University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Laurie Balfour

Lawrie Balfour

Professor, Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics

S395 Gibson Hall, 1540 Jefferson Park Ave


"Reparations: A Democratic Idea"

Project Summary:  Against critics who have repeatedly dismissed demands for reparations for slavery and its legacies as untimely or impractical, my book manuscript—Reparations: A Democratic Idea--argues that democratic citizens must engage in serious consideration of these demands before rejecting them. Not to do so is to fail to learn from traditions of African American political thought that have fundamentally shaped the history of political life in the United States as well as from global reparations movements. These movements join visions of reconstituted, multiracial polities to an insistence on confronting the connections between past practices and current forms of domination and injustice. As Salamishah Tillet remarks, “early twenty-first century calls for reparations invoke the past as a way of imagining and constructing a model of democracy for the future.”

As a Mellon fellow, I focused on writing a new chapter and revising existing chapters of the manuscript. The new essay, entitled “Living ‘in the Red’: Time and Debt in King’s Political Thought,” explores Martin Luther King, Jr.’s interpretation of the relationship between unredressed crimes of the past and the forms of racial and economic injustice that defined his present. In Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), in particular, King appears to endorse the idea of reparations explicitly. More significantly, the book joins his understanding of global justice to a philosophy of history in which today’s generation is doubly indebted to generations past and yet to come.

Project Update/Status:  This piece was invited for inclusion in an edited volume on King’s political philosophy; and I plan to rework it as a book chapter. In addition, I made revisions to a draft chapter, entitled “Repairing the Carceral Polity,” which asks how the language of reparations provides a way of understanding and responding to the costs of racialized policing and incarceration.