Four Quotes: from Spacializing Blackness, by Rashad Shabazz

shabazzA geographic study of race and gender, Spatializing Blackness casts light upon the ubiquitous—and ordinary—ways carceral power functions in places where African Americans live. Moving from the kitchenette to the prison cell, and mining forgotten facts from sources as diverse as maps and memoirs, Rashad Shabazz explores the myriad architectures of confinement, policing, surveillance, urban planning, and incarceration. Below we present a glimpse inside the book with four quotes taken from the text.

1. For Black Chicagoans kitchenettes were not represented as modern, convenient, or libratory. Experientially, kitchenettes were forms of containment. Black migrants moved into kitchenettes for three reasons: they were restricted with regard to where they could live; kitchenettes were the only affordable housing option; and kitchenettes were heavily marketed toward Blacks. . . . For Black migrants the kitchenette was a return to antiquated forms of housing that in many cases was no better than the conditions they experienced in the South during and after slavery. The kitchenette was a form of punishment for moving North, what [Richard] Wright called the “royal road to a slum community.” Black life in the kitchenette was hard. They were filthy, decrepit, diseased, packed full, overpriced, and full of tension that sometimes erupted in male violence.

2. The spatial containment of Black men is nothing new. Indeed, it was a central part of their experience in this country. Read as licentious, criminal, violent, and rapacious, Black men have historically produced fear among whites, which has led to calls for their regulation, discipline, and dispersal. . . . Fears of Black men in Chicago during the early twentieth century produced demands for their regulation and led to the shuttering of the interzones. But more than containment, carceral power in Chicago played a role in shaping how Black men understood and performed masculinity. Segregation, policing, and containment informed the landscape on which generations of Black boys and young men learned gender. This is most vividly expressed in the rise of Black gangs in Chicago.

3. The revolving door between Black Chicago and the IDOC is an example of what sociologist Todd Clear calls “coercive mobility,” where sizable portions of the population cycle between the community and prison. In the process of this back-and-forth, the community becomes destabilized and disorganized.

Some Black communities in Chicago experience this corrosive mobility on a large scale. Each year, Illinois releases 35,000 prisoners from its state institutions (the figure is 700,000 nationally). More than 60 percent return to just fifteen zip codes located on the West and South Sides of Chicago.

4. Urban agriculture can also help offset the detrimental effects of living in a food desert and also provide social, physical, and mental health benefits to the community. Growing food on small plots of land positively influences dietary habits and the culinary diversity in the place where that food is grown. When communities have access to whole foods, they also develop skills to turn that raw food into cooked food. And locally grown food is also more economical. Every dollar spent on a community garden generates six dollars’ worth of food. This makes it possible for people who have little or no flexibility in their food budgets to purchase healthy foods.