Angela Glover Blackwell: (00:00)
Welcome to the Radical Imagination Podcast, where we dive into the stories and solutions that are fueling change. I'm your host, Angela Glover. Blackwell. Geographic space is a concept, encompasses many things. We could think about it in the context of being snatched from ancestral spaces or confined to spaces of forced labor. We could also think about it in the context of housing discrimination and spatial exclusion. Today in the fight for housing and land justice, many are calling for reparations for Black, indigenous, and other communities of color.
We want reparations because of a denial of housing. We want reparations because denial of jobs .
Angela Glover Blackwell: 0:49
The National African American Reparations Commission has called spatial reparations key in the movement towards global healing and reconstruction. They define spatial reparations as a restorative and reparative geography of socioeconomic and political opportunity, particularly for those displaced and dispossessed by American slavery and their descendants. Today we're going to dive into the concept of spatial reparations and how our understanding of space can broaden how we see reparations for marginalized communities. For more on this, we're joined by Rasheedah Phillips, Director of Housing at PolicyLink, a Research and Action Institute advancing Racial and Economic Equity. Rasheedah, welcome to Radical Imagination.
Rasheedah Phillips : 1:43
Thank you. Thanks for having me back.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 1:45
Oh, it's so good to be in conversation with you again. When we spoke on Radical Imagination last season, we were talking about housing justice and housing futures, and in that discussion we touched on something that you were beginning to think about in your own work, spatial reparations. So today I wanna dig deeper and really center this framework and how it connects to housing justice. But first, can you describe what spatial reparations is as a framework?
Rasheedah Phillips : 2:14
So spatial reparations is really thinking and talking about how we rectify the historical and ongoing injustices that are tied to housing and land disparities. And so when we're talking about spatial reparations, we're really referring to sort of a comprehensive and transformative set of approaches that help to address some of those , uh, historical injustices, particularly the ones that have disproportionately impacted black and brown communities in terms of access to resources, access to equitable living conditions, access to opportunities, particularly within specific geographic areas. And so that's where we get the spatial right. We're referring to both the land and the housing, all , all the things that encompass space and place. And it really starts by acknowledgement, acknowledging the systemic discrimination, the systemic harms that people have encountered. Things like red lining segregation, urban renewal, all the things that have led to the present day spatial disparities, and most importantly, right, taking it all the way back to Indigenous land theft and slavery and, and how our present day conditions connect to all of those things.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 3:17
We really are in a moment in which reparations are being discussed with more depth and more examples than we've ever seen in the past. And when we think about reparations, there's so many things starting from the foundation of this country to redlining that we've seen in recent decades to the housing crisis that we're looking at today. In particular, all of this on Black and Brown communities. So when we are thinking about successful initiatives happening around reparations today, how do you think the framework that you are describing fits in with the way the movement seems to be moving?
Rasheedah Phillips : 4:01
Yeah , as you said, right, the movement is growing. And I would just start off by saying for spatial reparations, it's really something that we should see as holistic, right? It, it intertwines with the broader reparations movement, it contains that sort of acknowledgement of specific injustice, right? It seeks to address a wide range of historical and systemic injustices that already includes things like housing, economic, educational, and social disparities in a way that those things are intertwined, right ? And really by focusing on those specific outcomes and impacts as they relate to land and housing, I think spatial reparations can help enrich that conversation and really promote a more comprehensive understanding of reparative justice.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 4:39
I agree that it helps to enrich the conversation. It forces a historical grounding in a sense, and it really lifts up something that we have always talked about a lot at PolicyLink, and that is the connection between race and place. So let's dig into this framework a little more and really lift up what the possibilities are that emerge from a framing of spatial reparations. What does it open up both in terms of thinking and in terms of possibility?
Rasheedah Phillips : 5:12
I would maybe start off by sharing some examples of where we're seeing local reparations initiatives start to really pick up. So for example, in Evanston , Illinois, they're offering reparations for past housing discrimination. And it's leading to sort of localized success, how they're defining reparations, how they're defining what it means and what it is for that local community. In particular, it funds housing grants for black residents who, you know, were in that community during a certain time period. How they can connect into federal policy, how they can connect into other national ways of thinking about policy .
Angela Glover Blackwell: 5:47
Do you have any other examples ? And would you include the land back movement, which calls for the return of ancestral indigenous lands to indigenous people? Is this part of the framework of spatial reparations?
Rasheedah Phillips : 6:00
Absolutely. So one of the things that we've been doing at PolicyLink as a part of this work and with the housing team has been working on focus groups to talk with practitioners and, and other folks who are advocates, academics, who are maybe calling this different things and may be reparative justice. They may be working on things like community land trusts or land back movements, right? And so part of the work that we're doing is figuring out what are the things, what are the key elements of what makes spatial reparations reparations, right? Some people believe that it has to have a financial compensation piece. Some people believe that, you know, it should not be connected necessarily to something that the government is providing you while other people believe that the government has to be redressing the harm. And so I would say that the land back movement, especially the , the work of Indigenous folks around rematriation and repatriation and what the land back movement looks like in black communities as well, those all fit under a larger umbrella of reparations and spatial reparations. But we really have to look at the specific programs, right, and the specific projects to see, again, if they're meeting those elements, because not everything is just gonna fit under a spatial reparations framework. And we wanna make sure that it is targeted to address the things at scale that we need reparations to redress .
Angela Glover Blackwell: 7:22
And one of the elements that is often included in preparations as an opener is acknowledgement. And the notion of acknowledgement as being important even before redress and other activities, really does take us into spatial because it is one thing to acknowledge the harm done to individuals in terms of stealing their labor, brutalizing, separation from culture and family and history. It is another, when we look at what happened in relationship to the land and the spatial connections even after slavery ended right up to this moment. There is so much about the spatial framing, Rashida, that I think forces the acknowledgement to go deeper to bring it more up to date . What do you think?
Rasheedah Phillips : 8:23
Yeah, I totally agree. And I think the time element, right? We're talking about the space element, but the time element is really key when we're talking about spatial reparations and reparations period. When are we talking about to when does the acknowledgement and the repair go back to, and a lot of people argue, you know, against their connection to reparations because they say things like, my family, I wasn't the one who enslaved, so why should we be repairing for that? But to your point, it's ongoing, it's an ongoing harm, it's there's new things happening every day. Um, it's happening across communities. So for example, in Philadelphia we saw through a project called the Rental Assistance Demonstration Project, which is a modern day sort of urban renewal project that comes through HUD that essentially privatizes public housing. And through that program, the Philadelphia Housing Authority and , and the city of Philadelphia displaced temporarily, supposedly, over 300 residents from a public housing site with the promise of bringing them back over 10 years of time. And it's like we haven't learned anything, right? In terms of like, what happens to low income people who are displaced from the land that they have lived on for 30 years? It doesn't matter if it's public housing or it's private housing or whatever it is, people have a connection to the place that they live and , and work and dream and all those things. So just to understand that these things are still happening and that the temporal element, right? We can't argue against ourselves to say that this has to be solely connected to slavery. But to say that slavery isn't cut off from the present, that legacy is intertwined with the present moment all , all the way up until now, and the land and housing is a perfect tangible way to get at that. I think
Angela Glover Blackwell: 10:16
Rashida, tell us how you are using your leadership around housing at PolicyLink to be able to totally integrate the work that we've been talking about in terms of spatial reparations
Rasheedah Phillips : 10:29
At PolicyLink, we work in all those different spaces, whether it's supporting movement work and coalition work, using art and cultural strategies to pull into our work alongside of really rigorous research and data and , and all those things. And so as an artist and as a person who has worked in abolitionist space with other folks, I was challenged to figure out how we integrate that into sort of a PolicyLink organizational vision. And really, it's honestly has not been as hard as it as it seems. I mean, the first time I heard about the word spatial reparations was from you, Angela, like our first meeting you mentioned that word . I was like, that is it. That is exactly what I need to be pursuing. And so the ethos was already here to sort of pursue that. And it just seemed like a perfect opportunity to push this work further, especially around housing where the prevailing narrative tends to be that we need housing to increase our wealth or housing is the mechanism to increase our wealth. And it's not usually seen as a mechanism for health, for culture, for family, for community. And that narrative is the key to what kind of policies flow from how we're thinking and envisioning what's possible based on these narratives that we've learned.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 11:38
I love hearing you talk about this. I teach a class, as you know, on race and public policy. And one of the things I try to get the students to understand is that as we embrace the quest for racial equity through public policy, we have to acknowledge that we are asking public policy to do something that it was never designed to do. And reparations can mean different things to different communities.
Rasheedah Phillips : 12:04
Angela Glover Blackwell: 12:04
Right now, a lot of what we're seeing is local reparations initiatives. California as a state being an exception to that, where the whole state seems to have taken it on through the commission and we'll see what happens. But as you think about how to scale up these smaller local initiatives to enact policy at the national level, what does that look like?
Rasheedah Phillips : 12:26
It's something that we're still trying to figure out as we work through this project. And that's what we're working on now at PolicyLink, a spatial reparations fellowship. Part of that is to "Lift Up What Works", to figure out what's happening on the local areas and figure out what are the elements of that that can be scaled up. And so it takes a lot of time to figure out like what are the mechanisms? What are the federal funding mechanisms? What are the federal regulatory and legal frameworks? Using the local examples, using the momentum that places like California and and other places have done with their reparations commissions to figure out what are some of these policy mechanisms to achieve a full reparations framework, I think is is key. We're gonna have to keep looking at what's happening locally and then figure out how we make it bigger and bigger. And that's gonna only work by talking to the people who are deeply involved and deeply invested in and already learning from them and working with them to get us to where we need to be.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 13:31
I wanted to spend just a minute asking you about your work as an artist. The thing that you're just back from doing in the south just blows me away in terms of creativity and boldness. Talk about that a little bit.
Rasheedah Phillips : 13:44
I am primarily part of an art duo called Black Quantum Futurism, which is myself and my partner, Moor Mother, who's a musician and professor and poet. This specific project that we did is called Time Zone Protocols: Confederate States of America, and it's a continuation of a project that I was doing where I was looking at time zones and basically how racist time zones are. That time zones were decided upon in a conference called the Prime Meridian Conference, where Greenwich London was chosen as the prime meridian for the world. And so that is the place for which time zero -- the clock we all abide by was set to London's time. And then we extended the project by wanting to look at what are the time practices that were used in the Confederate states . So we took a tour through & of the 13 original Confederate states of America, visited a lot of the plantations, slave labor camps, just looking at those temporal and spatial practices and how people were tied to the land and oppressed through space and time.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 14:45
I'm learning so much from listening to you. What is your vision of spatial reparations as you think about the North Star of where this work can possibly take us?
Rasheedah Phillips : 14:56
A radical vision for spatial reparations really involves how we reshape communities to prioritize equitable access to all the things that we need to healthcare, to green spaces, to economic opportunities to housing. And I know that doesn't sound like it . It's not a radical vision, quite honestly, right? It's a vision that should be standard. But in the world that we're in today, it is a radical vision and thinking about how we dismantle oppressive planning practices and ways that marginalized communities, black communities in particular, are able to really thrive , not just live but to thrive. And so that also includes how we transform our landscapes, how we can be guided by sort of principles of spatial justice and how we can learn from what has already happened. You know, I'm looking after no less than something like a constitutional amendment guaranteeing housing to people, a radical vision for a guarantee for housing and land justice that really extends back to promises that we were already made -- when we're talking about 40 Acres and A Mule, when we're talking about reconstruction amendments and what black people were guaranteed post enslavement, we're not talking about anything that's impossible or radical, or actually, quite frankly hasn't been done already in some form . But yeah, I would love to see that.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 16:08
I wonder how having such a vast creative vision for the future, on top of clarity about the past, how did those things impact your relationship to hope?
Rasheedah Phillips : 16:23
So deeply. It truly has totally redefined my understanding of hope by thinking about time differently. If you look at, for example, a particle. A particle doesn't have a time direction where it's speeding into the future and it's going to fatally terminate at once it reaches some point, which is how we kind of think about <laugh> our life on earth as as human beings. And so what Afrofuturism and my sort of practices and development of time has given me in terms of hope is that hope is a cycle. It has its ups and down points, but it's not a linear, fatalistic thing that we're waiting to arrive to. But it's what we have to create together and and be with together. And so I don't have as much of a time crunch, which is coming from being a lawyer and and having to deal with time in the courts, and that that's what our whole existence is as lawyers is trying to battle time for our clients. I see time very differently. I don't see myself in a battle with time. And so if I'm not in a battle with time, I'm not in a battle with hope. Hope feels endless. Hope feels like something that can be generated and created.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 17:30
Rasheedah, thank you for talking with us.
Rasheedah Phillips : 17:32
Thank you. Thank you for having me. Anytime .
Angela Glover Blackwell: 17:40
Rasheedah Phillips is an artist and Director of Housing at PolicyLink. The reparations movement is quickly gaining traction. I'm thrilled to see the movement supported by research, created thinking, and experimentation. All of this and more is needed to redress centuries of harm, rectify ongoing injustice, and move toward a just and equitable future. Now is the moment when everything is on the table: acknowledgement, cash as a token of acknowledgement, and broad policy changes are all beginnings. Let's not limit the reparations moment . Let's get at the deeper and still festering wounds, like the decades of racism and housing and land disparities with everything on the table . Let's take it all the way . Radical imagination is a PolicyLink podcast produced by Futuro Media. The Futuro Media team includes Marlon Bishop, Andreas Caballero, Nour Saudi, Stephanie Lebow, Julia Caruso and Andy Bosnick with help from Roxanna Agiri, Fernanda Santos, Juan Diego Ramirez, Roxanne Scott, and Gabriela Bias. The PolicyLink team includes Glenda Johnson, Loren Madden, Ferchil Ramos, Vanice Dunn, Perfecta Oxholm, Eugene Chan and Fran Smith. Our theme music was composed by Taka Yusuzawa and Alex Sugira. I'm your host, Angela Glover Blackwell. Join us again next time, and in the meantime, you can find us email@example.com. Remember to subscribe and share. Next time on Radical Imagination: an Indigenous l ed fight for water rights.
Every time somebody gets hooked up, that's one more person off of our list there that's gonna have running water. It's a grandma, grandpa, or it could be a single mom that finally has water. That's my biggest thrill of the work that I do here. I really want to see everybody hooked up to the main water line .
Angela Glover Blackwell: 20:15
That's next time on Radical Imagination.