Projects

Disinherited, Dispossessed, and Decapitalized: The Limits of Black Wealth in America, 1619-2019 begins with the question: Why – fifty years after key Civil Rights victories and 150 years after Emancipation – do Black Americans, on average, have one-tenth the wealth of white Americans? Its leading contention is that obstacles to Black income, wealth, and the intergenerational transfer of wealth and advantage are structural features of the American economy. Instead of viewing African American history in terms of freedom and civil rights, Disinherited, Dispossessed, and Decapitalized follows the money or more precisely opportunities to earn income, accumulate wealth, and pass down advantages to the next generation. To make sense of that history, the book explores three sequential eras: colonial disinheritances; nineteenth-century dispossessions of health, family, and income; and the last century of decapitalization, meaning exclusions from economic security programs and wealth stripping or race-based surcharges on opportunities.

Disinherited, Dispossessed, and Decapitalized takes as its starting point Ta-Nehisi Coates’s contention that “The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history.” Disinheritance characterized the colonial era as enslavers severed the transmission of wealth from one generation of African-descended Americans to the next. Slavery stripped the children of enslaved mothers of claims to the wealth piled up by their parents’ toils. Instead, slavery made those children inheritable property and bound them to lives of unpaid labor. Dispossession spanned the nineteenth century, before and after emancipation. Dispossession was the systematic theft of black earnings, the erosion of productive capacities through violence and ill health, and the disarticulation of African-descended families. Decapitalization has been the theme of the last 100 years. The United States launched a project of managed capitalism in the 1930s. But while economic security became a birthright of white citizens, African Americans were subject to the free market. Remarketization since the 1970s locked in some gains for white Americans while throwing up new hurdles to African Americans in terms of housing, opportunity, and criminal justice.


The Slaves We Eat is book and exhibit project exploring a 350-year history of slavery and coerced labor in sugar, cotton, and shrimp focusing on the making of global supply chains, how slavery is hidden at their base, and how they reveal slavery’s continuities. By SlavesWeEatlinking the pedestrian acts of buying a bag of sugar, cotton blouse, or tray of shrimp to the chains that create value while forcing down labor costs, we can see how slavery survived emancipation.

Nearly three centuries ago a Philadelphia abolitionist condemned those who ate “the flesh and blood of slaves instead of Christ.” It was a potent contention linking slaves’ distant toil and the substance of what we consume.  This book takes that metaphor as a starting point to examine three and a half centuries of slavery through the supply chains of sugar, cotton, and shrimp. It argues that slavery survived its legal termination and that slave-made goods and services are present in much of what we consume.
            The Slaves We Eat is a human history of managers and forced laborers focusing on the developments linking consumers’ pedestrian acts of buying a bag of sugar, a cotton blouse, or a tray of shrimp to the violence that make those commodities affordable for so many. It links regimes of slave labor over time using supply chain management, historicizing a central focus of business studies today and pinpointing how slavery was baked into early modern supply chains and why those linkages persisted through eras of emancipation. The central historical claim is that the 25 million people enslaved today are legatees of a process responsible for 12 million captives embarked in the transatlantic slave trade and millions more forced toil in slave labor camps in the Americas and beyond. More here: www.theslavesweeat.com


Writing Slavery:  Race, Bondage, and Narrative in Nineteenth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, under contract) contends that literature, including novels, autobiographies, and other stories shaped a narrative of slavery that emerged before the American Civil War. Within that narrative were conflicting scripts. Pro-slavery plantation romancers contributed a portrait of happy slaves in an idylic setting. African-descended Americans disputed that paternalist account, writing vehement denunciations of slavery as a landscape of terror and violence. Anti-slavery novelists drew from both scripts, accepting some of the plantation romance’s racism while using its aesthetics to argue that slavery took unfair advantage of African-descended people. That narrative came to life again after the Civil War as Americans argued about what the war meant and whether black Americans deserved anything but freedom. Writing Slavery traces the strands of those narratives through time, from plantation romances of the 1820s to racial realism of the 1890s.