Rashad Arman Timmons is a community builder, keyboardist, writer, and black feminist educator from Detroit, Michigan. A beloved child of factory workers, urban gardeners, prayer warriors, and musicians, Rashad is a lifelong student of the ways black folk manipulate and adorn the built environment to envision freedom.
A doctoral candidate in African Diaspora Studies and New Media Studies, Rashad’s dissertation explores urban infrastructures as critical sites where the lived social relations that come to define blackness are enacted, visualized, and challenged. He engages how black subjects in Ferguson, Missouri reorder sedimented geographies of power by seizing infrastructures as sites of black political insurgency, wake work, tactical disruption, and sabotage.
Rashad’s dissertation explores infrastructures as sites of racial subjection and black radical possibility across time in Ferguson, Missouri. He investigates how the city’s railway, roadway, and media infrastructures have intersected with projects of race-making and geographic domination from the mid-nineteenth century forward. Using archival, geographic, and textual analyses, Rashad interrogates how these infrastructures produce the experiences of social terror, corporeal vulnerability, and premature death historically wed to blackness. He also examines how black subjects disrupt these relations through everyday performances of political refusal. Tracing this dynamic, Rashad introduces “traffic” to name patterns of infrastructural violence that codify gendered racial difference, naturalize uneven geographies, foreclose black mobility, and mediate black bodily injury. Conversely, he interrogates how black subjects impede infrastructural violence, or stop traffic, through “pedestrian acts.” These are practices of infrastructural interference that affect contraventions of racial and spatial order. By examining the palimpsestic violence of traffic and the emancipatory potential of pedestrian acts, Rashad’s dissertation illuminates how infrastructures in Ferguson stage intensive struggles over race, space, and power.
Endiya Griffin (@endiyaah) Is a community-based scholar, memory worker, and artist dedicated to excavating the past in order to construct liveable Black futures. As a visual anthropology undergraduate, her research explores the multifaceted strategies Black people use to subvert dispossession and claim space in Leimert Park.
Geography is not simply the plotted and delineated terrain of physical space. It is also the layered, ever-changing, and contested socio-political imaginations and embodied spatial narratives we imbue into land. Insofar as histories are inherently rooted in locality or– take place, temporal narratives of particular spaces signal broader historical relevance. The result of cumulative socio-spatial production when situated within contested human geographies such as Los Angeles’ Leimert Park is often a cacophony of histories, discordantly competing with one another. Over the past 70 years, as Black residents have inhabited Leimert Park, it has been a terrain of struggle upon which Black geographies are articulated in opposition to the neighborhood’s origin as a segregated white suburb. The legacy of municipal planning as well as corporate real estate investment plans continue to collude dangerously with the very politics of Black dispossession and exclusion that characterized the neighborhood of Leimert Park from its inception. Situated amid a crucial moment of transition and urban renewal within the neighborhood, this project seeks to address the inquiry: How might historical and ongoing geopolitical struggles toward Black geographies in Leimert Park inform the future of the neighborhood and Black L.A. at large?
This study utilizes documentary photography participant observation (images that I have created to document my experiences in the field), participatory photo elicitation, and visual analysis to excavate past and contemporary strategies of Black claim-staking (land trusts, street vending, and public art projects, etc.) thereby illuminating Black spatial vernaculars that have been obfuscated by the formalized record.
Ultimately, my purpose is to excavate the relationship between this memory and the legacy of Black geopolitical resistance in Leimert Park. Framed within the West African tradition of Sankofa, Re-membering Us not only allows us to recover subaltern histories, but also to map the topography of Black futures.
Key words: critical cartography/ Black geography, urban space, photography, memory, participatory archiving, Black futurity
Ashley Codner is a 2nd-year PhD student in the English Department at Rutgers–New Brunswick. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include 20th and 21st-century Black literary, feminist, and post-humanist studies. Ashley serves as the Vice President of the Graduate English Student Association in addition to sitting on the student advisory board for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within the School of Graduate Studies.
The figure of the owl is an unexpected but consistent metaphor in Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America.” First employed in reference to the strike on the World Trade Center towers, the metaphor later gets extended to describe an explosion of knowledge itself. But perhaps in addition to existing as a metaphor for this eruption, the animal itself is calling for it. That is, the “owl exploding in your life in your brain in your self” marks a rupture of being as we know it and an unmaking of the orienting principles that have previously governed our relationships with and to the spaces we inhabit. The presence of the animal within this text proffers a relationship that I term peri-ontology—borrowing from the Greek word for “around”—a critique of the science of being which explores the interactive dimensions of mutual belonging.
Upon escaping into the rainforest from a plantation in Martinique, the protagonist of Patrick Chamoiseau’s 1997 novel Slave Old Man undergoes a transformation that leads him to “[apprehend] his aroundings differently” (44, emp. added). Here, the word “aroundings'' replaces what we know as “surroundings.” One’s surroundings are how they orient themselves in relation to the things in their immediate vicinity. This process centralizes the self such that everything it catalogs in its surroundings only exists in its capacity as referent. Around, in its unsystematic-ness, extends beyond the limiting capacities of the surround. The difference between the two, then, is the same as an opening up and an encircling. The process of apprehension that the man undergoes is demonstrative of how we might imagine a renegotiation and subsequent reorientation to everything else out there:
The desolate darkness revealed to him the pensive strength of tree trunks, the verve of the sap hidden in this vegetation. All this was enhanced by a profusion reflecting great energy. This élan sustained him from that moment on. (44)
The old man’s transformation heightens his senses and leaves him better attuned to his environment such that everything from the dew on his skin to the sun suspended above him—that he could not see, mind you—falls within his purview. In his newfound apprehension of his aroundings, he sees things not only as they are in relation to himself, but also simply as they are. The idea of a dewdrop delighted to be visited affirms the truth of its being in existence prior to the old man’s arrival, indeed centuries prior. The old man does not enter the ecosystem of the woods as an imperial conqueror and God-pretender, exerting his subjectivity over the land and calling it into being at his command. No, he is a visitor interacting with the land as he encounters it and leaving it to continue to be after his departure. Further, aroundings extends the range of reference to points beyond what is merely in the immediate vicinity and, further, beyond what is stable or even material. At its core, it seems to be characterized by the same “profound disorientation” that the old man feels at the beginning of his transformation (41). There is only this “élan,” this inextinguishable energy that remains even in vertigo (44). As he observes, this is no longer about just the absence of landmarks, but an absolute shift in the mechanics of perception.
Chamoiseau’s intervention is critical not only because of the aptness of the aroundings, but also because he indicates a specifically Black peri-ontological practice. Said differently, he allows us to think of interlocutors in new materialism and post-human studies, for example, who are similarly invested in the agency of things while also, holding in mind a common critique of new materialism’s rendering of Blackness, being sensitive to Blackness’ fraught relationship with ontology. In other words, it is precisely because of the old man’s Blackness that he is able to call out to the blackness of the forest and have it answer back in kind.
Baraka, Amiri. 2003. Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems. Philipsburg, St. Martin, Caribbean: House of Nehesi Publishers.
Chamoiseau, Patrick, and Linda Coverdale. Slave Old Man. The New Press, La Vergne, 2018, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/[SITE_ID]/detail.action?docID=5180143.
Anu Makinde works in many ways to understand African diaspora using cultural outputs and their interaction within the geopolitical borders that attempt to define them. Currently in her Master of Arts of Human Geography at U of T, she is thankful for the people she's met who share her passion for pop, lowbrow, highbrow, diasporic, captivating- culture. On lettrboxd and spotify she tries understand the world around her through images, sounds and novels. Namely, what all goes into the production of them, their ties to political economy, and the stakes of creating a new thing in its place.
Why do I think of home in that way?
It’s probably because of the pictures I found,
and ended up retaking.
As an ode to those
As (in light of some family values)
An altar to my grandma.
What (can, should, do) you hear when you look at
this one? and the ones above
In a staged attempt at happiness
I rewind cassettes and film
In a hope it does so to time.
I know it can, at least,
if only in my mind
-most likely the safest place (besides here with you)
Deana Lawson's piece, in my original abstract for this conference, helped me think of what we do to make a home. Some people, describing her work as "[looking] natural, arranged in lived-in kitchens and living rooms, and yet, in their organization, distantly painterly" (St. Felix, 2018) forget her " impulse to direct or try to get the reality of the situation closer to the dream" (Deana Lawson in conversation with
Thomas Gebremedhin in 2018). Her preference to stage people, settings and poses mirrors my thoughts about home.
I first saw the photograph at the University of Toronto Art Centre in the As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic exhibition. It was a regrettably snowy morning, one of the fi rst ones that reminds you how you'll live with the new weather for a few months, and then the rest of your life. That was November. But Lawson's piece seemed to capture all my feelings when I would listen to music at home while fl ipping through my parent's version of a photo album (cardboard boxes of photos and negatives).
In my original abstract for the conference proposal, I wanted to think of home metaphorically. Leaning into the possibilities this device would give me to think about constructing sites of liberation. Using the body as a scale similiar to that of a home, I thought about the role of radio in our homes. When our minds are imagined as a place between our ears fi lling synapses with electric current an opportunity for changing the lighting in our head ( houses ), allows us to develop political stratagems through our longings of resting feet or greeting a family member. My assertion compels us to let life seep through the cartographic map and re-read it with song. For example, bridge: construction from chorus to verse on our way home to a future.
I was also intrigued by radio's diff usion of diaspora across borders that reconstructs ‘home’ over and through airwaves- how radio replicated Miami and New Orleans onto Jamaican dance fl oors of the 1950’s (Veal, 2007).
Since then, I've still been thinking about the picture (and my own I've collaged above) but now, I'm wondering, with the help of Stuart Hall's insistence on an archive as "not an inert museum of dead, works, but a 'living archive', whose construction must be seen as an on-going, never-completed project" (pp. 89, 2001). With that in mind, I wondered why everyone talks about DuBois but nobody talks to him? Looking on the past must "secure, nourish, extend and contest" (Hall, 2001, pp.89). So what’s imagining a conversation with him in the place he met his wife worth anyway? Or how the conversations through his marriage in 1896 to a girl as "good as a German housewife" hinged upon him and his wife being "homeless" resulting in him "dar[ing] a home and [fi nding] a temporary job" (Dubois, (2021), pp.11? What would furious conversation from upstairs to the kitchen below, or exiting as the door slammed sound like between him and me?
I’m proposing home sonics, and home sounds as a way to retrospect on the present, as the home seems is the place I go to refashion, re-valuate, renovate (Hartman, 2007, Gilmore, 2017, Wynter, 1970) yet also look for stability in. I want to explore the possibilities of some origins- within a space, outside of it-to make a new one. In my master's thesis, I take this project on in multiple forms; home, genres, nations, citizenship, kinship, dance fl oors, radio, cities, liberation. All in a political recourse, with Alexander Weheliye's (2014) reconceptualization of bare life below.
Building on Hortense Spillers’s distinction between body and fl esh and the writ of habeas corpus, I use the phrase habeas viscus—“You shall have the fl esh”—on the one hand, to signal how violent political domination activates a fl eshly surplus that simultaneously sustains and disfi gures said brutality, and, on the other hand, to reclaim the atrocity of fl esh as a pivotal arena for the politics emanating from diff erent traditions of the oppressed. (pp.3)
And so I wrote some poetry, collaged my photos and built a playlist to work through my thoughts- churning with experiences and readings. In the vein of intimacy from Jennifer Morgan (2021) to tease out how kinship ties represent something other than the expansion of someone else’s estate, how do our intimate relationships with song help us tease out complex relationships? Specifi cally, the emotions behind home and our actions in it, what incongruencies in that relationship are then relayed in song and then relayed again when we play music in our houses? Ultimately, it is a generative place to think about creating new methods of citizenship past an enclosure.
Deana Lawson, "Coulson Family," 2008, from "As We Rise: Photography Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic" (Apeture, 2021) (copyright) Deana Lawson, courtesy Sikkena Jenkins & Co., New York.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (William E. B. (1920). Darkwater : voices from within the veil. Harcourt, Brace and Howe.
Gebremedhin, T. (2018, September 19). Deana Lawson’s Portraits of Everyday Black Life. Wall Street Journal.
Gilmore, R.W. 2017. Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence. In G. T. Johnson & A. Lubin (Eds.), Futures of Black Radicalism. Verso.
Hall, S. (2001). Constituting an archive. Third Text, 15(54), 89–92. https://doi.org/10.1080/09528820108576903.
Hartman, S. 2007. “Chapter 12: Fugitive Dreams.” In Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Morgan, J. L. (2021). Reckoning with slavery : gender, kinship, and capitalism in the early Black Atlantic. Duke University Press.
St.Felix, D. M. (2018, March 12). Deana Lawson’s Hyper-Staged Portraits of Black Love. New Yorker.
Veal, M. E. (2007). Dub: soundscapes and shattered songs in Jamaican reggae. Wesleyan University Press.
Weheliye, A. G. (2014). Habeas viscus : racializing assemblages, biopolitics, and black feminist theories of the human. Duke University Press.
Wynter, S. 1970. Jonkonnu in Jamaica: Towards the Interpretation of Folk Dance as a Cultural Process. Jamaica Journal 4(2): 34–48.
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