during a visit home to chicagoland, roderick captured an image of a young Black father engaging in leisure play with his son in north kenwood on the south side. the child and his father were joyful in their expressions and their bodily movements were fluid and at ease. then, in a swift moment of stillness, the child placed his small but commanding hand on his father’s shoulder, which through this intimate act, kept him lifted, protected, and firmly situated in his dependency of his dad. his father, comfortable with the space in which they played, paused, looked out towards the world in front of them, and contemplated what they would confront together as a Black father and son living in and moving through chicagoland.
roderick latched onto this sequence, which resonated with who he is as a Black son of chicagoland. reflecting on this image together, we saw a Black father teaching his son how to take in the complexities of his environment. more importantly, we saw a Black child relying on his body and ability to move freely and absorb the visual and sonic breadth of his neighborhood—despite the demonization of both—by feeling comfortable enough to stand still if only for a moment.
"thickness: engaging Black visuethics and sonic presence through geographies of ocularization and sound in Black Chicagoland” explores the sociosonic, music, and visual textures of Black livingness in chicagoland through multi-sensory engagement. we diagram the interplay between photographs, music, sonic recordings, and inner musings from Black chicagoans about Black chicagoland and the places they live fully, engage in work, locate calm, curate stillness, actively socialize, dance with their whole chest, experience radiant joy, move through pain, and express and produce "Black chicagoness." we also examine where and how Black chicagoans occupy, absorb, reshape, and extend chicagoland within and beyond the south side that public discourse and scholarly literature have confined them to. finally, our project is not meant to counter the problematic and uneven narratives within journalistic commentary, mass media, and academic work about Black chicagoans and the places they live in and move through. instead, drawing from visual scholar leigh raiford, we are thickening the narrative, aliveness, movements, and textures of Black chicagoland through curated images, sounds, music and the interconnections between them.
we draw from visual ethnography, soundwalking, sound mapping, and deep listening to consider the “Black eye” and the "Black ear" and how they collectively shape kimberly juanita brown's notion of "Black visuethics." through this framework, we re-engage, reconsider, and redefine chicago Blackness through the visual and sonic flows of Black life and its geographic orientations. we invite viewers and listeners to see and hear Black chicagoland while sitting with, rethinking, and reformatting the imaginary that they have about the city-region and its Black residents. by unearthing the intimate geographies, music, and soundings of Black chicagoland, we highlight the depths of Black place and the thickness of our people, which travels through our veins like the trains routing our city and its peripheries.
this work is ongoing and exists in two parts: as a physical and digital "coffee table" book, which will include curated photographs alongside music, sonic recordings and inner musings from Black chicagoans about Black chicagoland. please continue to check back for more information as we add more images, music, sound recordings, and opportunities to purchase the coffee table book, which
will include images that will not be on the website.
our work is supported by the Black studies collaboratory through the african american studies department at uc berkeley and berkeley Black geographies through the geography department at uc berkeley.
we are challenging 100 years of a sociological imaginary (largely constructed by the chicago school of sociology at the university of chicago) and public discourse about a place that richard wright famously called “the known city." chicago is a city that many people believe they know, but we center the Black chicagoland that we understand through its shifting geographies and Black residents. in mass media, Black chicago has largely been treated as any Black town usa, confined to the south side, or its depictions have not represented the multifaceted reality of the places in which Black people live within the city-region. chicago begins with Black linkages back to the city's founder: jean baptiste pointe dusable who embedded Blackness in the city down to its root. we peel back the layers of this intricate Black geography that is constantly shifting by unearthing the places in which Black chicagoness is and has always been fully present in all of its truths, contradictions, intricacies, and expressions.
Black chicagoans are fascinating. we have given the world electric blues, gospel, soul, and house music, Black newspaper row, harold's chicken, the mother of environmental justice, cooley high and good times, oprah (yup, we said it), ron hardy, the dopest usage of the word joe, and the obamas (and soooo much more). we are funny, dynamic, burly, city-country, scrappy, innovative, hustlers, and we will cuss you clean out with that slick chicago tongue. there is a specificity to the ways chicago has shaped our lives and our Blackness and similarly, how our Blackness has molded the city and its peripheries. although there is a lot known about us, there is even more that is not, especially as the city-region and its Black population evolves. this work identifies and diagrams Black chicagoness and what it means to be a Black chicagoan by taking you through a visual, music, and sonic journey that is often hidden beneath the surface.
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