or two black women geographers, striving in this post-recession milieu where social and economic precarity abound, these exchanges with family and friends reveal the intergenerational anxieties that higher education presents. And we wonder: will the sacrifices of time, mental, and emotional energy secure livelihoods more hopeful than the ones our parents and grandparents faced? Still, beyond these material considerations, a deeper and more vexing question persists: what can the field of geography contribute to the fashioning of a decidedly black “beloved community” (James and Sheftall, 2013)? What are we going to do with this?

As we write, our present moment has been profoundly shaped by a renewed attention to the deathly pervasiveness of racist police violence in the United States, the expendability of black life, and everyday forms of genocidal slow death. Our own discipline is deeply complicit in these anti-black state practices. Geography, much like its cousin anthropology, was born from European colonial expansion (Livingston, 1992) and was fundamental to the articulation of Enlightenment scientific racisms (Kobayashi, 2014). Today, through Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, modern-day “expeditions,” (Bryan, 2010) and data-driven policing collaborations, geography is still directly implicated in processes of militarization and violence.

The institutional legacies of geography further manifest themselves in the underrepresentation of black graduate and undergraduate students and faculty, the failure of geography to take seriously questions of race and racism (Pulido, 2002), the invisibilization of black geographies, and the Eurocentric canon we are taught. We suggest that “impostor syndrome,” (Clance and Imes, 1978) originally defined as an internal, individual psychological experience of inferiority, can – following black feminist theories of embodiment (Spillers, 2003) – be better understood as a product of institutional structures and the attitudes of advisors and colleagues that work together to marginalize geographers of color, their experiences, and their research.

In their famous dialogue “Revolutionary Hope,” Audre Lorde and James Baldwin (1984) ruminate on what it means to be black subjects in a world built on their destruction. The conversation is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it gives voice to the difficulties and profound contradictions of attempting to write oneself out of a nightmare. Second, the conversation reveals striking moments of contention and disagreement between these two literary giants, but, ultimately, there is the recognition that as black (queer) writers, scholars, and dreamers their best resources are each other. A more recent example of this intellectual “call and response” tradition is a series of conversations between Katherine McKittrick and Sylvia Wynter (2015) entitled On Being Human as Praxis. Again, there is something deeply affecting about the ways these two thinkers engage each other as both interlocutors and comrades. It is in this vein that our chapter proceeds as a dialogue. We discuss how, inspired by the work of groundbreaking black feminist geographers (Finney, 2014; Gilmore, 2002; McKittrick, 2006), we are attempting to hold our discipline accountable to a diversity of intellectual traditions. This conversation explores the challenges of articulating a black feminist praxis in our research, publications, interdisciplinary relationships, intradepartmental advocacy, teaching, and advising. We firmly believe that as black geographers we can contribute in myriad ways to the rich and storied history of black and Africana scholarship that spans across disciplines. And we enthusiastically follow in the tradition of other black women in academia who believed that though “we were never meant to survive,” we must continue to speak and write to save our own lives (Christian, 1987; Lorde, 1995). 

Photo by Camilla Hawthorne

Camilla Hawthorne: I developed a stubborn case of insomnia during the first months of my PhD program. The seductive call of life in academia—a safe haven where, after two years of working at the breakneck pace of international broadcasting and digital media, I could slow down and delve deeply, carefully, into matters of racial and spatial justice—grew increasingly faint, replaced instead by the incessant hum of fellow graduate students nervously contemplating their precarious futures:

--Have you started publishing yet? I’m thinking of turning my master’s thesis into a journal article.--Are you going to present at the AAGs [Association for American Geographers conference] this year? It’s really good to start presenting early—you’ll want to start bulking up your CV for when you go on the job market.

--I already know who I’m going to have on my dissertation committee. It’s important to ask the right people—their letters will make or break you when you’re applying for tenure-track jobs.

--Did you read that new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the adjuncting crisis? PhDs are living on food stamps!

Brittany Meché: I found myself plagued by the opposite phenomenon during my first months as a PhD student at Berkeley. I found the whirl of it all so disorienting that I slept far beyond what I was accustomed to. At the end of days filled with seminars and hundreds of pages of text, I would collapse into my bed and quickly find sleep. Yet, when I awoke I was consumed by a fear that I had forgotten everything I had studied the day before. When I spoke to my classmates who slept three to four hours nightly, I felt guilty about my nine or ten hours. Graduate school is about sleepless nights, I was told, and I feared I was doing grad school incorrectly. Still, it seems the things that kept you awake and led me to seek permanent refuge in my bed are very similar, namely expectations about what it means to be a “successful” graduate student.

CH: The pressure to fulfill the normative ideal of a “successful” graduate student, as you put it, was (and continues to be) incredibly anxiety producing. And this pressure is made worse by the increasing compression of academic professionalization and the impossible “pressure-cooker” of scholarly productivity imposed by the brutal demands of neoliberal higher education (Mountz et al., 2015; Shahjahan, 2015). But beyond all that, there was something else keeping me up at night. A week or so into the semester, I stumbled across a paper by Joe Darden, professor of geography at Michigan State University, and then-graduate student Lucia Terra (2003) with the straightforward title, “Black Geographers in Institutions of Higher Education: Where They Are and a Selected Bibliography of Their Works.” Although it had been written in 2003 (with the study itself conducted in 2002), the paper’s findings were nonetheless stunning: only 46 black geographers were found to be working as full-time faculty members at institutions of higher education in the United States. That dismal tally and the unambiguous conclusion accompanying it dovetailed with my own growing mental archive of disquieting observations, unsatisfactorily answered questions, and offhand comments that I would painstakingly reconstruct and analyze each late night during that first semester.

BM: I also came across the Darden and Terra article while attempting to make a decision about which graduate institution to attend. I consider myself a scholar of global affairs, United States foreign policy, and international relations. For a time, I assumed political science was the most logical choice for me. Yet, in a perverse way, many well-meaning advisors offered up the lack of black scholars in geography as an opportunity. “There’s a chance for you to make a difference,” they said. I have no interest in being a “black unicorn” (Lorde, 1995) for someone else, and I worry about the underlying tokenizing presumptions about this claim. Essentially the argument suggests that because geography is so behind the curve, any articulations of the words “race” or “blackness” are welcome. This obviously is not to discount the stellar and groundbreaking work being done at the intersections of racial and spatial theory.

But one of the things I wrestled with in deciding to make geography my disciplinary field was whether I would spend most of my time fighting battles that had already been waged more successfully in other disciplines. I’m thinking specifically of the Association of Black Anthropologists and their long history of advocacy as well as the Association of Black Political Scientists, which has fellowships and workshops supporting rising black scholars. While also operating in historically white disciplines, their critical mass has enabled scholars in these fields to begin to re-define what it means to do anthropology or political science. I worry about geography’s regressiveness on this front.

CH: I think this lack of institutional structures to advocate for black scholars and black scholarship within geography has far reaching effects that reverberate throughout the discipline, manifesting even in the texts we read in first-year core graduate seminars. Those sweeping accounts of disciplinary geography, anchored by major turning points within the field and key scholars, make some mention of the discipline’s historical connection to Enlightenment-era scientific racisms and climate determinisms. Still, the implication of such putatively progressive overtures toward a reckoning with the discipline’s ties to colonialism and imperialism is, ultimately, that people of color are mere victims of geography, not themselves sophisticated geographical thinkers engaged in creative processes of world-making.

Chroniclers of the history of geography devote ample space to the contributions of radical Marxist geography and, occasionally, to the challenges articulated by feminist geographers to masculinist assertions that gender and sexuality were “merely cultural” (Butler, 1998) embellishments atop more serious, underlying structural conditions. But why, I wondered, was there never a section entitled “anti-racist geographies” in these books—especially since some of the most radical and widely-cited feminist geographers—Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Katherine McKittrick, Laura Pulido, Carolyn Finney, just to name a few—are themselves women of color who center critical analyses of race in their work? It seemed, to my “undisciplined” eyes, that in terms of the official geographical canon, the sub-field of “race and geography” or “race and space” more-or-less ended with Kant (1997) and the Enlightenment, Hegel’s (2004) “Geographical Basis of World History,” or perhaps even the geopolitik of Friedrich Ratzel and his National Socialist pseudo-successors (Bassin, 1987). 

Photo by Rachel Garner, The Daily Cal, 2015

BM: The syllabi I encountered in geography seminars, specifically in the required introductory seminar, remind me of the subtitle to the famed black feminist anthology by Akasha Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith, Some of Us are Brave (1982). Indeed, it seems in geography, “all the women are white, and all the blacks are men.” The feminist geographers most frequently found on course reading lists are invariably white, and when black scholars are referenced they are often (deceased) men, most commonly Frantz Fanon and Stuart Hall. Sustained, detailed, and critical engagement with book-length texts by women of color scholars remains rare in geography graduate seminars. In my introduction to the field, both the syllabi and the class composition—in my cohort I am both the only woman and only person of color human geographer—suggested that I was an interloper in my own discipline.

I am glad that you raised this question of “undisciplined” or “insufficiently trained” eyes. In a 2013 interview with Katherine McKittrick, Andy Kent says of McKittrick’s work:

One of the most striking things about your work is its ‘undisciplined’ nature; from your home in gender and cultural studies human geography meets black and anti-colonial studies…And that’s not the only border being trespassed: non-academic ways of imagining and knowing the world play an important role in your scholarship…

I wonder about our ability as graduate students to claim for ourselves the mantra of “undisciplined” during such a formative process, which by definition is aimed toward making “disciplined” scholars of us. I know you have recently completed qualifying exams, so perhaps you can speak to this more than I can, but that experience seems to be a demonstration of the extent to which one has been appropriately disciplined.

CH: I definitely struggled with and against this process of “disciplining” (in all of its various connotations) while preparing for qualifying exams. My interdisciplinary academic background prior to Berkeley encompassed Africana studies, international relations, and public policy. I was initially drawn to geography because its boundaries seemed almost deliberately fuzzy. Yet there were times when I nonetheless found myself butting up against the admittedly ill-defined edges of the geographical canon. It seemed to me that race represented the ugly underbelly of the “geographical tradition” (Livingstone, 1992) a dangerous concept to be cleansed from the discipline and replaced with more objective analyses of political economy. Did this mean, then, that the mainstream of disciplinary geography had fallen victim to the trap of mid-century liberal antiracism—namely, that to combat racism was jettison the category of race entirely (for being unscientific or laden with genocidal baggage) and replace it with the “innocent” (Wekker, 2016) category of ethnicity? Instead, I wanted to reckon seriously with the processes by which multiple geographically and historically specific racisms produce the very category of race itself (Viswewaran, 2010)—often using geographical theories.

With all that in mind, while preparing for my exams, I attempted to hold together two practices. On one hand, I wanted to know the “official” history of geography—and not just to think against it, but also to think with it in order to effectively critique geography’s role in the formation and maintenance of racial hierarchies (Gilmore, 2002; Kobayashi, 2014). On the other hand, I also wanted to privilege a “counter-canon” that draws from a wider range of geographical traditions (from black diaspora studies to Afrofuturist speculative or vistionary fiction—see Imarisha and Brown 2015), even when they are not usually recognized as formally geographical (McKittrick, 2006). I cannot “swerve” geography (to quote one of my committee members), but, in the Fanonian (2004) tradition, I can actively stretch it. And these multiple strands of spatial thinking are profoundly interconnected, even if they are not given equal weight: they constitute each other’s conditions of possibility. Taking seriously this relationality, rather than perpetuating the boundedness that characterizes disciplinary divisions of intellectual labor, can transform the way we understand history. 

Photo by Ceasar Ruiz, The Daily Cal, 2014

BM: As Toni Morrison (1988) contends, “Canon building is empire building.” And many critical scholars have shown how, historically, geographers have been preoccupied with “dark histories” routed through “dark continents” (Cowen, 2014; Said, 1979). But I want to pick up on something you mentioned about “liberal” or leftist anti-racism. I think this is a crucial point. For several decades, geography has been a sanctuary for Marxist scholars forced out of more traditional disciplines (Cresswell 2013). Since the 2008 recession and in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there has been a resurgent interest in political economy, an arena that geographers have long taken as their area of expertise. Thus, I have found a self-styled radical positioning in which geographers take themselves to be on “the right side” of history, as it were, when it comes to critiques of capitalism and economic dispossession. In some ways, I think this influences the reticence of the field as a whole to account for the continued marginalization of scholars of color and a general unwillingness to adequately deal with questions of race. And yet, this phenomenon is in no way new. Others have pointed out the missteps self-congratulatory (white) Marxism for a long time (Davies, 2008; Dawson, 2013; Du Bois, 1998; Gilroy, 1987; Kelley, 1990; Robinson, 2000).

Despite these many apprehensions and admonishments, we both committed to geography as our intellectual “home.” And, I am using home a bit tongue in cheek here. When making my decision, I conceded that I most likely would never feel entirely “at home” in geography, but that the field had something to offer my research. I also relished the opportunity to be a novice again, to wade into intellectual traditions that I was unfamiliar with, to put those ideas in conversation with the scholars that have shaped me thus far, and, hopefully, emerge a more expansive thinker. What do you think geography brings to your scholarship?

CH: My dissertation addresses the relationship between blackness and Italianness, with a specific focus on the political mobilizations of young adults of African descent who were either born in Italy or arrived to the country as small children—a cohort that is sometimes called the “second generation.” Italy, a country once defined in part by its status as a major country of emigration, has since at least the 1990s emerged as an important entry point into Europe for migrants from across the African continent. Today, around twenty percent of children born in Italy today have immigrant parents.

My project is deeply geographical in the sense that I am trying to disentangle the taken-for-granted isomorphism of race and the bounded nation. Yoking spatial theory to race-critical studies, postcolonial theory, Black European studies, and an emerging body of radically revisionist Italian historiography, I argue that the idea of race has been central to the making of Italy and Italians since the Risorgimento project of national unification and Italy’s imperial expansion. The unresolved tensions of Italy’s ambiguous relationship both to Europe and Africa, which long predate the postcolonial migrations of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, continue to resurface with polyvalent mobility in the present. Contrary to popular portrayals of black Italians as mere victims of geography, “uprooted” (Malkki, 1992) subjects who are hopelessly caught between two worlds, however, I seek to tell an entirely different story. My goal is to engage the complex lifeworlds that comprise “Black Italy” (Carter, 2013; Merrill, 2014) as radical, embodied remappings of both Italy and Europe. Against the backdrop of both new modes of collective black organizing (Frisina and Hawthorne 2015) and daily assaults on black life in Italy and in the Mediterranean more broadly, I assert through my work that centering, and indeed loving, the resilience of black life is itself a form of black feminist praxis. This is how I resist the pernicious logic of Fortress Europe, which declares that black Italians do not—and should not—exist.

BM: This explanation reminds me of a piece by Neil Smith and Cindy Katz (1993) where they grapple with space as metaphor and everyday practice. In the way you have laid out your project here, it seems these are questions that you have been wrestling with for some time. And the grammars of geography — an explicit acknowledgement of “the interconnectedness of metaphor and materiality” (Smith and Katz, 1993: 67)— rendered these dynamics legible in very powerful ways.

In my own work, I am reminded of Edward Said’s claim, as quoted by Stuart Elden (2009), that “Geography is therefore the art of war but can also be the art of resistance if there is a counter-map and a counter-strategy.” As a scholar of war, militarism, and security, geography (as a material practice and epistemological category) is crucial to my understanding of violence. My dissertation project explores contemporary United States military initiatives in West Africa, especially within the vast and complex Sahel region. Currently, the U.S., often alongside former colonial power France, is investing in military infrastructure and providing technical expertise under the rubric of its expansive counterterrorism operations. These developments follow in the wake of the creation and rapid expansion of the U.S.’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) (Davis, 2007; Kieh and Kalu, 2013). Concurrently, a growing body of literature by environmental scientists indicates that the Sahel is one of the most ecologically vulnerable regions in the world (Biasutti and Giannini, 2006; Held et al, 2005). Environmental “insecurity,” and its threat to food systems, is at the forefront of debates about the compounding effects of climate change in Africa.

My research considers the multiple and contending meanings and practices of in/security as they actively produce the Sahel as a space subject to recurring foreign intervention. My research also confronts the tensions between geography and methodology. I wrestle with the where of military praxis, and my fieldwork traverses sites in the U.S., Germany, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. As much as I am inspired by the important and impactful work offered by geographers in the field of security studies (Amoore, 2013; Cowen 2014; Cowen and Gilbert 2008; Elden, 2009; Gregory, 2004; Paglen, 2009), I am frequently reminded when I attend conferences and review important literature in the field that it is still considered the realm of white scholars, predominantly white male scholars. For other perspectives, I’ve essentially had to turn away from the “canon” of security studies to draw from scholars in other fields who highlight alternate ways to think through the intersections of security, war, empire, race, and surveillance (see Browne, 2015; Mbembe, 2001; McKittrick, 2011, 2015; Nguyen, 2012; Maldonado-Torres, 2008; Scott, 2014).

Camilla, though you do not explicitly study militarism I know that both of our familial and political histories are routed through the U.S. military.

CH: Yes; that is certainly a connection we share, and one that has shaped our research and identities as scholars in multiple ways. As is the case of many women of color in academia, my research is driven by a set of commitments that are both political and deeply intimate, not that the two could ever be fully separated. My mother was born on a farm in a small Italian town outside of Milan. My father, a former drummer in an Oakland funk band, was an Army serviceman based in Italy (he narrowly avoided Vietnam but not the draft itself). The story of my parents’ meeting is a story of American imperialism and the transatlantic, black diasporic crosscurrents bound up with it. It’s also a story about one narrow corner of Black Europe and of Italy’s ambiguous relationship to Africa and people of African descent. For me, the project of linking the black diaspora to Italy—with the understanding that just as Black Italians inhabit one of the margins of the wider diaspora, Italy itself inhabits the margins of Europe—is also tied up with a personal endeavor to chart the tensions of my own familial roots and routes. And it entails an understanding of diaspora as a dynamic relation of power. This characteristic of diaspora is something I experience intimately as I grapple with my own privilege as a dual American and Italian passport holder (the latter unlike many of my interlocutors in Italy), and as I witness Black Italian activists engage, build upon, and sometimes even contest what some scholars of Black Europe have controversially called “African American hegemony” (c.f. Hine 2009) or what Wright (2015) refers to as the “middle passage epistemology” (see also Brown 2005 and Campt 2005).

BM: Similarly, the way I attempt to situate myself within my research is a source of constant anxiety. I am the daughter, granddaughter, niece, and cousin of U.S. military veterans. Both of my parents served more than 20 years in the Air Force, and my father was deployed to East Africa in the early 1990s as part of the U.S.’s calamitous intervention in Somalia. In many ways, I learned geography—in the sense of being able to identify places on a map—through war stories and childhood travels to bases in the U.S. and abroad. My entrenched suspicion of U.S. military power and my political commitments against U.S. empire often run up against a family history that implicates me in an imperial project. And yet, I often argue that people of color, especially black and indigenous communities, which are overrepresented in the armed services (Lutz, 2008), are conscripted—literally and figuratively—and refashioned as imperial subjects in ways that defy facile pronouncements. These histories also raise questions about gender and class. My maternal and paternal grandmothers are from the rural U.S. South—Louisiana and West Virginia, respectively. Both opted to partner with military men, which enabled them to leave the South and see different worlds. Likewise, my parents’ decisions to enlist provided the social and economic capital that enabled me to go to college. In striving to create a black feminist praxis within the field of geography, I think we have a responsibility to tell these stories, even when they are messy. They are not tangential or “unacademic.” Instead, they constitute how we approach our research topics, whether it is blackness in Italy or security operations in the Sahel.

Still, I think the messiness of these histories furthers the uncertainty about what comes next.

CH: Uncertainty—especially those uncertainties about how to navigate the overlaps and tensions between our family histories and our scholarship—is the really right word. Not hailing from a family with ties to academia, and being the first in my family to receive a four-year college degree, I was relatively unprepared for the realities of a PhD program. Educational attainment is closely tied to aspirations of class mobility in my family. As a result, my parents encouraged me to accumulate the maximum amount of schooling possible. I internalized this drive from a young age. I still cringe when I remember signing a middle school science project with the overblown honorific, “Dr. Camilla Alice Hawthorne, Ph.D.”

For me, higher education was tied less to dreams of economic stability and more to the naïve allure of a particular kind of lifestyle—one in which I could speak truth to power while having the time to read voraciously, debate fiercely, foster my intellectual curiosity, and—perhaps most importantly—teach. I grew up in a suburban town that, while ranked among the most diverse municipalities in the United States (Barrett et al., 2012), was also home to a powerful minority of vocal parents who actively sought to censor teachers and readings that made even indirect references to racism or sexuality. The experience of being able to openly discuss topics such as institutional racism in college was eye opening. I once tearfully thanked a black female professor after a freshman seminar for providing a space to discuss topics that had been unspeakable in high school.

Still, despite the support of faculty both within and outside of my PhD department, I felt that I was lacking the professionalization that marked my eminently knowledgeable peers, and this sense of being out-of-place left me reeling with vertigo. While the structural position of the first-year PhD student—where, despite the skills and experience you bring to the seminar table, you are always assumed to be an empty vessel in need of proper “disciplining”—is itself conducive to impostor syndrome, my gender and skin color began to feel like additional obstacles rather than resources. Academia, it turned out, would not be a reprieve from the –isms of the “outside” world. Nor would it necessarily provide the economic stability my parents imagined or the life I desired. The harsh reality of academia, I realized, was one of constant mobility and precarity—difficult to convey to a family in which education is a regarded as a powerful symbol of overcoming, and where more education should provide greater returns, not fewer.

BM: On the point of diminishing returns: new doctoral students are exposed to a now common refrain that cautions against reading the Chronicle of Higher Education. The academic market is notoriously bleak. I am not ashamed to admit that I often worry about the ability to do work that is meaningful to me while also obtaining some form of reliable employment and access to health care. In the face of the STEM onslaught and the dominance of GIS technology, I am wondering if there is a place for me in geography both as a black woman and as a scholar who remains profoundly suspicious of types of technological literacy that are privileged and touted as necessary for intellectuals in a “new economy.” It is worth noting that this is not a concern unique to geographers, a variety of fields are being subjected to fetishized numeration, big data, digitization, and neoliberal calculability (see Brown, 2015; Dean, 2009; Harney and Moten, 2013).

To reference the title of Carolyn Finney’s (2014) groundbreaking book, being a black geographer is about so much more than being a “black face” in a “white space.” Instead, it is about challenging what counts as knowledge and redefining what types of research are considered rigorous and sound. During a recent annual AAG meeting, a colleague quipped that there is a prototypical aesthetic of a geographer—presumably white, cis-male, upper middle class, equally fond of Althusser and Patagonia outerwear. In our own ways, I think we both break with that mold. But we also encounter moments when we are told that a certain mold exists because it is indicative of academic excellence. This harkens back to our previous discussion of canon and the promise and peril of unmooring discipline.

CH: This “mold” that you mention, which prescribes both how a geographer should look and what kind of research a geographer should conduct, effectively tells entire groups both overtly and subtly that they do not belong in the discipline. The marginalization of black geographies and geographers of color, along with the relative paucity of critical work on race and the Eurocentricity of the geography curricula are institutional legacies that contribute to the severe underrepresentation of black undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty in the discipline.[1] As a graduate student instructor, I sadly have had few opportunities to teach black students in my geography discussion sections. I often wonder, given the issues outlined above, how I can make a convincing case for the discipline to undergraduates who are actively seeking community and safe spaces in a predominantly white and often hostile institution (UC Berkeley, 2013). After all, as an undergraduate I found a much-needed refuge in Churchill House, home of Brown University’s storied Africana studies department. Even now that I am at Berkeley, I maintain strong links to African-American/African Diaspora studies, Anthropology, and Science and Technology Studies, in addition to other departments and centers.

I believe strongly in the importance of rigorous interdisciplinary scholarship. But by interdisciplinary I do not intend to promote a sort of attenuated, “add diversity and stir” approach to research and canon building. Rather, I am talking about a process of centering those voices, experiences, and traditions of thought that have been historically excluded from the confines of geography—and academia more broadly. Only then can we begin to displace the white-masculinist cartographic gaze with what Patricia Hill Collins (1990: 234-5) described as “partial perspectives, situated knowledges, and…subjugated knowledges,” and in doing so attend to the intertwinings of spatial, racial, gendered, and other forms of violence. I believe that the work coming out of geography will only improve and be relevant to the challenges of our contemporary world if the discipline (and individual geography departments) makes a concerted effort to attract diverse students and faculty and foster spaces of solidarity and support for those geographers who, through both their research and lived experiences, are already radically transforming the discipline from the margins.

BM: I think you touched on an important conundrum. On the one hand, we both agree that geography needs to be held accountable for the continued marginalization of scholars of color and the erasure of multiple intellectual traditions. While on the other hand, as you note, scholars like Sara Ahmed (2012) and others have warned about the dangers of diversity and inclusion. Scholars of color and other “underrepresented” groups tread a contradictory and uncertain path while attempting to hold these two things at once.

I want to return briefly to something you mentioned before, that is a Fanonian “stretching” of geography. I also wonder about the possibilities, in a slightly different Fanonian register, of betrayal. Like you, I have forged intellectual and personal community outside the department, through Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender and with students and faculty in Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, and African American Studies. At times I have felt a certain twinge of guilt about “stepping out on” or betraying geography. But, perhaps I am a better geographer as a result of my infidelities. One of the advisors we share likes to describe geography as the “last renaissance discipline”; setting aside the imperial baggage of Renaissance-era Europe for a moment, I would like to take this invitation at its word. Therefore, in pursuing what you describe as a rigorous interdisciplinarity, or what I might call an ongoing betrayal of discipline, I believe we are in line with the best of what geography has to offer. But I agree; the survival and continued relevance of the field will hinge on its ability to embrace and encourage alternate scholarly visions. In this way, making room for black feminist praxis is about making a geography suited to the insurrectionary hopes of the 21st century; or—to borrow a phrase first offered by Aimé Césaire (2001) and taken up by Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick (2015) and Paul Gilroy (2014)—fostering a geography “made to the measure of the world.” 


[1] In 2002, Laura Pulido (citing a 1999 study by the Association of American Geographers) observed that the discipline was over 90 percent white.


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