Scammer’s Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica explores the possibilities for repair and enters the very timely debate of reparations by turning to vernacular articulation. The reparations debate is one that, in many ways, is guided by collective, institutional, and historically minded discourses. However, in my work with Jamaican lottery scammers, who used the framework of reparations to rationalize their scamming of elderly, white North Americans through internet apparatuses, I challenge the terms and mechanisms of reparation. Instead of the received notions of what stands as the bases of repair, namely the history of slavery, colonialism, and the chronic poverty that resulted, I argue that more considerable attention and recognition needs to be paid to the complicated undulations of blackness that demonstrate how the sense of injury moves between the qualifications of collective and individual, historical and contemporary, legitimate and illegitimate reparative rationalizations. The result is an appreciation for a radical framework for repair and reparation, which could be explained through various acts of recognition. Pushing the examination further, I demonstrate how crime holds a reparative quality, which for the scammers it did through unique racial permutations of debt and blame. Through this analysis, the ultimate question of reparations’ fulfillment must be paired with a willingness to recognize and reconcile the qualifications of blackness. Neglecting to do so will mean that we fail to account for the actual degree of the bases of repair.
Praise for Scammer's Yard
Jovan Scott Lewis’s sophisticated and nuanced account of Jamaican lotto scammers’ efforts to escape ‘sufferation’ positions their ethics of seizure within the logic of reparations. If the historical generation of wealth has been criminal—the result of imperialism, slavery, and debt—then its redistribution offers a way to reimagine the postcolonial present and its models of sovereignty. Scammer’s Yard is a must read for those interested in the value of blackness in the wake of the plantation!
Deborah A. Thomas, University of Pennsylvania
Scammer’s Yard repositions a network of impoverished, aspirational Jamaicans at the frontier of post-colonial, racial capitalism. Combining sharp-eyed ethnography, rich historical detail, and brilliant analysis, Jovan Scott Lewis takes seriously scammers’ attempts to redress colonial brutality by using scams—in their contradictory glory—as a means of laying claim to reparations. An instant classic, this book is essential reading for anthropologists, political theorists, and scholars of the Black Atlantic or anyone looking for new tools to radically reimagine markets and the forms of radicalized violence and criminality they reproduce.
Noelle Stout, author of Dispossessed: How Predatory Bureaucracy Foreclosed on the American Middle Class