Fall 2015 Speaker Series

Race, Time and Punishment

Interdisciplinary by nature, the initiative examines how racial inequalities are experienced as impositions on human time, how resistance to white supremacy is frequently figured in temporal terms and how segregated spaces correspond to segregated time. The theme was especially timely in a contemporary era of mass incarceration where questions of who does time in what can only contestably be called “our” time can frequently be indexed by race.

More broadly, racial stigma functions as an identifier of who precisely is anachronistic, less evolved and “behind the times.” Hence the invited speakers took up a range of questions related to what connotes membership in the human race, and how the extended lifetimes of the racially dominant groups considered fully human are often parasitic upon the foreshortened lives of racial others. At stake politically are issues of racial justice that become dramatized when we investigate who gets to tell who to wait for goods and services, whose lives are viewed as disposable and disavowed politically and economically, and how categories such as “temporary migrant laborers” (typically ascribed to immigrant populations) signify a racialized status of indefinite rightlessness. Segregated time is a salient feature of the present economy where both incarcerated laborers and immigrant workers frequently labor to make the accouterments of what we take to be the cutting edge of 21st century digital capitalism.

All the above themes raise the volume on Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous truism that “justice deferred is justice denied” while amplifying the ways in which unfairly punitive policies result in the proliferation of human disposability on display in repeated scenes of police brutality. These disciplinary tactics effectively serve as a denial of the right of non-whites to be co-eval and represent injustices that all partisans of transracial democracy must contest in what King aptly termed “the fierce urgency of now.”