In These Times: ‘Race and Repair’

Season 2 of The School of Arts & Science podcast “In These Times” features experts about how institutions have perpetuated racial hierarchies. Higher education is no exception. The final two episodes, titled Repair, features students and faculty discussing the work that comes next.

Drawing of books, an African American student’s face, a diploma, a fist in the air.
Image: Adriana Bellet

Episode 6 features Carson Eckhard, an undergraduate student whose research with the Penn & Slavery Project reveals truths about the relationship between higher education and the perpetuation of scientific racism, and Ian Peebles, a graduate student whose work on bioethics and philosophy of race can offer insights on health disparities and how we might address them.

Episode 7 continues the conversation about how institutions can perpetuate racial inequalities and the work that remains. The guests are Breanna Moore, a graduate student whose family has been touched by Penn and slavery across generations, Daniel Wodak, a philosopher who weighs the past and future when it comes to the case for reparations, and Tulia Falleti, a political scientist whose focus on community and repair is not new, but particularly urgent.

Episode 6 highlights:

7:08: [Carson Eckhard] “I think one thing that’s so important about this work is that it’s never going to be finished. There’s no point at which this research is ever going to be complete. And so my hope is certainly that the project continues and continues to grow. I’ve been so inspired by some of the work that’s been happening in the past year or so on the project. And I think maybe even more so than the project continuing is the continued response of the university to the project. I personally have been really, really relieved that the Penn Museum and the university has finally committed to dismantling the Morton [skull] collection and to repatriating those crania and finding descendant communities where possible. That work came about in part because of activist-oriented research like that at the Penn & Slavery Project, and also because of the work of West Philadelphia activists.”

10:34: [Ian Peebles] “So for example, in the philosophy of race, there’s a live debate about how we should conceptualize racism. Is it an ideology? Is it primarily about motivations, our behavior, our thoughts? And depending on how you conceptualize racism will depend on what you take to be racist. And because there isn’t really consensus on this, I think that sometimes it’s difficult to have unity in the social scientific literature.”

Episode 7 highlights:

5:13: [Breanna Moore] So just thinking about the legacies of access to education, thinking about my grandmother’s story, she only was able to go to school when it rained, because when it wasn’t raining, she had to work in the field. She had to pick cotton. And so for me, the most important thing about participating with the Penn & Slavery Project augmented reality tour, and telling the legacy of my family and my grandmother, I’m looking at the direct correlation to the legacies of slavery and inequality that’s persistent in AfricanAmerican communities.

9:03: [Daniel Wodak] If I steal your watch, then I have to give you your watch back. I owe you your watch. And I owe you your watch not because I’m redistributing wealth. It’s actually just not my watch. I’m in possession of stolen goods. … 9:57: And so even though now the person who is in possession of the watch is not a thief, and even though your heir was never the victim of theft, it’s still the case the watch has to return to the heir as just a straightforward application of property rights. So this way, I mean, the natural analog obviously for thinking about reparations in the context of racial justice, is just to focus on all of the forms of historical expropriation, which include most obviously slavery, but also a lot of the practices and the postreconstruction era that involved straight-forward expropriation of Black Americans.

15:48: [Tulia Falleti] These questions of invisibilization of certain populations had been brewing for some time, and it was in the context of writing an essay about that, that I read a book by an American political theorist, Robert Nichols titled “Theft is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory.” And as I was reading this book, it became quite apparent that the struggle to this structured racism and the demands for justice that we were seeing in the wake of the assassination of George Floyd, as well as other African-American young people in the U.S., were quite analogous to the demands for territory and for justice, that native groups in particular in the U.S. had been advocating for a long time.

Listen to the podcasts in full at Omnia.