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  • Black Activist GeographiesTeaching Whiteness as Territoriality on Campus
  • Heather Menefee (bio)

On a recent July evening, a small crowd assembled near Silent Sam, a Confederate monument installed in 1913 on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Over the next two hours, Omololu Babatunde led us through the growing dark, enfolded in smoldering sage, convening conversations around monuments and markers. A recent graduate of UNC, Babatunde enlivened a counterhistory of the campus in sites that have been crucibles of conflict over resurgent white nationalism, which lays claim to the public sphere through reimagined articulations of Confederate history. In this essay, through a study of pedagogical approaches to the public landscape at UNC, I attend to the rhythmic confrontations staged through the interpretation and afterlives of multiple histories that continue to unsettle college campuses in the U.S. South. I follow a path coinciding with that of Babatunde as well as those of other student activists whose movements have reshaped both the university's social formations and its physical landscape. Tracing "the webs of differential positioning" (Haraway 590) extending across the campus, I argue that—particularly in the South, at a public university, in a time of white supremacist populist resurgence—our pedagogy must be constituted through a critical relationship to the landscapes we occupy and the histories through which they become intelligible to our students and ourselves. Mapping the territoriality of race at the University of North Carolina, I draw on the articulations of student movements to argue that protest and activism are [End Page 167] pedagogical interventions, resuscitations of tenaciously cultivated traditions that exist off the official map. Like Babatunde, I seek here both to identify prevailing alignments of power and to offer alternative inventories of the landscape, aspiring to "surround [liberal] democracy's false image in order to unsettle it" (Harney and Moten 19).


In the late eighteenth century, at the crest of a hill where Franklin Street now meets the northernmost quadrangle of campus, a group of settlers proclaimed the land barren and declared it the future site of a university in furtherance of the civilizing project; they would do this by providing white men with a moral education (Battle). Today, students traverse a landscape that both conceals and proclaims this history, a place neither bound to the originary impulse of these founders nor offering substantial evidence of the genealogies of resistance that are equally embedded in the institutional geography (Figure 1). When new students arrive on campus, they often know very little of the landscape, and what they learn will be shaped by campus guidebooks, visible signage, and the shorthand they inherit and repurpose from older peers. Orientation programs transfigure the overwhelming multiplicity and transience of the university into a unified narrative of tradition, animating some aspects of the institution while leaving many histories dormant, inaccessible, covered over and walked around. A notable and durable disruption circulates in the form of a "disOrientation" map created in 2006 by the Counter Cartographies Collective (3Cs) at UNC, available as a PDF, an interactive Flash file, and a revised second edition published three years after the original (Figure 2). The 3Cs created the map as part of their broader efforts, through which they "render new images and practices of economies and social relations, destabilize centered and exclusionary representations of the social and economic, [and] construct new imaginaries of collective struggle and alternative worlds" ("Home"). Critically, the map offers many layers of analysis, "positing overlapping and conflicting notions of UNC" rather than a stable or singular reality ("disOrientation Guide"). Attending to geography, to overlooked histories, to student movements, and to the construction of the public sphere enables pedagogical projects of remembrance and revitalization in these colonially constructed landscapes. Fortunately, it seems that these efforts will often be belated, rushing into space created by student activists, like those who pulled Silent Sam from his pedestal on August 20, 2018. [End Page 168]

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Figure 1.

Menefee, Arterial Ordination of UNC. July 2018. Digital collage.

While the 3Cs' map illustrates co-constituted multiplicities, I focus momentarily on the consolidation of dominant geographies at UNC, particularly through an aerial view...


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pp. 167-186
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2020
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