On Defining a Reparations Activist



In formulating criteria for inclusion of those activists I include in the definition and selection of reparations activists interviewed, I draw on the definition of oppositional consciousness developed by professors of political science and sociology respectively, Jane Mansbridge and Aldon Morris. (1) They define oppositional consciousness as “an empowering mental state that prepares members of an oppressed group to undermine, reform, or overthrow a dominant system”; asserting that: “it is usually fuelled by righteous anger over injustices done to the group and prompted by personal indignities and harms suffered through one’s group membership”. (2)They go on to state that at a minimum, oppositional consciousness includes the following four elements of :“identifying with members of a subordinated group, identifying injustices done to the group, opposing those injustices, and seeing the group as having a shared interest in ending or diminishing those injustices”. (3)

The term ‘activist’ itself is contentious, as to who is an activist and what actions can be defined as activism are often contested. Nevertheless, by taking into consideration the views and perspectives of those 35 reparations activists and advocates that have been interviewed in my attempt to develop a definition and criteria for inclusion of activists I have come up with the following definition.

A reparations activist is someone who meets the following criteria:

1. They display a high level of historical as well as oppositional consciousness;
2. Their oppositional consciousness is directed at taking action, with other members of their affinity group, to repair wrongs or injustices and/or redress the harmful legacies of enslavement and colonisation;
3. Such action results in bringing about social, cultural, or political change; and
4. This change occurs through:
a) Taking oppositional stances to establishment policies that are deemed negative;
b) Challenging structures and systems of power and domination considered to be responsible for the perpetration of the enduring injustices caused by enslavement, colonisation and their legacies; and/or
c) Creating alternatives to the dominant values, system, structures or institutions.

The important point to note about the above criteria for inclusion is that not all those who are considered to be reparations activists by others, or indeed define themselves as reparations activists are necessarily included in the criteria that has been subsequently established for the purposes of this research. If it is accepted that that reparations are most meaningful in their holistic sense, then any action that someone does which contributes to the fundamental undermining and eventual uprooting of systems of disrepair arising from enslavement and colonisation can be considered a reparations action.

The key aspects being advocated in the above criteria is that a reparations activist is someone who takes action that advances the cause of holistic reparations, even if they are fully conscious of it or not. In her own assessment for inclusion, I opine that it is more useful to look at the actions that have been or are being undertaken rather than how individuals define themselves.

(1) See Jane Manbridge and Adrian Morris, ‘Oppositional Consciousness: The Subjective Roots of Social Protest’ (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

(2) Ibid, p173.

(3) Op. Cit.

Feel free to comment on this definition be emailing E.stanford-xosei@chi,ac.uk

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