Editors’ note – This is the third commentary in an ongoing series on Black Lives Matter solicited for this site. See also Deborah Cowen and Nemoy Lewis’ Anti-blackness and urban geopolitical economy: Reflections on Ferguson and the suburbanization of the ‘internal colony’ and Brian Jordan Jefferson’s Policing, Whiteness, and the Death-Wage.
Photo by Camilla Hawthorne
By this point, we have perhaps become accustomed to the inquiries from friends and family—“So, what do you study exactly?” The response—“Geography”—is often met by perplexed looks and polite smiles—“And, what do you plan to do with that?” For us, this dreaded question belies more than the familiar ritual of mid-twenty-something professional angst. For two black women geographers, striving in this post-recession milieu where social and economic precarity abound, these exchanges with family and friends reveal the intergenerational anxieties that higher education presents. And we wonder: will the sacrifices of time, mental, and emotional energy secure livelihoods more hopeful than the ones our parents and grandparents faced? Still, beyond these material considerations, a deeper and more vexing question persists: what can the field of geography contribute to the fashioning of a decidedly black “beloved community” (James and Sheftall, 2013)? What are we going to do with this?
As we write, our present moment has been profoundly shaped by a renewed attention to the deathly pervasiveness of racist police violence in the United States, the expendability of black life, and everyday forms of genocidal slow death. Our own discipline is deeply complicit in these anti-black state practices. Geography, much like its cousin anthropology, was born from European colonial expansion (Livingston, 1992) and was fundamental to the articulation of Enlightenment scientific racisms (Kobayashi, 2014). Today, through Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, modern-day “expeditions,” (Bryan, 2010) and data-driven policing collaborations, geography is still directly implicated in processes of militarization and violence.
The institutional legacies of geography further manifest themselves in the underrepresentation of black graduate and undergraduate students and faculty, the failure of geography to take seriously questions of race and racism (Pulido, 2002), the invisibilization of black geographies, and the Eurocentric canon we are taught. We suggest that “impostor syndrome,” (Clance and Imes, 1978) originally defined as an internal, individual psychological experience of inferiority, can – following black feminist theories of embodiment (Spillers, 2003) – be better understood as a product of institutional structures and the attitudes of advisors and colleagues that work together to marginalize geographers of color, their experiences, and their research.
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