Throughout my time in Elizabeth City, something has become quite clear to me; downtown is an area that Black people do not frequent. For a city that is 50% Black, I hardly ever see Black people in the downtown area. This subject of conversation came up during my Listening Tour and I learned that there is a history of Black people not being welcomed downtown which, to this day, influences where black people go. This history, not too many years ago, still affects the very popular space for the most populous race in Elizabeth City and is something I had in mind while reading.
One of many quotes that stood out to me in “Introduction: Race, Space, and Scale in the Twenty-first Century” is “… space and scale are the registers through which race is lived, expressed, articulated, and produced.” In theory, I knew this. Being a Black woman that went to a PWI, I could tell what spaces I was not necessarily welcome in but having it articulated and seen in writing is powerful. I think how the words are put together puts the responsibility on the space and not the person. By that I mean, the responsibility isn’t on me to feel comfortable somewhere but the responsibility is on the space to make room for me to feel comfortable. The recognition that there is a connection between race and space immediately made me think of downtown Elizabeth City. When it comes to Elizabeth City, I believe that the onus is on downtown and the city to recognize the history that exists, the reason that Black people feel a certain way about it, and then to do something from there. While there is nothing in the reading that alluded to this, I do believe that recognition can go a long way in rehabilitating a space.
Another quote that I feel accurately describes the situation in Elizabeth City is, “the control of space is inextricably linked to the practice of racism.” In Elizabeth City’s history, there is no question about the control of space being linked to racism, as Jim Crow laws and later sentiments are most likely what lead to downtown being a space controlled by white people. However, I do think that this brings up an important point for local governments to consider.
When it comes to city planning and sponsored spaces, the question that they should consider is, “who frequents this space, who is in control?” An example of how that question was not asked can be seen in the Project for Public Space article.
White people had no problem frequenting a park in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Is that because they felt they controlled the space? I can’t answer that question, but I can say they had no reason to feel like the park was not for them. On the flip side, the history of Black people and parks points to a reason as to why Black people did not feel welcome in a space intended for them.
While I found these two readings enlightening, a few questions came to mind as it pertains to local governments. Where does the municipal government fall in ensuring the wrongs of the past (when it comes to space) are not perpetuated in the future (i.e. redlining leading to gentrification)? Also, how can a local government which is “non-partisan” work to navigate issues that have become politicized, thus partisan? When I say issues, I am referring again to problems like gentrification and redistricting. Finally, if we as a nation can’t agree on the simple fact that white supremacy is ingrained in the history of the United States and affects the lives of non-white people today, how can we expect the correlation between race and space, a more complex issue, be tackled?