always already enslavable in ways that white people never were. And so I feel broadly that, I feel myself that reparations should be available for black people not just the descendants of enslaved people nevermind the practical problems of limiting reparations only to those who can prove a DNA related connection to someone who is enslaved because those records don't exist. So we're in talk, you know, Jovan talks a lot about loopholes, I think, leaning on science to resolve what are the harder moral questions also leaves too much money on the table and exonerates too many people. And so it's impractical to do, but I also think it's probably, it's not the right way to approach the problem to rely on DNA, to define the scope of those who were deserving. Those who were entitled of some kind of repair.
Bertrall Ross: Thank you, Katherine, Michael.
Michael Ralph: Yeah, I also agree with the sentiment my co-panelists, and I think it's not about the DNA in the stricter sense because it's about legalizing slavery and about you know, what that meant for even say freed people like Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and sold in slavery, or could have been kidnapped and sold to slavery, or for all the injuries stemming from enslavement that reverberated throughout, you know sort of predatory lending, Jim Crow, all these various things that all black people have to contend with. Whether, no matter how they identify or even all people suspected of being black, they're viewed as black, et cetera. So I think ultimately when we talk about that's what we're talking about so therefore is much, is about much more than tracing your descent. I also think that in terms of, you know, the flip side of the question of who is in the party? Who are the victims? Is like, whom must pay for this? And who is accountable? And I was thinking like, as my other panelists were talking, what if there was like a financial version of 23 where every white family had to submit their tax records over the generations, and someone could figure out if they were tied in. What we'd find probably is that so many people are connected to the history of slavery who don't think of themselves or their ancestors as having been slave holders or something, you know, and I think that in the same way that the over majority of white people in this country have benefited from slavery over majority of black people in this country have suffered somehow and been injured by enslavement and its legacy. And so for that reason, I think, yeah, it's, we can dig into this question and sort of establish who owes what to whom, but it will be something more broad than something strictly into the DNA. It's more about the sort of political category of whiteness and political category of blackness and what that has meant for the people who are sort of routinely sort of conscripted to those roles is sort of like recruited to those roles or something like that. So ultimately, you know, those are the people who benefit and the people who are injured and therefore that's sort of how we must adjudicate those debts.
Bertrall Ross: So I wanna apologize for not being able to get to all of the questions that are asked on Facebook and YouTube, but thank you all for joining us but I wanna thank most of all the panelists for pushing this conversation forward through their deep information, deep knowledge on this subject and willing to engage a controversial issue in such a sophisticated and learned way. And I think it's important that we think of this not only in the abstract as Michael says, but as in the concrete. These are issues that we should be continually struggling with in both the conversational space but also in the policy space. I wish we were all here together in person so that we can get the much, much deserved round of applause for your contributions to this conversation. But in the absence of that, I will clap in my bedroom with echos and thank you all for being here with us. And hope that we will be able to do this again sometime soon as we continue to have these conversations on this important issue. Thank you all out there and have a good evening.