Brown Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

Whitewashing Abolition: Race, Displacement, and Combating Human Trafficking

March 15, 2018

Whitewashing Abolition: Race, Displacement, and Combating Human Trafficking

March 15-16, 2018

Since the passing of the 2000 UN Palermo Protocol, efforts to combat human trafficking have received concerted attention from global governance agencies, nation-states, civil society, academic institutions, faith-communities, the private sector, and even Hollywood actors and NFL quarterbacks. Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) Human Trafficking research cluster, founded in 2015, situates these interventions within historical scholarship on chattel slavery and abolition, as well as contemporary legacies of globalized racial and gender inequality. “Whitewashing Abolition” convenes scholars, activists, and migrant workers to question the various institutional displacements that occur in contemporary abolitionist projects of human trafficking. Focusing on the institutional power of whiteness--and related forms of Global North policy imperatives, funding regimes, humanitarian sentimentality, and institutional erasure--this conference asks how efforts to combat human trafficking can move beyond “White Saviorism” and toward engaged global solidarity. 

Click here to see images from the event.

Thursday, March 15
Aborn Gallery @ AS220
95 Empire St, Second Floor
Providence, Rhode Island 

6:30 - 8pm Zine-Making & Abolition: Counter-Narratives and Radical Imaginaries 
This panel brings together a group of artists, writers, and activists to discuss the relationship of abolitionist work and thinking to independent publishing. Through informal conversation about zine-making and radical imaginaries, this panel will touch on the importance of independent media in envisioning a world without prisons and an end to racial capitalism.

  • Mimi Thi Nguyen, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 
  • MJ Robinson, Black and Pink Rhode Island
  • Eric Stanley, University of California Riverside
  • Dailen Williams, Rhode Island Print Expo (RIPE)
  • Moderator & Organizer: Christopher J. Lee, Brown University | Queer/Trans Zinefest


Friday, March 16th
Brown University Department of Africana Studies
Rites and Reason Theater
155 Angell St. 

9:00-9:45am Registration

9:45am Opening Remarks
Barrymore Bogues, Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice 

10:00-11:30am Institutional Erasures of Slavery 
Whether in courts, museums, non-profit organizations, or other institutional settings, anti-trafficking interventions engage but simultaneously elude and deny histories and contemporary realities of racialized slavery and white supremacy.

  • Lydnsey Beutin, University of Pennsylvania | University of Virginia, Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies
  • Brittany Webb, Temple University | African American Museum in Philadelphia
  • Janie Chuang, American University School of Law
  • Jasmine Sankofa
  • Moderator: Emily Owens, Brown University

11:30-1:00pm Racialized Labor, Migration, and Border Regimes
Despite the Trump administration’s massive repeal of refugee, immigrant, worker, and civil rights, the US commitment to “combating human trafficking” has been amplified and weaponized. These panelists will discuss how this is made possible by erasing the intersection of trafficking with other forms of human mobility and political organizing.

  • JJ Rosenbaum, Harvard Law School, Global Labor Justice Project
  • Gabriella Sanchez, European University Institute, Migration Policy Centre
  • Elene Lam, Butterfly Network, Migrant Sex Worker Network, Toronto
  • Samuel Okyere, University of Nottingham
  • Moderator: Nishant Upadhyay, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

2:00pm "The Last Rescue of Siam", Film Screening, EMPOWER Foundation

2:15-3:30pm Whitewashing Sex and War
This panel engages the often overlooked connections between US militarism, political and economic investments in Southeast Asia, and contemporary humanitarian and rescue initiatives.

  • Mimi Thi Nguyen, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 
  • Chatchalawan Muengjan, Empower Foundation, Thailand
  • Liz Hilton, Empower Foundation, Thailand
  • Moderator: Gowri Vijayakumar, Brandeis University, Assistant Professor of Sociology

3:45-5:15pm Building Power Now: Global Intersectional Activism
Spanning cultural activism, education, youth organizing, direct action, community engaged research, and global advocacy, this panel brings together Providence-based and global activists to share innovative work toward global intersectional activism.

  • Maiyah Gamble-Rivers, Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice Civil Rights Movement Initiative  
  • Sarath Suong, Southeast Asian Freedom Network | Providence Youth Student Movement
  • Arsio Laechoe, Empower Foundation, Thailand
  • Thanta Laovilawanyakul, Empower Foundation, Thailand
  • Bella Robinson, COYOTE Rhode Island | Sex Workers Behind Bars 
  • Moderator: Thoralf Island, Brown University

5:30pm Closing Remarks
Elena Shih, Brown University, Assistant Professor of American Studies