- IntroductionBlack Geographies in and of the United States South
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Katherine McKittrick and the late Clyde Woods’ Black Geographies and the Politics of Place (2007) articulated a vision of geographical practice and thought that is as pressing today as when it was written. McKittrick and Woods emphasized that Katrina made visible the “materiality of racial exclusion” (p 3) for a nation that had become accustomed to either denying or naturalizing this exclusion through the essentialization of race and space. In the introduction to the edited volume, McKittrick and Woods emphasized that Katrina was neither a natural disaster nor an isolated catastrophic event, but had deep historical roots, from the transatlantic slave trade to the contemporary uneven geographies of race and capitalist development in New Orleans.
This special issue of the Southeastern Geographer on “Black Geographies in and of the United States South” is inspired by Woods & McKittrick’s groundbreaking work, and animated by a conviction that Black Geographies can play a central role in enlivening geographical practice in and of the United States South. Like Hurricane Katrina, the contemporary moment has led to more widespread attention to ongoing conversations about the importance of racialized experiences. In the decade since McKittrick and Woods’ edited volume appeared, the American South has seen polarized public reactions to the execution of Troy Davis, the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Walter Scott, and Alton Sterling, the deaths of police officers in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the mass execution of staff and patrons of Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and the introduction of the Movement for Black Lives and the Moral Monday Movement.
The aftermath of the 2015 Charleston massacre, which was covered in a Special Forum of Southeastern Geographer in [End Page 6] 2016, in tandem with recent public debate over the role of Confederate and white supremacist iconography and memorialization throughout the South (and indeed the nation) has led to a tense divisiveness in communities over the politics of memory, heritage, race, violence, and space. Further inflammation of a national underbelly of white rage and racism has been fanned since the 2008 presidential election and has reached a seeming fever pitch in the 2016 presidential race. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported a rise in the number of hate groups across the nation following President Barack Obama’s first election, documenting a 14% increase of hate groups between 2014 and 2015 alone (Potok 2016). These debates and public knowledges have gained global attention through the knowledge sharing engines of social media, unlike in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. Given the widespread knowledge sharing of the political and social climate revolving around race, it should be asked: How can geographers engage in conversations about race? What tools can geographers use to interrogate the roots and routes of race, anti-Black racism, social change, economic conditions, and place?
The further development of geographic knowledge—and geographies of the South—requires a reliance upon, and deepened engagement with, diverse modalities of space and place. We contend that Black-oriented epistemologies remain crucial critiques of reductionary claims to and knowledge of Black subjects and Black space. Attending to the inextricable relationship of race and the South proves crucial today, particularly due to the broad-brushed ascription of anti-Black racism onto the entire region. Racism is not just a southern problem, but the political landscape of the South has long mattered in historical, social, political, and economic processes of racialization. So, too, have innovative practices of Black survival and resistance been inseparable from the production of southern spaces. Studies of the American South thus has the potential to renovate geographic knowledge by centering a Black sense of place in research examining race and region.
Attention to the geographical aspects of race and, more specifically, Blackness is a long-standing, if underdeveloped, approach in the history of Geography. For several decades, geographers have examined the conditions under which populations of African descent live, with more recent work focused on the various ways in which these same populations constantly struggle and create in the face of systemic oppression. In...