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When Things Disappear: Memory and the Ephemerality of Black Spaces

Authors: Ashante Reese*, UMBC
Topics: Food Systems
Keywords: black geographies, archives, memory, food access
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In gentrifying cities where displacement occurs, the shape and constraint of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous geographies are co-constituted with the liberal possibilities for white and often wealthy newcomers who are often drawn to cities for less expensive property and the cultural landscapes that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people created (Ramirez 2019; Summers 2019). These processes have material consequences that, for residents who experience them, inform how they understand loss. In this paper, I explore the ephemerality of Black spaces at the nexus of racial capitalism and memory to ask: how do we see, document, and engage that which has been lost, destroyed, or displaced? I revisit two field sites in Washington, D.C. — a Black-owned store and a community garden at a housing project to explore what remains in the wake of each of their closings. Taking up McKittrick’s claim that Black geographies both reveal the “uncertainty of space” and are “the terrain of political struggle itself” (2006: 2, 6), I argue that Black spaces and places that no longer exist in a material sense are important not only because of how they disappear but also because of how they force us to contend with memory as an alternative geography that inform residents’ engagements with the city and researchers’ understandings of what remains.

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