My latest paper in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education is titled: “Embodying biopolitically discriminate borders: teachers’ spatializations of race.” I am especially proud of this paper because of how challenging it was to write. How teachers spoke about race and racialized space was an unexpected but deeply interesting theme to emerge in my doctoral research. I found it challenging to clearly narrate my thinking and to think about what I was hearing (and later reading in transcriptions) from a biopolitical perspective. My undergraduate supervisor in anthropology was Duana Fullwiley. I first learned of ‘discriminate biopower‘ from her. Discriminate biopower so aptly described what I saw emerging in teachers’ accounts — it is the differential investment in human life on the basis of race, gender, sociogenomic status, and other matrices of power; it is a mechanism for normalizing inequality by affixing the labels of ‘risky/dangerous’ and ‘efficacious’ upon bodies in ways that are racialized or economically-informed. For me, discriminate biopower allowed me to see how the racialization of space signified the physical demarcations between those who are deemed ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy.’ Segregation, which is one thing that allows us to racialize spaces and spatialize race, is a manifestation of the ‘socio-political invisibility’ racially-defined minorities oft encounter.
I share all this because writing is not an easy process and this was a paper where many times I wanted to throw my hands up at my inner struggle to cohesively tie together all that I was trying to articulate. I think it’s worth celebrating those works we are most proud of, and uncovering the challenges along the way that eventually resulted in the final product.
Abstract of the paper: Borders are constructs that shape our understandings of our societies, communities, and the world. Geospatial borders draw distinctions between neighborhoods and schools that are deemed ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ of economic, social, and political investment. This paper employs the theoretical framework of ‘discriminate biopower’ to argue that geospatial borders produce a ‘socio-political invisibility’ linked to race and racial inequality. Through focus group discussions with kindergarten – grade eight educators in the Chicago metropolitan area of the United States, this paper provides evidence of how understandings of race are spatially applied by teachers. Findings suggest that teachers located and conflated individuals and racial groups with physical locations, demonstrating how spatial borders and the practice of bordering function as a biopolitical and segregationist way to understand race and power.