During the summer of 2020, millions of people in the United States flooded the streets to protest the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black lives. Unlike the decade’s past uprisings where activists demanded reforms such as body cameras, civilian oversight boards, more Black cops, and diverse training, during this mass mobilization activists and organizers foregrounded the demand to “defund the police.” Concerned with more than just reducing carceral state funding, the political force behind “defund the police” is rooted in a long history of Black abolitionist thought that draws on the Black radical tradition of reimagining the world.  

Abolition proposes a radical vision of the future where Black folks, the third world, and its diaspora are free from oppression and able to determine the direction of their own lives. This section’s reviews compel readers to mine ancestral imaginings, urging us to grapple with deeper understandings of our histories, and encouraging us to practice new ways of relating to one another. In a way, these texts chart the steps for how we might approach an abolitionist future. 

The reviews opening this section present studies that excavate past radical ideas and possibilities. Annie Bares conducts a masterful interview with Charisse Burden-Stelly and Gerald Horne, the authors of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Life in American History. Burden-Stelly and Horne foreground the internationalist politics W.E.B. Du Bois and other Black radicals embraced as a way to reject narrow nationalism that they rightly argued reinforced oppressive white supremacist and capitalist world systems. Christopher Ndubuizu’s excellent review of Edward Onaci’s Free the Land: The Republic of New Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation-State underlines the Republic of New Afrika’s (RNA) radical vision for self-determination. The RNA believed that the only way Black people could carve out their futures was through a complete break from the United States to form a socialist and anti-imperialist black nation. Together, these texts index radical formulations of self-determination and freedom and, while Du Bois and the RNA’s dreams went partially unfulfilled, they signal the radical imagination it will take to envisage an abolitionist future.  

In addition to digging up past imaginaries, these reviews contend that we ought to trouble the histories that feed our freedom dreams. Arguably, Haiti’s radical anti-slavery foundations planted seeds for abolitionist thinking as the first Black nation-state long functioned as a symbol and site of inspiration to members of the African and Caribbean diaspora. However, as Daisy Guzman’s review of Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean edited by Vanessa K. Valdes compelling argues, Haiti’s crucial role in forging Black freedom in the Western hemisphere is essentially silenced in Spanish Caribbean literature, art, and histories. Valdes utilizes these omissions as departure points to explore how anti-Blackness shaped the Spanish Caribbean’s political landscape. However, the symbolism attached to Haiti from non-Haitians often obscures Haiti’s meanings to Haitian people. Tia K. Butler’s review of The Haiti Reader: History, Culture and Politics edited by Laurent Dubois, Kaima L. Glover, Nadéve Ménerd, Millery Polyné, and Chantalle F. Verna insightfully teases out how the editors’ attention to Haitian literary sources paints a more complex portrait of Haitian history. These reviews ask readers to pay attention to power dynamics operating within the construction of history that often results in the exclusion of women and other oppressed groups. Whose stories are omitted in the radical histories we draw from to chart abolitionist futures? And what new ways might the omitted and silenced offer us to think about freedom, revolution, and abolition?

We can learn from the past and trouble its history, however, abolition is ultimately an imaginative process that calls for the destruction of oppressive ways of relating to one another through the creation of life-affirming relations. In other words, we must change and relate to one another differently. Kate Nelson’s review of Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness Across the Disciplines edited by Kimberlè Williams Crenshaw, Luke Charles Harris, Daniel Martinez HoSang, and George Lipsitz urges scholars to do just this by rejecting and dismantling white supremacist colorblind philosophies that undergird most major disciplines. Alina Scott’s review ofOtherwise Worlds: Against Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness edited by Tiffany Lethabo King, Jenell Navarro, and Andrea Smith asks us to think through “otherwise” forms of relationality. This “otherwise” paradigm strikes me as a key task in creating an abolitionist future. Through what ways can we build relationality that defies capitalists, sexist, and racist logic and simultaneously does not flatten and diminish differences? To move away and eventually abolish carceral systems, we must produce other ways of knowing and relating that do not rely on, for example, the state’s punishment technologies and logic to work out problems when harm or violence occurs. 

This section foregrounds the radical possibilities of abolitionist thinking to move us into a freer future. As I completed this introduction in April 2021, Black and brown people in the United States experienced another deadly month of police violence. We must defund the police and abolish prisons. If this section argues anything, it is that we desperately need a new vision of society rooted in Black and third world peoples’ freedom dreams, aspirations, and imaginations.