Medicine for a Nightmare: Sun Ra, Metaphysical Religion, and the Black Radical Imagination, 1946-1961

Matthew Harris
CBSR Graduate Student Fellow

Portrait of Matt Harris

My dissertation recovers the disregarded religious sources used to negotiate, resist, and outlast the systems of enclosure that defined Chicago's Back Belt at the tail end of the Great Migration. I do so by attending to the archive surounding the Chicago years (1946-1961) of the avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra. Sun Ra offers one entrance to the circulation of metaphysical--that is, esoteric and occult-- religious texts and ideas, which suffused the Black Metropolis and, for Sun Ra and is collaborators, produced the now influential discourse of the "space age." In other words, this is an account of how space became the place. This dissertation argues that alongside and somewhere in-between the transformation of black Protestantism, the rise of so-called sects and cults, and the incorporation and commodification of Southern black religious forms, the transformations of black religion during the Great Migration also enabled Sun Ra, as a performative idiom, to emerge. That is, by returning Sun Ra and the space age to Chicago, I am able to foreground the importance of the Great Migration and how how this "watershed in African American religious history" (Sernett, 1997) helped generate this peculiar, but persistent, "freedom dream" (Kelley, 2002). Rather than merely interpreting the "aesthetic community of resistance" that produced it and the metaphysical resources that informed them (Davis, 1998). "Medicine for a Nightmare" is an account of the making of one extension of the Black Radical Imagination.

Citizen Outsider: Children of North African Immigrants in France

Jean Beaman, PhD
CBSR Affiliated Faculty

Portrait of Jean Beaman

Jean Beaman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was previously on the faculty at Purdue University and has held visiting fellowships at Duke University and the European University Institute (Florence, Italy). Her research is ethnographic in nature and focuses on race/ethnicity, racism, international migration, and state-sponsored violence in both France and the United States. She is author of Citizen Outsider: Children of North African Immigrants in France (University of California Press, 2017), as well as numerous articles and chapters. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University. She is also an Editor of H-Net Black Europe, an Associate Editor of the journal, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, and Corresponding Editor for the journal

Blackpolis: Black Life in the Urban Margins of Two Latin American Cities

Jaime Alves
CBSR Affiliated Faculty

Portrait of Jaime Alves

My current research project seeks to make ethnographically visible how black dwellers of urban peripheries of African diaspora cities such as Santiago de Cali (Colombia) and São Paulo (Brazil) respond to enduring forms of space-based racial injustices. The multi-sited research aims at identifying extralegal or outlawed everyday practices such as informal settlements, pirate-taxi, the practice of “rebusque” (hustling), the participation of black youth (particularly black men) in street gangs, and retaliatory violence against the police, as insurgent spatial practices seeking to decolonize the antiblack city. In mapping out these forms of resistance, the research also aims to provide a race-centered anthropological account of urban marginality that challenge conventional narratives of city politics. I ask: how might a focus on outlawed practices of black urban dwellers expand our understanding of urban politics of resistance usually framed through the limited lenses of “the right to the city”? How is everyday life reproduced and sustained within the margins of these anti-black urbanities? Through an unapologetic Fanonian reading of the wretched of the city, I pay attention to a myriad of programs of spatial discipline (such as community police and NGO’s pedagogical innitiatives to “save” black children), the spatial praxis of black youth resisting such hegemonic urban projects, as well as the alternative black spatialities that emerge from such territorial contests This research takes issues with "the right to the city" perspective for its inability (unwillingness?) to accommodate the specificities of the black experience; a precarious condition that, I argue, is foundational to the racialized regime of urban citizenship. Blackpolis, thus, is a project that builds on an alternative theoretical foundation -- in dialogue with interventions in the field of black studies, critical urban studies, and urban anthropology -- to present an utopic account of black urban life in these two racially charged and dystopic violent contexts.