How The Black Diaspora Turns Traditional Geography On Its Head

map of african diaspora
Zain Murdock
December 7, 2023

Where are we from, and where are we now? In 2006, Canadian academic Katherine McKittrick challenged the concept of traditional geography.

The definition of geography is based on Western ways of knowing, like the Cartesian coordinate system. So, Black populations stolen or displaced by imperialism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade seem invisible. We don’t all exist in one place that we own.

Physical spaces throughout history have created Blackness as a social construct, like the plantation. Others attempt to contain Blackness, like the prison.

McKittrick’s concept of Black geographies, however, points to our diasporic innovation across the world as a sign that the colonial project failed to contain us.

Maybe we can’t point to the wholeness of the Black diaspora on a Eurocentric map. But we have music, food, writing, languages, activism, folklore, and more. Through our oppression, we have not only preserved pre-colonial African traditions but created new ones.

Even the most oppressive physical spaces create “cartographies of struggle,” like prison poetry or enslaved ancestors’ journals.

That is our map. Not always seen, but felt. The Black diaspora is not ungeographic, placeless, or lost. We are defined by what we do as a people, not just where we are or used to be.  

In the face of colonial borders, land ownership, and conquest, we produce our own spaces right  where we are. How beautiful and powerful is that?