Blue Planet, Black Lives: Matter, Memory, and the Temporalities of Political Geography

Authors: Philip Steinberg*, Durham University
Topics: Political Geography, Coastal and Marine, Black Geographies
Keywords: ocean, race, memory, political geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 57
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

On June 8, 2020, just two days after the peak day of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the world celebrated World Oceans Day, an annual United Nations-endorsed effort when “people around our blue planet celebrate and honor our ocean, which connects us all.” Each movement speaks to a tension between, on the one hand, specific, historic grievances and, on the other hand, appeals to universal humanity. This tension, in turn, has been picked up by critics, from counter-protesters who argue that all lives matter to local activists who assert that appeals to stewardship of a global ocean marginalises the specific relations that coastal and Indigenous peoples have with local seas. Both movements also have complex histories of coopting (or, perhaps, being coopted by) firms, states, and organisations that, in a different context, might be considered part of the ‘problem’ rather than part of the solution.

Notwithstanding these parallels, contemporary linkages between the movements have tended to be accidental at best. Of course, there have been many calls for ‘decolonising’ ocean science by valuing participation by people of color and also for understanding the historic role of ocean voyaging in both reproducing and challenging racial hierarchies. Although aligned with these efforts, this paper takes this argument to a ‘deeper’ level, suggesting that perspectives derived from understandings of the ocean’s materiality, our encounters with that materiality and the temporality of those encounters can shed light on the persistence of racialization and the challenges from within and beyond dominant political geographies.

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