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’ve spent quite a bit of time considering the uses of mapping beyond the practices of conquest, dispossession, and spatial domination. My research focuses on Black-founded places whose names are often absented from maps, whole living communities appearing on the two-dimensional space as indecipherable from some other largely white place. My role is to be a conscientious witness of how the spaces presented to us as “true” conceal the places shaped the most by Black people, and to consider with many other people what that peculiar violence requires to ensure that those Black places and people still exist in the future.
Learning about the “where” of Black places sometimes feels like its own problematic conquest. I must always ask—what is the purpose of this knowledge? Who is it for? Who will gain or maintain power through this practice? The un-knowing, the refusal to produce all knowledge is its own important purpose when it comes to Black geographies (McKittrick, 2020). What requires our collective knowledge?
In the Foreword to Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance, included here as the first contribution to this forum, Ananya Roy (2021: xx) observes that “[o]ne striking aspect of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) is the capacious imagination to make visible and hold together seemingly separate processes and histories.” Consider how Counterpoints maps look different than the “true” map of the San Francisco Bay Area that the uninitiated might use to navigate the region. Suddenly, the Black, Indigenous, and Latinx places that have been eroded or absented across the Bay come surging to life, with their joyous memories and stories and landmarks and laments of loss—of relations, spatial markers, institutions, traditions, feelings, home. Ways of being that are no longer, that have been made strange or marginal or even illegal as capital transforms places into fungible commodities for newcomer investors.
All by themselves, these remembrances of what Katherine McKittrick (2020: 3) calls “Black livingness” mean that Counterpoints represents the kind of knowing that offers a vision of an otherwise world, a counter to settling for extractive relations to each other, for further distancing of our human selves from the more than human ecosystem that gives us life. This is required knowledge, and these are maps to a different kind of future, if we follow them.
The Black places at the center of my work are inextricable from the many geographies and peoples and struggles tethered so aptly in Counterpoints. The refusal to present evictions as a singular, siloed issue, and the breadth of intersections and tracings of histories, ideas, and experiences honor the fullness and complexity of the people’s lives in the Bay. Tying the stories of Spanish colonial missions as the first carceral systems eviscerating Indigenous communities in California (Gould, 2021) to the present-day gentrification-to-prison pipeline (Hamilton, 2021) demonstrates the iterative continuity of colonial violences against people and landscapes. Reading in the same space about the uneven and often violent development of various infrastructures (water, sewer, transit, etc.) across the Bay (Stehlin and Chan, 2021), the stories of fights for environmental justice in Bayview Hunter’s Point (Lacey, Crane, and Zhu, 2021), and the narratives about how the purported eradication of HIV/AIDS in San Francisco was driven in part by the eviction of people living with HIV/AIDS out of the city via gentrification (Black, 2021) moves us to think in systems, networks, and lifecycles rather than only at the level of the individual community, hazard, or epidemic.
For as much as the Atlas requires an expansive lens on the Bay Area, it also refuses to be reduced to a compilation of data, refusing abstraction from the lived experiences of people and place. Anchoring the series of intersecting big pictures are the intimate moments of rage, grief, activation, and hope, represented through oral histories, interviews, community power maps, murals, photographs, and gorgeous illustrations. Two stories in particular stick with me—the first about Edwin from Bernal Heights (McElroy, 2021) and the second about Cheryl from the Mission district (AEMP, 2021). Multiple generations of Edwin’s family lived in Bernal Heights. Cheryl lived in the Mission for nearly 30 years. Edwin’s parallel journey to becoming a lawyer while fighting alongside his father to save the home they eventually lost, the gradual feeling of becoming strangers and eventually criminalized people in their own community (a new neighbor called the police on them), and the “root shock” of having to try finding home in another place make plain how racial capitalism devours all notions of security and connectedness—the things that keep us safe and thriving, even when we don’t have as many financial resources. Edwin’s map of Bernal Heights (illustrated by Claire Astrow) marks the spaces of the commonwealth in the community—the parks, the library, the gardens, the farms and farmer’s markets, the neighborhoods. These are infrastructures of community cohesion and sustainability, rather than drivers of capital.
Cheryl’s 30-year history in the Mission district of San Francisco, even with her challenges of a poorly maintained, rotting apartment—a prime example of how use value is intentionally eroded towards eviction and eventual exchange value—created a stability for her that could not be replicated elsewhere. The intimate and deep relationship Cheryl cultivated with the Mission across three decades means not only understanding its rhythms and culture, but also understanding herself within that location. Being transplanted to another place, especially by force, means relearning yourself, too. Cheryl’s story ends with her musings on isolation, on the loss of healthcare available only for San Franciscans, on disconnection from cultural events like Pride month, and on the lost investment in place, which she cites as childcare, as tree planting, as volunteering, not as finance. I lingered on that last sentence about investments, because having a sustained investment in a community often means building relationships that are not sustained through money or even reciprocal “services.” It is not simply social capital; it is mutual aid and solidarity. The difference is that the relations are integral to making life possible for each other, for building collective safety and security, for sustaining community over time. Capital, regardless of its manifestation, still directs unendingly towards the individual enrichment, to the transaction, to the collection of people with no community, with no intimate, mutual reliance.
Counterpoints also has intimate resonance for my own life and community in Durham, North Carolina, a Black city currently facing the specter of a Big Tech takeover, most imminently from Apple and Google—who both practiced their colonial pursuits in the Bay region. Like Cheryl in the Mission district, my family has made home in Durham for 30 years. The quickening pace of community erosion, of people disappearing from a city they can no longer afford, of new developments falsely claiming ties to local culture, coincide with increases in policing, incarceration, and surveillance, divestment in public schools, and various forms of violence on the streets, in our homes, and by our government. My co-conspirators and I are fighting like hell for a future Durham where we can live as Black queer elders, and where generations after us grow in a culture of community safety and solidarity that no company can destroy. For the work ahead of us, Counterpoints is not simply a reference for compared experiences; it's an organizing tool and a rallying cry for future maps where our children, like the children of Guadalupe Elementary School (Guadalupe Elementary School, 2021), can imagine their own future belonging.
Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (2021) Cheryl’s Story. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp.117-118.
Black F (2021) Gentrification, Evictions, and HIV in San Francisco. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp.131-134.
CBS 17 Digital Desk (2021) Google picks Durham for new Google Cloud Hub; hub to ‘eventually support’ 1,000+ jobs. CBS 17, 18 March, [online]. Available here (accessed: 21, March, 2022).
Gould C (2021) Ohlone Geographies. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp.71-75.
Guadalupe Elementary School (2021) San Francisco Kids: Our Wanderland. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp.381-386.
Hamilton L (2021) The Gentrification to Prison Pipeline. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp.176-180.
Lacey A, Crane R B, Zhu J (2021) Bayview Hunters Point Geographies of Toxicity and Narratives of Resistance. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp.119-127.
McElroy E (2021) Root Shock: Edwin’s Story In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp.34-35.
McKittrick, K (2020). Dear Science and Other Stories. Duke University Press.
Owens A, Smith R (2021) Apple picks Triangle for $1 billion campus, thousands of high-paying jobs. WRAL, 26 April, [online]. Available here (Accessed: 21, March, 2022).
Roy A (2021) An Atlas for a Difficult World. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (ed). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, xx-xxi.
Stehlin J, Chan, D (2021) Transportation, Infrastructure, & Economy. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (eds). Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement & Resistance. Oakland: PM Press, pp. 229-284.
Danielle Purifoy is a writer, lawyer, and Assistant Professor of Geography at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work focuses on roots of contemporary environmental inequity in the U.S. South, particularly in the development of Black towns and settlements.