Black Geographies Specialty Group’s Call for Transformative Racial Justice

This statement is an indictment of the business as usual that has proceeded in the wake of persistent white supremacy through policing. The Black Geographies Specialty Group condemns the routine violence of policing in the United States, where the number of people killed by police continuously extends beyond 1,000 people each year. We mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, James Scurlock, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Marielle Franco, and all other victims of anti-Black, government-sanctioned and extrajudicial violence throughout the world. We write to express our investment in the demands echoed in protests happening across the nation and on a global scale to defund and demilitarize the police.

We appreciate the statements of solidarity from other specialty groups and the American Association of Geographers. We also urge our colleagues to go beyond their statements and work to transform the discipline by addressing its legacies of racism, imperialism, colonialism, homophobia, and sexism. We must support our students and faculty who study these structural issues and call attention to them both in their work and in their everyday experiences. We must also support those in the struggle who are physically resisting these structures in the streets by calling attention to the many forms of anti-Black violence enacted by the police state. 

This moment holds the potential for transformative social change, and the discipline of geography must prepare to engage with the structures of racial capitalism, carceral landscapes, anti-Blackness, and white supremacist policing in spatial studies across the world.  We must continue to make this kind of abolitionist scholarship readily accessible to those who most urgently need it: by acting as public scholars, by removing journal paywalls, and by holding educational institutions accountable to the standards of success in social transformation.

In the interim, we must call attention to the many forms of violence that are produced and reproduced within the academy, from the epistemic violence of co-opting theory from community activists without due credit and erasing Black Geographies scholarship from graduate-level reading lists and undergraduate syllabi to the everyday microaggressions and overt racist harassment of Black scholars. Our colleagues must go beyond “checking in” and truly begin affirming and engaging with Black Geographies and the scholars who produce this vital work.  As Aretina Hamilton writes:

It is a harrowing enterprise that few of my white colleagues will ever understand, even as they lament the injustices — it is clear that a cognitive dissonance occurs. While I am distraught and heartbroken by the thousands upon thousands of Black bodies and others who are being shot down by the military-industrial complex, I find myself experiencing an [existential] crisis as I consider the frequent violence that has been cast upon Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the academy, in graduate school, and yes, in our professional organizations. This violence is often invisible and difficult to comprehend. It may not cause bloodshed or impede your physical mobility. There are no batons or angry, fear-mongering cops with knees on your neck. And yet it is palpable. We feel the pain. It never ceases. It remains contained in our bodies, violently thrashing.

We ask that our colleagues support Black people in whatever ways they can; for instance, through mutual aid (see the BGSG Mutual Aid List) and citational praxes (see the BGSG Reading List). We also accept donations made to the Black Geographies Specialty Group, which will be used to fund student conference travel and other opportunities for young scholars working at the intersections of race, space, and power. We urge our colleagues to mobilize for profound transformations of our discipline and our institutions of higher learning. This includes:

  • Calling on universities and colleges to cut ties with police, following in the steps of the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Public Schools;
  • Systematically increasing hiring and promotion of Black faculty;
  • Creating pipelines that will convert diversity postdoctoral fellows into tenure-track faculty;
  • Modifying tenure and promotion decision-making so that the mentorship and service work that faculty of color are disproportionately asked to perform are weighted more heavily;
  • Prioritizing reviews of manuscripts submitted by Black scholars;
  • Dedicating funding to mentorship and support programs for Black undergraduates and graduate students.  

Within and beyond the academy, we must all acknowledge, honor, and continue the work of Black freedom fighters in building worlds of radical transformation and racial justice.

Signed,

 

The Black Geographies Specialty Group Executive Committee