Skip to main content


Putting Race to Work: Neoliberal Development in the US Virgin Islands

Thursday Lecture Series, Failure

dateApril 27, 2023 timeThursday, 12:15pm–2:00pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
American flag in front of light blue water

Tami Navarro and Natasha Lightfoot will discuss Navarro's book Virgin Capital, which explores racial capitalism and the failures of neoliberal development in the Caribbean and beyond. With their shared intellectual engagement in the region, this conversation will touch on the past, present, and possible futures of islands in the Caribbean.

Virgin Capital: Race, Gender, and Financialization in the US Virgin Islands
by Tami Navarro

Virgin Capital examines the cultural impact and historical significance of the Economic Development Commission (EDC) in the United States Virgin Islands. A tax holiday program, the EDC encourages financial services companies to relocate to these American-owned islands in exchange for an exemption from 90% of income taxes and to stimulate the economy by hiring local workers and donating to local charitable causes. As a result of this program, the largest and poorest of these islands—St. Croix—has played host to primarily US financial firms and their white managers, leading to reinvigorated anxieties around the costs of racial capitalism and a feared return to the racial and gender order that ruled the islands during slavery. Drawing on fieldwork conducted during the boom years leading up to the 2008–2009 financial crisis, Virgin Capital provides ethnographic insight into the continuing relations of coloniality at work in the quintessentially "modern" industry of financial services and neoliberal "development" regimes, with their grounding in hierarchies of race, gender, class, and geopolitical positioning.


Tami Navarro is an Assistant Professor and Chair of Pan-African Studies at Drew University. She is a Cultural Anthropologist whose work has been published in Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Transforming Anthropology, Small Axe Salon, The Caribbean Writer, Social Text, and Feminist Anthropology. She is a founding member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective (VISCO) and a member of the Editorial Board for the journal Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism. Dr. Navarro is co-host of the podcast “Writing Home: American Voices from the Caribbean” and the Co-Director of the Transnational Black Feminismsworking group at Columbia University. She is the author of Virgin Capital: Race, Gender, and Financialization in the US Virgin Islands (SUNY Press 2021), which has been recognized by the Association for Feminist Anthropology and the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology.

Natasha Lightfoot is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and a Faculty Fellow in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University. Her research and teaching interests include Atlantic slavery and emancipation, Black community formation and acts of resistance, and daily practices of freedom in the nineteenth-century British Caribbean. She is the author of Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation (Duke University Press, 2015), which focuses on black working people’s struggles and everyday forms of liberation in British colonial Antigua after slavery’s end. She has also been published in The New York Times, as well as several academic journals, including The CLR James Journal, Slavery & Abolition, Small Axe, and most recently, The William and Mary Quarterly. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Ford Foundation, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and most recently from the American Council of Learned Societies. She is currently writing a book titled Fugitive Cosmopolitans about enslaved people’s mobility, imperial subjecthood, and struggles for freedom between empires in the Caribbean.