In Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle , Katherine McKittrick creates a rich territory for the fields of black feminism, black studies and geography to intersect and learn from one another by considering the geographic spaces that black women both analyze and shape regularly. As she puts it in her introduction, McKittrick sees the geographies of black women as, “a conceptual arena through which more humanly workable geographies can be and are imagined.”  She is interested in critiquing traditional geographies (geographies of domination,) their relationship with black women’s geographies and narratives that perpetuate seeing black lives and histories as “ungeographic.” Inspired by Sylvia Wynter, she uses the word “demonic” to explain that this book does not seek to uncover the lost stories of black women, but to create a “discussion about what black women’s historical-contextual locations bring to bear on our present geographic organization.” What can it mean for people to better understand the spaces black women move in and work on as we live in spaces structured around traditional geographies? What can these spaces show us? What is “dangerous” about those spaces? McKittrick weaves together the work of writers and theorists like Olaudah Equiano, Octavia Butler, Neil Smith and Patricia Hill Collins in chapters on spaces like the auction block, black Canada, and books like Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
 McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. (Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), xii.
 Ibid., xxvi
The “What We’re Reading” Series
We decided to create this series of posts for a couple of reasons. While we’re pulling on lots of different sources when thinking about Broadly Speaking, we don’t always get to cite all the books that inform/inspire our writing. We hope this space serves as a more accessible archive of the stuff we’re reading these days. Also, we love a good book list, so really we’re just trying to pay it forward. If there are books you want to recommend to us, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Recently (if you haven’t picked up on this already) I’ve been thinking a lot about the South as a moral geography*, or as a place that is made up of cultural and political practices instead of a physical borders. What are the stuffs that the South is made of beyond what I imagine it to be and what it looks like on a topographical map? What are the political practices that both shape the South and are read as southern political practices?
While pondering these questions, a friend sent me the following link. The long of the short is this: in December 2013, local archivists in Franklin County, NC uncovered a variety of documents in the Franklin County courthouse dating back to 1840. As they began the arduous process of sorting through the papers, the North Carolina Archives became involved and halted their work. The next thing they knew, someone had come in and burned all of the documents. There are lots of ways to speculate about what these documents could have been, what they could have meant. Some people reason that these documents contained records relating to the brief moment of property distribution to former slaves just after the Civil War. Since most of that land was subsequently reclaimed by whites, these documents could have proven some land in North Carolina to be owned illegally today. We won’t know what they meant besides the that they contained information important enough to be destroyed.
The story here is complicated and unclear, but it is just one example of the practices that censor the political and physical landscape of the South today. Who owns and does not southern lands now did not arise out of nothing. It arose from the cultural and political practices of today and the cultural and political practices that make up the South’s history.
To read more about this story, click here.
*Term coined in the works of Michael Shapiro, a political science scholar at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa
In launching a blog about the South, we figured it might be important for us to offer our definition of what the hell we’re talking about when we say “THE SOUTH”.
“The South” holds many different definitions. A Google search returns the following from Wikipedia, “The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—is a region of the United States of America. The South does not match the geographic south, but is predominantly located in the southeastern corner; Arizona, which is geographically in the southern part of the country, is rarely considered part of the Southern United States, while West Virginia commonly is.”
There is a reason that our understanding of “the South” is not purely geographic.
For us, the South is a place that is inherently moving and shifting. There are geographic borders, but it is also an idea of a place that lives both within and beyond those borders. The boundaries are always contingent and contested. It depends on who you ask and it depends on how you are using the definition.
First and foremost, it is a land first stewarded by the indigenous peoples of North America. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, European powers began the process of colonization. They stole and controlled the land by using violence, forced enslavement, and genocide of the native people. As a region rich with natural resources, the South was a fertile and profitable place to colonize. Southern society was built upon economic scaffolding that supported the continued control and extraction of resources. As Paul Gilroy said, chattel slavery is “capitalism with its clothes off.” These social and cultural power relations within its borders were an integral part of the growth and maintenance of the South as a global powerhouse beyond its borders.
The South continues to shift and change, while firmly rooted and tied to the history that it springs from. It continues to be filled with hope, pain, contradiction, and complexity. Growing diversity functions within histories of institutionalized racism. Entrepreneurship and and social ventures are launched from within tobacco warehouses. The concept of the “New South” is one that interests and concerns us as it seems to depict new development as a departure from the “Old South” instead of investigating the how the South’s history is intertwined in its current projects.
We see the South as anything but singular. It is layered, contested, and contradictory. But it is also specific. “Broadly Speaking” is an attempt to stand firmly on this anything-but-firm territory.
So, basically, when we say, “the South,” that’s what we’re talking about.