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Resistance & Reparative Justice

In imaginings about historical slavery, the West emerges as both villain and protagonist—simultaneously formulating the mechanisms of labor extraction and racial bondage that expanded empires in the Americas while erecting the rhetorical scaffolding leading to abolition of the slave trade and, eventually, slavery. Within this vision, liberalism (and the liberal subject), humanitarianism, and natural rights were “gifts” from the West to the world even if colonization, genocide, and the invention of race were the historical costs. This imaginary past elides the role of enslaved women and men in marshalling ritual and political resources in calls for abolition, autonomy, and sovereignty. This separate, but parallel, history of abolition—rooted in the resistance efforts of the enslaved—reshaped imperial maps, altered political discourse, and bent the arc of the moral universe decidedly towards justice. Non-western abolitionist framings and the insurgent geographies they cultivated became the fertile seedbed for the Haitian Revolution (an example of an “impossible history” in the Western mind), the general labor strikes and the slave rebellions at the core of the U.S. Civil War, the creation of new sovereign peoples (e.g., the Black Seminoles of Spanish Florida, the Freedmen of Oklahoma, and the Black Caribs of St. Vincent—among many others), and the presence of fugitive polities in Colombia, Suriname, Brazil, and Jamaica. Matching this level of political agency would be more contemporary activists seeking reparative justice measures or reparations for past harms due to slavey and its many afterlives. Combined, the political resonances of enslaved peoples and reparative justice advocates helped reshape the socio-political discourse and terrain in the Western Hemisphere. Closing out the seminar, this set of two sessions will assess historical and contemporary forms of abolition, political agency, resistance, and survival as both alternative transcripts of slavery and evidence of continuities—across the longue durée—of ameliorative and restorative social justice movements in the Black Atlantic.[1]


[1] Yesenia Barragan, Freedom’s Captives: Slavery and Gradual Emancipation on the Colombian Black Pacific (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021); Walter C. Rucker, Gold Coast Diasporas Identity, Culture, and Power. (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2015); Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995); W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Atheneum, 1935); Vincent Brown, Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020); Aisha K. Finch, Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016); Ana Lucia Araujo, Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2018).