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The Time Is (Never) Right for Reparations

Venue: Online

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America’s long history of unreconstructed racial atrocity demands a peculiar relationship to time. For more than three centuries, debates over reparations to Black Americans have raged in courts and legislatures and across the social sciences, humanities, and the law. Nowhere are the oddities of American time on richer display than in the temporal vitiation of reparations proposals, framed as either far ahead of their time or far too late to be relevant.

The time for reparations, it seems, will never be right. But what if the time is now? Bringing together concepts of time and haunting from sociology, anthropology, and literature with a new and painstaking economic accounting of the damages of mass incarceration in Black communities, I propose reparations as an essential strategy for grappling with the simultaneity of past and present. Based on the massive, definite, and readily quantifiable burdens that mass captivity has imposed on contemporary Black Americans—often quietly shunted to women and kept from view by their invisible labor—I argue for a multi-trillion-dollar federal reparations package.

About the speaker: Tasseli McKay is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Sociology at Duke University. Her most recent book, Stolen Wealth, Hidden Power: The Case for Reparations for Mass Incarceration (University of California Press, 2022), contends that the steep direct costs of mass-scale imprisonment are far overshadowed by its hidden harms, many of which have been kept out of sight by women’s reproductive labour. Her first book: Holding On: Family and Fatherhood During Incarceration and Reentry (University of California Press, 2019) with Megan Comfort, Christine Lindquist, and Anupa Bir is based on a mixed-method, longitudinal study of two thousand families separated by imprisonment. Much of her research focuses on the complicated relationship between the most common forms of violence—those that occur within families—and the government violence we deploy in the name of safety

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