Behind The Whirlwind

Director’s note:

A colleague in anthropology recently directed me to a new graduate zine, The Whirlwind, on race and geography and I was instantly struck by its remarkable content and innovative format. I knew or knew of many of the publication’s contributors, most who have attended or expressed interest in IAAR events. And I have also been hearing much buzz about the critical mass of UNC graduate students from geography to sociology who have been meeting regularly and having vibrant conversations and presentations around race. Add to this my recent involvement in an effort to form a possible concentration on race in UNC’s Anthropology Department and, then, my excitement over The Whirlwind —as yet another marker of a mounting campus interest in interrogating race — becomes clearer.

And so, I invited The Whirlwind’s editor, Willie Wright, to author a guest blog post for us about how the publication came into being and what it’s all about. As you will see, Willie wants to make sure that credit for the publication is shared. His post, therefore, does represent his take on how the zine came together but it stresses that, in the final analysis and throughout his vision for the publication, it was a collective effort involving other students and inspired by his collaborators and faculty mentors. I think it’s an exciting development demonstrating the critical and forward thinking of emerging scholars on race. Enjoy Willie’s post and see for yourself.

Karla Slocum

Willie J. Wright is a doctoral student in the Department of Geography and a Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellow. His research interests include, Black Geographies, Black Radicalism, critical spatial theory, food justice, and alternative agri-food systems, in general. His dissertation seeks to understand the Republic of New Afrika’s alternative spatial strategies and politics in Detroit, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi.

Behind The Whirlwind

Institutionally speaking, the The Whirlwind began in courses I have taken during my two years of graduate study at UNC (and Duke). Seminars and workshops on race, racism, and liberation with Drs. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Karolyn Tyson, and Alvaro Reyes are where I engaged in dialogue regarding injustices of the past and present. Those classrooms are also where I became acquainted with many talented friends/future colleagues with whom I respect for their intellect, candor, humor, and dedication to doing more than merely quantifying and qualifying the many transgressions that occur within our world – interestingly, but a few of them made it into the inaugural edition of The Whirlwind. The focus of the first issue was to examine the ways in which race, racial oppression, and human geographies intersect transnationally. I suspect that future copies will engage this focus in addition to issues of (racial) capitalism, gender & sexuality, ableism, and many other concerns of everyday life.

This spring some of my newfound friends – I cannot help but refer to them as friends, because their friendship exceeds their colleague-ness – and I created an informal ‘race group’ to discuss, further, concepts introduced to us via Dr. Reyes’s course on Liberation Geographies last fall, namely Afro-Pessimism and Black Geographies. Within those sporadic – we truly intended to meet more regularly – meetings we challenged the readings and one another. Unbeknownst to me, the bits of information we extracted from Frank Wilderson, III, Hortense Spillers, Jared Sexton, Angela Davis, and others instilled into my mind. These writers wrestle with the ethics and politics of Blackness in the Americas, specifically in the U.S, and attempt to understand – and derive tactics and strategies from – the political potential of Blackness as a marginalized state of being – that derives from America’s era of enslavement – within civil society.

Our interrogation of these readings eventually gave formation to “Racial Violence as Environmental Racism,” an essay that appears in The Whirlwind, and that I first presented, alongside the works of Pavithra Vasudevan and Mike Dimpfl, at the 2014 Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference. Encouragement from these two that I “do something” with the essay, coupled with my exploration of oft-independently published readings on the Black Radical Tradition, came together as a simple, yet, novel idea – to create a zine. The Whirlwind includes a variety of works from researchers near and far. There are field notes from Adam Bledsoe’s current work in Bahia, Brazil, a cartographic presentation of Stevie Larson’s research on race and Korean adoptees in Minnesota, along with poetic contributions on gender/race/sexuality from Solly Mo, a doctoral student at Michigan State University, and an ode (of sorts) to the “shadows” by Pakizah, a local poet and performance artist.

Though I believe the work of my friends to be strong enough for inclusion in more established scholarly collections, I did not want to wait for the peer review of PhDs before our thoughts – those emerging and those more sound – were read and critiqued. Besides, I am well aware that our elders, ancestors, and contemporaries – many of whom were/are not academics – have, for centuries now, created and disseminated knowledge of their own accord. If they could do so, often under extremely oppressive conditions, then why couldn’t we students do the same? Given my paucity of knowledge regarding creative layout schemes and fancy design softwares, I figured Microsoft Word and a zine format would be the easiest way to get a manuscript produced in time for the annual Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in Tampa, Florida; I was plotting on AAG as a launch site before I had submissions other than my own. I envision The Whirlwind’s distribution in physical and virtual forms. Indeed, the internet is a very useful conduit for the mass distribution of information; however, there is something endearing about having a text in hand – similar to the difference between an email and a hand-written letter. The effects of the two, in my opinion, are worlds apart. Also, given that The Whirlwind’s target audiences are institutional and organic intellectuals, we felt it pertinent to provide multiple modes of accessing the zine and its content.

After receiving thought-provoking proposals, making time-consuming edits, and getting words of encouragement from my esteemed Assistant Editor, Solly Mo, there emerged, a whirlwind of ideas and illustrations ready for the world. We hope that our words and graphics challenge you – as we have been challenged – to gaze and to act.

Read The Whirlwind vol. 1, issue 1→