Unfolding the Frame: The Geographic Matter of Black of Black Life, Image and Form in Oakland California

Authors: Kaily Heitz*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: Black Geographies, California
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Governors Square 10, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores a black sense of place in Oakland, California through an analysis of “black images”: specifically, a set of self-portrait smartphone photographs taken in front of Oakland murals and graffiti by my interlocutor and a Black Oakland local, “Rose.” I use three elements of her photographs - the image, the ground, and the body - to understand how Oaklanders like Rose situate themselves economically and poetically between the lived experience of blackness in Oakland, and its commoditization by the city. I use the layered juxtaposition of Rose’s body and the murals to locate blackness in Oakland as both a disembodied cultural object, used to define and promote and develop the city, and as an epidermalized signifier of inequity that in turn justifies the very displacement of Black people from Oakland. Her struggle against as well as complicity with the the racial capital of the black image here emerges as a tertiary, in-between space. I conclude with the argument that it is only in the space beyond the binary frame of the image that re-imagining blackness as grit, as affect, as “diverse”, as complex, as experience and, most importantly, as central to the production and gentrification of place, can occur.

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