This presentation builds on the African Mobilities student workshop: New York Exchange, led by Global Africa Lab. It explores the future of Black neighbourhoods under the spectre of gentrification and redevelopment in New York City. Contemporary transportation routes in New York City, like the Cross Bronx Expressway, stand as monuments to the vicious policies of slum clearance in the 1950s to the 1970s, steeped in the reinforcement of racial segregation and urban community displacement.
It simultaneously explores the many ways that the Black Lives Matter protests, marches and movements reterritorialised the urban infrastructure of highways, streets, bridges and plazas that had served as an urban apparatus of black and brown dispossession. While in protest of the violent and deadly confrontations with police officers and white supremacists, today’s Black Lives Matter protests are not only stopping traffic, but — to the chants of “shut the whole system down” — they are also strategically disrupting the flow of people and goods that feed the metro area’s multibillion-dollar global economy.
Through the use of found image, video, animation and collage, the video presentations examine the dual historical narratives of dispossession through urban renewal and tactical appropriation through urban protest. By appropriating images of urban detritus, architectural elements, and consumer culture, the Afro-Imaginary collages reinvent contested sites of redevelopment and gentrification in New York City.
The city’s infrastructure created an enclosure for many black communities, and if you overlay redlining maps with Covid-19 prevalence maps, along with the infrastructure maps of New York City, there is a confluence of relationship that becomes more explicit — illuminating the ways in which infrastructure works to enclose at the urban scale. When we come down to the scale of housing, it is another form of enclosure within those boundaries. We can also think of the Black body as being a form of physical and psychological enclosure. These multi-scaled enclosures together produce the conditions of immobility.
With New York City being the early epicentre of Covid-19 in the United States, as well as an epicentre of a reinvigorated social justice movement — particularly with the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the city — Black bodies and other bodies marching have been seeking ways to defy those systems and relationships to infrastructure.
At certain moments of the protests, which started again in June 2020, there may have been three or four marches going on in the city. The marches come together at intersections and plazas, and then split apart again heading in different directions, such that the police are unable to corral them. It is in these moments of protest and mobility that the Black body improvises a way to break the enclosure’s confines.
The appropriation of infrastructure — or appropriation in general — is something that Black people, particularly in the US, have always had to do, whether that is thinking about art, thinking about music or thinking about the ways in which Black people have to exist in and make spaces.
Global Africa Lab is Mabel O Wilson and Mario Gooden, together with Carson Smuts and researchers Ife Vanable and Zachary H White.