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t has taken me months to read The Black Shoals. Pandemic and uprisings considered, it was not just circumstances that slowed my pace, but my desire to engage King’s words with the same care they offered me. The Black Shoals is a pivotal text that weaves Black and Indigenous studies with a gentle persistence, drawing from the “Black vernacular of conquest” (45) to push beyond the spatial and temporal frames of settler colonial studies and into the possibilities that relational and hemispheric notions of conquest open up. King honors each body of work she engages, folding theories into her analysis to build “productive frictions” (19), and her skillful narration extends understandings of Black and Indigenous relations under and beyond conquest. The analytical lenses King brings to life are geographically expansive, and I was taken by how her theorizing of Blackness and Indigeneity speaks hemispherically, unsettling Latinx geographies as well.
By theorizing in relation to conquest, King offers “a grammar and a frame from which to think makes it possible to register the ways always already intersectional violence of anti-Blackness, slavery and its afterlife, and genocide at the same time” (68). The frame of conquest places Latin America, and therein Latinidad, as sites where Black fungibility and Indigenous genocide need be interrogated. Racial hegemonies across the Americas uphold what King terms conquistador humanism, “the crafting and sustaining of European human life and self-actualization through Black and Indigenous death” (84). As Latinx studies scholars like Lorgia García Peña, Juliet Hooker, and Jonathan Rosa have written extensively, the ideological and cultural production of mestizaje has perpetuated anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity through the creation and normalization of the mestizx subject. Mestizaje serves conquistador humanism in how it shrouds the continued genocide, dehumanization and erasure of Black and Indigenous peoples.
The centering of a mestizx conquistador or settler subject in hemispheric notions of Latinidad reaffirm the ongoing effects of conquest upon Black and Indigenous peoples in Latin America. However, conquest, as King frames it, “is not an event or even a structure, but a milieu or active set of relations that we can push on, move around in, and redo from moment to moment” (40). This notion of conquest as a milieu offers a means of challenging and reframing Latinidad, as an ideology and cultural identity, under the ongoing conditions of conquest. As King writes, “the soundscapes or first grammars of conquest are a patois made of both Indigenous and Black noise” (47). If the first soundscapes of the western hemisphere, of “Latin America”, are Indigenous and Black noise, these soundscapes are also vital facets of Latinx geographies. How then might the interrelationships between Blackness and Indigeneity be centered and upheld within Latinidad rather than devalued, dehumanized and erased? Latinx geographies acquire meaning in relation in Blackness and Indigeneity, and so if Latinidad is to exist as a liberatory identity invested in futurities, it needs to value, sustain and nurture Black and Indigenous peoples and geographies. Latinidad and Latinx geographies cannot be grounded in mestizaje alone – for non-Black and non-Indigenous Latinx peoples to be invested in liberatory futures, we need to build in relation to our Black and Indigenous kin.
The Black Shoals is a remarkable text that offers many layers and depths of analysis, as well as important interventions the nudge us into better relation with one another, intellectually and in the everyday pursuit of liberation. Underlying her analysis, what nourished me throughout this text was the liberatory intimacy that King’s words radiate, and how the intimacy practiced throughout is a necessary component to building shared futures. In the remainder of this piece, I draw from the different intimacies emergent in The Black Shoals and consider how each takes shape in moving toward liberation.
The intimacy of haunting. “Genocide and slavery do not have an edge…to perceive this distinct yet edgeless violence and its haunting requires a way of sensing that requires moving in and out of blurred and sharpened vision, acute and dulled senses of smell. It requires the taste buds at the back of the throat and the pinch of the acidic in the nerves at the jawline. Edgeless distinction is a haptic moment, shared, and a ceremonial Black and Indigenous ritual (x)”. How haunting is embodied. The very ways in which these haunts often do not have a name and yet we recognize their origins in slavery and genocide. These reflexes and unexplainable sensations ooze and reverberate in our bodies, at times emerging from a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch. Bodily hauntings are intimate encounters, and the sharing of stories and sensations offer rituals and reckonings, quiet explorations of shared recognition.
The intimacy of the shoal. “Rising and falling with the tide, the shoal is an interstitial and emerging space of becoming…as an in-between, ecotonal, unexpected and shifting space, the shoal requires new footing, different chords of embodied rhythms, and new conceptual tools to navigate its terrain” (3-4). The shoal takes form where land and sea co-exist, friction creating new topographies that are fluid and emergent. King cultivates this analytic throughout The Black Shoals and her careful rendering of shoal offers a place to traverse the shared histories, hauntings and tensions that Black and Indigenous peoples carry. The shoal as a space to become unmoored, its shifting form and refusal to be fully mapped allows for a necessary unknowability. Liberatory intimacies must not be fully unknowable; they must exist beyond the gaze of conquest and white supremacy.
The intimacy of the erotic. While this statement feels redundant on the page, King’s intention in engaging Audre Lorde’s notion of the erotic sinks the project deeper into the embodied practices that accompany the intellectual work. Drawing from Lorde’s words on how “the erotic is a ‘measure between the beginnings of the sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings’” (144), King writes, “the erotic is a powerful space in which, Lorde suggests, we engage the threat and our fear of difference to come to a place that allows us to be with and for one another…lingering with and in the erotic is a generative way to enter into conversations about sovereignty, coalition, and ethics on different terms (147-148)”. The erotic requires that we remain fully in our bodies, tracing the hauntings and leaning in to murmur liberatory desires. Building decolonial, abolitionist and liberatory movements in this moment of uprising requires intimate accountability, relationality and trust – and as King urges, we need to move “past the abstract and towards the smell, taste and feel of the other…push[ing] through abstract theoretical impasses between Black and Native studies in the hopes of identifying different methods and modes of talking to one another (148).” The erotic offers an embodied method to navigate shared and differential geographies of conquest, and to envision liberatory futures in relation to one another.
The intimacy of the ceremony. As King writes, “ceremony unsettles the body, Western epistemologies, and notions of time and space. The labor of the ceremony requires a simultaneous reclamation and surrender of the body to a collective agreement to enter into chaos. Chaos allows us to enter into a Lordean space of erotic possibilities, where bodies transfer experiences and come into contact with the sacred together” (204). Creating spaces of intimacy, of ceremony, where the shoals slow the pace, where the sacred is kindled – this is where geographies meet and come into constellation, where futures take form. These spaces offer paths forward, and I am grateful to Dr. Tiffany King for offering language and vision to keep us moving towards liberation as the density of conquest looms heavy.
Margaret Marietta Ramírez is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Simon Fraser University, and her work explores how racial capitalism and colonialism structure urban space as well as how Black, Indigenous and Latinx peoples weave liberatory praxes. Her writing is published in EPD, Antipode, Urban Geography, and Political Geography journals.