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, took a breath, and looked towards the landscape in front of them.
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, sonic, and spatial breadth of a Black neighborhood—despite the demonization of his body and neighborhood—by feeling comfortable enough to stand still if only for a moment.
"Black chicagoland is and has always been a dreamworld. one that began with Black linkages back to its founder: jean baptiste pointe du sable—a french haitian man of african descent—who embedded Blackness in the city and all of the roots and routes from which it grew. a place where Black chicagoness was shaped and (re)produced by its boundedness, but never confined by it. Black chicagoness is and has always been chicagoing as both root and route."
–Roderick E. Jackson and april l. graham-jackson
Conceived by award-winning artists and scholars Roderick E. Jackson and april l. graham-jackson, “Black chicagoland is…” brings together richly textured photography, the music and sounds of Black Chicagoland, and inner musings from Black Chicagoans to thicken how we understand Black Chicagoness within and beyond the city’s iconic South Side. The Jacksons have reimagined Black Chicago as “Black chicagoland” to draw attention to the the forgotten suburbs and towns hugging Chicago’s periphery, to the places that are often hidden beneath the surface, and to the spaces on the fringes where Black Chicagoness is and has always been present in all of its truths, contradictions, and expressions.
Black chicagoland is… engages Black life across this geography through its mythologized but often erased racial histories, deep cultural innovations, Black placemaking practices, and the shifting spatial boundaries that insist that there is more to be learned of what Richard Wright called “the known city.” Rod’s camerawork and april’s sound and geographic research emerges from the contested terrain of the Chicago city map, between the municipality’s ordered and numbered “community areas,” and the more fluid neighborhood names as well as the suburbs and towns on the city's periphery where Black Chicagoans locate themselves.
Black Chicagoness is a placemaking strategy that Black Chicagoans employ to rename and claim place on the city map as well as the areas hugging the city’s borders. Through years of listening, visualizing, mapping, and dreaming Black chicagoland, the Jacksons offer new “landguage” and an evocative portrait of a distinct place and its people by peeling back the layers of a deeply historied Black geography that is familiar and still yet to be discovered.
we draw from visual ethnography, soundwalking, geologic 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." with this framework, we re-engage, reconsider, and redefine Black chicagoness through the visual, music, and sonic flows of Black life and its geographic orientations and expressions. 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 l 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 residents across Black chicagoland. please continue to check back for more images, music, sound recordings, and opportunities to purchase the coffee table book, which will include images, sounds, musings, and maps, etc. 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, berkeley Black geographies through the geography department at uc berkeley, and the Black midwest initiative.
we are challenging 100 years of a sociological imaginary (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. 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 in and move through across the larger city-region.
chicagoland begins with Black and indigenous linkages. the indigenous tribes (ojibwe, potawatomi, odawa) who had long been in the area and chicago’s founder jean baptiste pointe dusable (a french haitian man of african descent) and his wife catherine (a native potawatomi woman) embedded Blackness and indigenous roots in the city and all of the routes from which it grew. from our purview, Black chicagoness has been spatially limited to the city proper and its geographic fluidity has been flattened and disregarded. we peel back the layers of this intricate Black geography to its root by unearthing the places in which Black chicagoness is and has always been fully present in all of its beauty, 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 "city-country" 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 by taking you through a visual, music, and sonic journey of a deeply historied Black geography.
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