Books: Demonic Grounds and Black Feminist Thought
In Demonic Grounds, McKittrick argues that ideas of race, gender, and nationality have influenced black women’s diasporic experiences in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. She then asks, “how do geography and blackness work together to advance a different way of knowing and imagining the world?” (xxvi). Also, she looks into how, “these different knowledges and imaginations perhaps call into question the limits of existing spatial paradigms and put forth more humanly workable geographies” (xxvii). On the other hand, she also underscores black women’s agency as she demonstrates the ways in which, they transform these geographical landscapes across time as they respond to racism and sexism through their activism and struggles.
She utilizes the term “demonic” to “rethink the complex lineages between history, blackness, race, and place” (143). These demonic places, middle passage, the Underground Railroad, a cramped garret in North Carolina, an auction block in Virginia, and a bustling cobblestone port in Montreal, New France serve as spatial locations in which, black women’s diasporic experiences contribute to (re)presentations of geographic epistemologies that have historically been marginalized and made to be invisible. McKittrick is asking readers to uncover the invisible. In uncovering these invisible landscapes, I am thinking of Beyoncé’s lyrics in “Upgrade U,” in which she sings, “I heard you be the block, but I’m the lights that keep the streets on…” In this instance, the block is a built environment, a place, and the lights make it possible to for said space to be seen by shining light to uncover the invisible.
Her book obviously intervenes in the conversation about how space is used to think about black women’s lives throughout the diaspora. I am also reminded of Linda McDowell’s work, Gender, Identity, and Place, which is essentially an introduction to feminist geographies that makes the claim that “both people and places are gendered and social and spatial relationships are mutually constituted” (30). Speaking of “demonic grounds,” LaKisha Michelle Simmons’ Crescent City Girls depiction of the lives of young black women in Jim Crow New Orleans as they face sexual harassment, ideas of black girl promiscuity, and expectations of upholding respectability politics. I am also thinking, with disgust, Barr’s Friends Disappear and her assertion that sidewalks “neutralized racial norms.” I can conjure up many images that dispel this notion.
In Black Feminist Thought, Collins argues that Black women occupy a unique standpoint on their own oppression composed of two interlocking components- one, black women’s political and economic status provides them with a distinctive set of experiences that offers a different view of material reality than that available to other groups and two, these experiences stimulate a distinctive Black feminist consciousness concerning this material reality. She highlights the notion that a subordinate group has different experiences and realities and will interpret these realities differently than that of a dominate group. From the standpoint of black women, black feminist thought expresses and rearticulates the importance of self-definitions. Kimberlé Crenshaw agrees with this assessment. In her article, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” she states, “Black women sometimes experience discrimination in ways similar to white women’s experiences; sometimes they share very similar experiences with Black men. Yet often they experience double-discrimination—the combined effects of practices which discriminate on the basis of race and on the basis of sex. And sometimes they experience discrimination as Black women—not the sum of race and sex discrimination, but as Black women” (149).