Race Against Time: Afrofuturism and Our Liberated Housing Futures
I. Introduction: Time in the Law
Early on, many of us are taught to map out major events, world history, and even our own lives onto a timeline that runs horizontally from past to present to future. The timeline typically looks like a straight line, with major events representing discrete points on the timeline, where time comes from behind us and moves forward. Linear time on the standard timeline represents “an irreversible progression of moments, yielding cardinal conceptions of past, present, and future, as well as duration.”¹ Carol J. Greenhouse describes how “[t]he Western cultural capacity for that belief [in linear time] was established a thousand years ago, or longer, when institutional and social structural changes gave linear time a path from the sacred domain to the domain of the everyday.” She argues that this belief becomes “reproduced in the juxtaposition of institutional forms and temporalities which constitute everyday experience in the modern world.”²
Thus, the role of time and temporality is inextricably linked to a variety of systems and institutions that touch the moment-to-moment lives of people. This is glaringly true of the legal system, where, as Rebecca R. French puts it, “time enters every part of how we practice, analyze, project, and balance legal arguments; it is integral to our daily schedule, our client appointments, our classroom teaching time, our court dates, our tickler files, our view of our careers.” Despite time’s entrenched nature in the legal system, “we rarely think about how ‘time’ actually works, presuming that it is the simple linear measuring device that the clock creates for us.”³ Renisa Mawani agrees that “law is fundamentally about time.”⁴ She notes that “few have examined how law appeals to particular conceptions of time, whether linear, chronological, circular, or instrumental,” while “even fewer have asked how law produces time, how it orders the nomos through its own temporalities, aspiring to assimilate and absorb other temporalities in the process.”⁵
I would argue that fewer still have taken up closer examinations of constructions and intersections of race, time, and the law. Although much has been written about legal constructions of space and race, the time dimension is not covered with the same breadth, despite playing a daily and crucial role in how people—particularly Black, poor, disabled, and other marginalized people—are valued, treated, punished, erased, or underserved by and within the legal system.⁶ The timescapes and temporal structures of legal systems are especially underexplored in substantive areas of civil rights, poverty, and public interest law, as are the ways in which class oppression and institutional racism are reinforced by the union between time and the law.
¹ Carol J. Greenhouse, A Moment’s Notice: Time Politics Across Cultures 223, 230 (1996).
² Carol J. Greenhouse, Just in Time: Temporality and the Cultural Legitimation of Law, 98 Yale L.J. 1631 (1989); see also Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars 146-47 (1989)
³ Rebecca R. French, Time in the Law, 72 U. Colo. L. Rev. 663, 664 (2001).
⁴ Renisa Mawani, Law as Temporality: Colonial Politics and Indian Settlers, 4 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 65, 71 (2014).
⁶ See work by Michelle Bastian, Emily Grabham, Renisa Mawani, and Sarah Keenan.