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Jovan Scott Lewis

Nov 5, 2021

Scammer's Yard

The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica

University of Minnesota Press 2020

There is romance in stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but how does that change when those perceived rich are elderly white North Americans and the poor are young Black Jamaicans? In this innovative ethnography, Jovan Scott Lewis tells the story of Omar, Junior, and Dwayne. Young and poor, they strive to make a living in Montego Bay, where call centers and tourism are the two main industries in the struggling economy. Their experience of grinding poverty and drastically limited opportunity leads them to conclude that scamming is the best means of gaining wealth and advancement. Otherwise, they are doomed to live in “sufferation”—an inescapable poverty that breeds misery, frustration, and vexation.

In the Jamaican lottery scam run by these men, targets are told they have qualified for a large loan or award if they pay taxes or transfer fees. When the fees are paid, the award never arrives, netting the scammers tens of thousands of U.S. dollars. Through interviews, historical sources, song lyrics, and court testimonies, Lewis examines how these scammers justify their deceit, discovering an ethical narrative that reformulates ideas of crime and transgression and their relationship to race, justice, and debt.

Scammer's Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica (U Minnesota Press, 2020) describes how these young men, seeking to overcome inequality and achieve autonomy, come to view crime as a form of liberation. Their logic raises unsettling questions about a world economy that relegates postcolonial populations to deprivation even while expecting them to follow the rules of capitalism that exacerbate their dispossession. In this groundbreaking account, Lewis asks whether true reparation for the legacy of colonialism is to be found only through radical—even criminal—means.

Jovan Scott Lewis is Associate Professor and Chair of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley.

Alize Arıcan is a Postdoctoral Associate at Rutgers University's Center for Cultural Analysis. She is an anthropologist whose research focuses on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration in Istanbul, Turkey. Her work has been featured in Current Anthropology, City & Society, Radical Housing Journal, and entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography.

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