Valuing Black People

By Anita Ewan, Ph.D. Student at Wilfrid Laurier University

Last week, my partner, my three children and I drove to Kitchener so that I could attend a meeting for a class I will be teaching this Fall. I was excited to bring my babies to visit one of the administrative staff whom I admire. Her name is Peggy, and she is always so very helpful. Her kindness provided me with comfort and strength as I was going through a very depressing time. At one moment, I felt very out of place. My school environment became very toxic to me. But Peggy was always so pleasant. She was also delighted to pictures I email to her of my children. So, I promised Peggy I would bring my little ones (aged 9, 18m and 7m) to visit her the next time I was on campus.

Attending Wilfrid Laurier as a Black woman Ph.D. student is a form of resistance. My very presence is significant. This significance was hard to explain. I just remember feeling like I was doing something revolutionary by attending a doctoral program as a Black woman who was once a teenaged mother. I was expected to fail in all areas of life but here I am! Then, to bring my three beautiful children along with me into this very same space added a more intense feeling. Although I could not describe this feeling, I knew that we were altering a state of being that was created from years of historical inequity and exclusion.

Demonic grounds theoretically introduced me to the politics of race, gender, and space. McKittrick used literary works and historical events as examples to illustrate how space is manipulated by, and associated with, race and gender. McKittrick’s aim was to show how Black bodies are geographic and also how black experiences are entwined with geography. Black bodies/women/people are also fundamental to creating geographies (space and place) by way of their oppression and exploitation.

It was interesting to see how McKittrick traced back to the transatlantic slave trade to highlight the patterns of racial-sexual domination and its influence on space. The reference to the slave auction block was powerful imagery used to explain part of this phenomenon.  McKittrick contends, ” This historical-contextual site not only adds to the complexities of paradoxical space but also delineates how intimate physical attributes…can also shape external geographies[.]

Demonic grounds really set the foundation for my understanding of racial and gendered spatial politics. It was also the gateway to my knowledge about Black Geographies, a concept that encapsulates what I have discussed thus far. Although I considered this book an introductory piece for the concept of Black Geographies, it was a very dense and difficult read at first. I had to start over many times because I would need to take a break but would not be able to begin where I left off without being confused about what I was learning. However, as I began to understand more of what I read, it was an exciting journey to be on. I was able to apply my personal experience as a Black woman navigating various spaces such as my neighbourhood, my school, and my workplace.

Another example of McKittrick’s that stood out to me was the story of the young woman who was attending a job interview. This example was taken out of Dionne Brand’s essay “Job”. In this example, the hiring manager called this young Black woman into an interview with the belief that she was a white woman. He misconceived her race because of the tone of her voice.     As she traveled to her interview, her very presence in that workplace and surrounding area shifted normalized expectations about who exists in certain places. She crossed over the “demarcation of geographic, racial, sexual and class boundaries” (McKittrick 2013, Loc 1224) that typically excluded poor racialized people from entering spaces similar to the one of her interview location. McKittrick denotes this interruption as “the denaturalization of space” (Loc 682). I feel the same dynamics occurring while I attend the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier in Kitchener, a city that is pprimarilywhite. I feel a mix of empowerment and resistance each time I enter in the walls of my academic institution. However, these feelings are juxtaposed with stress, sadness and uneasiness. All of these feelings contribute to how space is formulated. Both my pride and anguish emanate from the interworking systems that render the places I go ideologically legitimate (or not). University is considered a valuable and valid place and space in our society. Valuable spaces are to contain people and things that are considered valuable in our society, which Black people unfortunately are not.

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