The Carter G. Woodson Institute, U.Va.

The Carter G. Woodson Institute

for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia


My dissertation analyzes how the phrase “human trafficking is modern day slavery” moves through the mediascape. I am interested in why this particular application of the word ‘slavery’ has gained legitimacy within U.S. policy, philanthropic, museological, and humanitarian spheres. I use a media ethnographic approach to track the discourse across sectors, focusing on how the imagery and memory of 19th-century slavery and abolition are used in presidential speech, news reporting, NGO promotional materials, and museum exhibitions to lend urgency to the issue of trafficking. My work is concerned with the politics of historical comparison and is motivated by the question: What is at stake in how, and by whom, the “afterlife of slavery” is articulated (Hartman 2007)? I argue that by naming a new slavery—human trafficking—amid the persistent material and symbolic effects of historic racial slavery, state and non-state actors appropriate the memory of slavery to circumvent historical responsibility and advance transnational governance agendas that are congruent with, rather than disruptive to, the underlying structures of racial liberalism and racial capitalism

First Name: 
Pre-Doctoral Fellow
University of Pennsylvania (Annenberg School for Communication)
Dissertation Title: 
"If Slavery's Not Black: The Stakes of the Anti-Trafficking Discourse"