Race, Property, Debt: A Symposium

For friends who are near the Madison, Wisconsin area and its neighboring cities (Chicago, I’m looking at you), there’s an upcoming symposium—Race, Property, Debt—that I co-organized with Vincent Lloyd at the University of Wisconsin, Madison on March 11 and 12. You can RSVP to the Facebook event here and the event website with the list of presenters and paper titles is here. I’ve reposted the longer event description below:

In the six years since the nadir of the Great Recession, debt has attracted wide scholarly attention. Debt names not only student loans, underwater mortgages, and consumer credit but also, more significantly, a form of life molded by debt: the everyday practices, desires, virtues, and vices of the indebted. Debt is not colorblind: in the United States, Blacks and Latinos are affected most severely.

Race and debt have long been connected, and together entwined with property. Classically, in The Merchant of Venice, it is the racial other, the Jew, who demanded repayment of debt in flesh when property was unavailable. Treating flesh as property was the principle animating the slave trade, a business sustained by debt secured by Black human “property.” Post-emancipation, Black sharecroppers remained tied down by debt and by lack of property ownership. The hyper-incarceration of poor Blacks today justifies itself by extracting a debt owed to society. Calls for reparations claim that society owes a debt to Blacks or to other communities that have suffered injustices.

This symposium brings together a dozen leading scholars of history, literature, anthropology, and law to reflect on the conjunction of race, property, and debt. Looking both at and beyond Black experience in the Great Recession, presenters will share their own research and place it in dialogue with the research of colleagues, clarifying the often elusive spider-web of concepts and practices that entangle, entrap, and ruin the lives of people of color in the US and beyond. All conference presentations will be free and open to the public.

Detailed schedule coming soon. Presenters will discuss pre-circulated papers on Friday (RSVP to vwlloyd@syr.edu or amaryah.armstrong@gmail.com to receive them in advance); community discussion to follow on Saturday.

Devin Fergus (African American Studies, Ohio State)
Cheryl Harris (Law, UCLA)
K-Sue Park (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid)
Jodi Melamed (English, Marquette)
Shana Redmond (American Studies and Ethnicity, USC)
Tayyab Mahmud (Law, Seattle)
Thomas Mitchell (Law, Wisconsin / Texas A&M)
Joanne Barker (American Indian Studies, San Francisco State)
Joshua Dubler (Religion, Rochester)
Anne-Maria Makhulu (Anthropology, Duke)
Lynn Itagaki (English, Ohio State)
Cedric Johnson (African American Studies, Illinois-Chicago)

Co-Sponsors: Institute for Research in the Humanities and Comparative U.S. Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison