June 16, 2022

CRITIQUE Lecture – Reparations Unbound? 1 June 2023, 3 pm

Reparations Unbound? Dilemmas of Dismantling Racial Injustice

A CRITIQUE Lecture by Lawrie Balfour, University of Virginia, John G. Winant Visiting Professor of American Government, Oxford University

Demands for reparations for slavery, colonialism, and their legacies are not new. Where these demands were long dismissed as divisive, impractical, or simply unthinkable, however, calls for reparations now issue from a wide range of political and civic leaders and institutions. Focusing on arguments circulating in the U.S., this paper considers three pitfalls of reparations’ newfound respectability: 1) proposals to close the racial wealth gap that do not address the racially predatory nature of the economy; 2) proposals that frame repair as an integrationist project that does not require the reordering of white political imaginations; and 3) proposals that rely on and reinforce narratives of national redemption. In each case, I contend, arguments that explicitly or tacitly bind reparations to problematic features of the present guarantee their own failure and risk doing more harm than good. I conclude by exploring what David Scott calls “a politics and poetics” of reparations as articulated by Black radical activists and artists whose imaginations are not confined by what is conceivable within existing political, legal, or economic structures. I suggest why only visions of reparations unbound have the potential to make reconstructive change.

Location: SSPS Chrystal Macmillan Violet Laidlaw Room 6.02, Floor 6.