The following is an attempt at talking back. To tell the story of a map, its colonial discourse on black bodies, the spaces those bodies inhabit. It is not comprehensive nor meant to be. It is fragmented, as are the memories of the lives absent from or in the shadows of official accounts. The following is the story of the afterlife of maps, because as Morrison teaches, “nothing ever dies.” They echo in social and political landscapes, they continue to contribute to an archive that performs erasures of black social life. The following is an examination of a particular landscape and what is thought to be known about it. The ways in which certain studies and stories get produced and subsequently understood as knowledge, a kind of gospel. The following is the story of counter-discourse(s), another gospel, both fugitive and in the brush.
In 1937, the Minneapolis Council of Social Agencies published a report titled Social Saga of Two Cities: An Ecological and Statistical Study of Social Trends in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Its author, Calvin F. Schmid, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, produced this massive compendium of statistics, graphs, and charts based on research funded by grants from the Federal Writer’s Project.
Among other things, several maps would be created from this ‘research’. One would be published in 1935; two years before the completion of Schmid’s report, 15 years after the lynching of three African American’s in Duluth, situated in an era of black migration swollen with hopes of an elsewhere with better wages and the slim chance of less racial violence. The map was titled Natural Areas / Middle Segment / Minneapolis: 1935. In this map Schmid obsesses over the racial and class makeup of areas. On the map one can see throughout parts of Minneapolis descriptive names like Gold Coast, Central Business District, Middle Class Residential, and notably Slum / Negro Section / Largest in City, Negroes.
Schmid was a human ecologist of his era subscribing to a theorization of the field that held that human society mirrored the hierarchies of the animal kingdom. Aligned with this Schmid thought society trended toward a sort of socio-spatial equilibrium but that there were deviant elements inherent to space that must be mapped, must be understood in order to maintain balance. This balance spoken here as regulation, of the slum, which unlike other areas was mapped block by block. Slum / Negro Section / Largest in City, Negroes. The slum here is not even spoken of as an abstract signifier for race, it is further pronounced as Negro Section, and again, Negroes. It is one of the few racial significations given on this map ensnaring blackness linguistically. Morrison writes on how, “race has become metaphorical - a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological race ever was.” Slum / Negro Section is enough, is a shorthand, requires no further embellishment to have the image of social decay and otherness so unexceptional to the prevailing perception of blackness that a second breath would be a redundancy. Oddly enough, the northside of Minneapolis, where this “slum” is mapped, is not even majority black in 1935, Hennepin County's black population is less than 1 percent at the time. Largest in City. What would warrant giving the heading Negro Section to an area when the population is so minimal, if not to configure something around blackness and space? Black residents of the northside of Minneapolis are both absent and present on the map and their absent presences and present absences are disguised in the slum and all its hygienic, racial, class and environmental assumptions. What does it mean to be a problem? Blackness, like the boogeyman, rests within the shadow of the natural area, language that naturalizes conditions and obscures the forces at work constructing them. This language of the natural area also works to totalize poor conditions in ways that obscures business, education, belonging, and resistance in black life. The slum is writ large.
This landscape, both its materiality and its imagined forms, bring to mind the problem Katherine McKittrick describes about “geography’s discursive attachment to stasis and physicality, the idea that space ‘just is,’ and that space and place are merely containers for human complexities and social relations...that which ‘just is’ not only anchors our selfhood and feet to the ground, it seemingly calibrates and normalizes where, and therefore who, we are. The slave ship, as materiality, contains and regulates; it hides black humanity because it 'just is' and because those inside, bound to the walls, are neither seeable nor liberated subjects.” In what way might a map also function to regulate and contain? In what ways might the imagined geography of North Minneapolis in Schmid's paradigm serve to hide black humanity by way of how he classifies it spatially? North Minneapolis was deemed black space, and black space is locked in this nation’s racial imagination as inherently and perpetually deficient. It ‘just is.’ This naturalizing of space, and by extension bodies, conceals something though. It provides cover for a robbery, makes one think when you look at this “natural” poverty of blackness, this slum of negroes surrounded and surrounding, this negro section which was mapped block by block and thought to be connected to venereal diseases running rampant; it makes one think when looking there that they are not looking at the scene of a crime.
if you go there - you who was never there - if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there...it's always going to be there waiting for you.
Moving forward. Forward to the now. North Minneapolis still finds itself locked in the stasis of Shmid’s slum. If you go there. Slum being used then as shorthand for “place you do not go”, “place where nothing good emerges”, “where darkness, blackness abides.” Now you only need say North Minneapolis, northside, and we experience the haunting. It will happen again. The shadows of that map are apparent in the continuing discourse around North Minneapolis, whether in the deficiency narratives built by the myriad non-profits, the profiling of the police or the thinly veiled raced and classed language of a Minnesota State Representative who spoke on the House floor in reference to expanding the Northstar commuter saying that it would “be convenient, to have that rail line going from the prison to north Minneapolis.” It's always going to be there waiting for you.
North Minneapolis becomes a fundamental contradiction for the city of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota’s wholesome image, the one conjured in articles identifying Minneapolis as a miracle city with no mention of our disparities. On the flipside of the same coin you have the voyeur(s), who tour Minneapolis’ northside writing about disparities, using blackness to mark those disparities and that the conditions of those living on what is headlined Minneapolis' Less Visible, and More Troubled, Side, are somehow inherent. And thus the robbery continues to be hidden, and the way a geography is materially and psychically constructed, concealed. It’s going to always be there waiting for you.
THAT WHICH RUNS...COUNTER: TOWARDS A CARTOGRAPHIC FABLE
Marx had not realized fully that the cargoes of laborers also contained African cultures, critical mixes and admixtures of language and thought, of cosmology and metaphysics, of habits, beliefs and morality. These were the actual terms of their humanity. These cargoes, then, did not consist of intellectual isolates or deculturated Blacks-men, women and children separated from their previous universe. African labor brought the past with it, a past that had produced it and settled on it the first elements of consciousness and
Somewhere beneath the lines of the imaginary borders drawn by a sociologist claiming to know the natural areas of Minneapolis. The places you were bound to stay the fuck put. A Gold Coast, only such in relation to the ghetto it says it ain't. Somewhere under - below - on another frequency, is a North Minneapolis outside the facile land mass of the white imagination. No: Negro Slum. No: Largest Slum In Area. No: Vice District, spreading uncommon diseases that make your cock fall off.
None of that.
Here be: Spectral Map. Here be: Ghost Geography.
In that black - deep space, that unkempt topography, a northside in the break. The noise. But din be discourse too. See Glissant. See the talk riding them illegible waves. Or don't. And know it still be there anyway enabling objects to exist at all. And ain't that something? That ontological fact be the foot kicking sly devils in they ass. Cuz somewhere there is an under commons. A space separate from settling, separate from settling, separate from settling. Somewhere there is a disruption that will not be resolved prophylactically into a right order of performance.
This cannot be healed.
This cannot be regulated into minutiae. This cannot be un done. Some where some one is set to burn every decrepit measure of this shit down because its continuance is built on their negation.
Black ain't blank space. It ain't an empty thing. Is not impossible to observe.
& it is.
Black that unending refusal of an untenable territory. Land of a lesser fiction. Black telling a counter-story. Black been baptized in the hold, down there concealing something else. Reflecting fragments of it. & after three days black is raising hell.
The largest in area.
1. "talking back" see bell hooks, Talking Back: thinking feminist, thinking black (Boston: South End Press 1989) 5.
2. "If it's still there, waiting, that must mean that nothing ever dies." Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006) 47.
3. "In 1937 Minneapolis Council of Social Agencies..." David A. Lanegran, Minnesota On The Map: A Historical Atlas (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008), 164.
4. The attached image is a reconstructed version of Schmid's map that was designed by University of Minnesota Planning and Policy Lecturer Geoff Mass.
5. Say their name, restore their life. On June 15th, 1920, The three African American circus workers were lynched by a mob in Duluth, Minnesota. It was rumored that six African Americans robbed and rapped a teenage girl. The examination by the physician found no evidence of rape or assault. Their names were Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie. For more see Olsen, Ken. "Duluth Remembers 1920 Lynching". Fight Hate and Promote Tolerance. Tolerance.org. Archived from the original on 1 March 2006. Retrieved 2016-02-06.
6. "Natural Areas / Middle Segment / Minneapolis: 1935" map found in, David A. Lanegran, Minnesota On The Map: A Historical Atlas (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008), 165.
7. Census reports show that in 1930 Hennepin County had a total population of 517,785 of which 4,256 or .82% is black. In the 1940 Census for near north area the total population is recorded at 4,540 of which 992 or 22% is black. I am interested in what Aaron Mallory has called "the proliferation of blackness as vice" and how that "can saturate an area." This I'd argue is an example of what Morrison calls fabricated presence, and that there is a taken-for-granted articulation about space and blackness in that presence.
8. "race has become a metaphorical...", Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1993).
9. "geography’s discursive attachment to stasis", Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women And The Cartographies Of Struggle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006) xi.
10. "if you go there - you who was never there - if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there...it's always going to be there waiting for you." Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006) 47.
11. "Marx had not realized fully that...", Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making Of The Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000) 121, 22.
12. "din be discourse too." see Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays (Charolottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999).
13. "undercommons" see Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013).