Spatial Justice: Race and Gender

Please post your reading response for George Lipsitz and Leslie Kanes Weismann, due October 3, 24 hours before class, here by replying.  Thanks!


9 thoughts on “Spatial Justice: Race and Gender

  1. Nina Mihaylova

    I believe that any human concept has a particular spatial and social imprint, one of the prevalent ones being the concept of “race” and “race superiority”. Since beginning of times, human societies have fought over land and resources; however the concept of domination of a superior race has evolved through religion and religious conquest. As underlined in Lisitz’ essay “The Racialization of Space and the Spatialization of Race”, a chain reaction exists between the location and value of housing, the quality of education and health care resources, and in general, life opportunities. There is an evident segregation between races in neighbourhood formations, which comes along with social ideals which exclude racial minorities from these societies. In the United States (and arguably in Canada), the white spatial imagery is understood as prevalently successful as it nourishes capitalistic ideals of mass production, but also increases in value. It is equally nourished by a conservative purism in that society members are preoccupied with prioritizing cleanliness and homogeneity. This naturally excludes black spatial imagery, mostly nurtured on social interaction and somewhat chaotic functioning. I would equally argue that this desire of the white society of “purging” their lived spaces results in not only racism, but also in mere alienation between individuals in a given community, as it increases fear of the “other” in general. The desire of constant progress should be impeded the least possible from external sources. Clearly, this fear of the different, of the “other”, has taken a racist form, as it is most easily expressed visually and culturally through different skin tones and unfamiliar tradition. The white ideal not only fears, but has convinced itself that America is “a refuge from corruptions”, thus believes firmly in its superiority and in every different methodology’s inferiority.
    The different ideology of the “black spatial ideal” is clearly noticeable as social networks amongst society members have been established, often outside of the white supremacy. I do believe, however, that this is in part due to the underlying inequalities that exist between both, and to the mere desire for survivability and wellness of being, which is not guaranteed by the common government. The community works in concert to provide for missing services, social venues and public spaces of expression. Spaces reserved for graffiti art and hip hop performances, amongst so many others, are sadly misunderstood as “problematic” and “impure” spaces by the white spatial ideal, which rather promotes for structured public parks where human interaction is mostly limited to the immediate social circles of the visitors.
    This schism has a major impact on the social dynamics and should be remedied politically, economically, and architecturally. I think this should be a shared initiative as it is close to impossible for a sole discipline to work against the established current of social thought.

  2. For me, it is difficult not to draw parallels between the subject of George Lipsitz’ article and the local and ongoing societal debate around the proposed Charter of Quebec Values. I believe the bill is a potentially segregational device that could eventually lead to a form of spatial and racial discrimination not unlike the examples given by Lipsitz.
    Faced with the “problem” of conspicuous religious display, the Québec governments has proposed, in the Charter, restricting the wearing of visible religious symbols for all employees and personnel of the province, for reasons not of security, but as a step in consolidating our “common societal values”. In my understanding, this measure cannot but exclude all who believe religious symbols to be an integral part of their belief and who will not compromise their sacred interpretation of life, a profound portion of their identity. “The kinds of spaces we have, don’t have, or are denied access to can empower us or render us powerless” says Weisman. The choice believers have is therefore to adhere to a determined set of societal values, or work elsewhere. They are denied representation in the Fonction Publique. Certainly some will agree to remove these symbols, knowing that this appearance of “neutrality” is only visual, but the fact remains that there is a desire for a homogeneous culture in the government, a “neutral” state. I consider this discrimination as a possible spark for a policy-induced racism, a device to make explicit differences in freedom and access. Lipsitz says : “It is not that suburban whites are innately racist […], but rather that prevailing land-use policies provide extraordinary inducements, incentives, and encouragement for a system of privatization that has drastic racial consequences.” I think, similarly, policies proposed in the Charter are favoring the “already neutral” culture, creating a priviliged group in our society. Paradoxically, I think by trying to unify our differences, they have made them highly political and explicit. They have opened the door for a debate on differences, which, I fear, will result in the appearance of a certain hibernating racism (a dramatic increase in harassment towards veiled muslim women has been observed in the last weeks ( As an exercise, I have decided to rewrite the two-part strategy from Lipsitz’ paper to accomodate the situation in Québec. ” [First,] a frontal attack on all mechanisms that prevent people of different religions (color) from equal opportunities to accumulate representative power through public functions (assets) that appreciate in value and that can be passed down across generations, and second, the embrace of a spatial imaginary based on privileging use value over exchange value, sociality over selfishness, and inclusion over exclusion”. I fear this debate and this bill, if passed, will eventuallly spatially segregate individuals based on religion, pushing them out of certain areas, by attacking their right to work for the government. I think society must be better than the individual. One can already see how some areas, dense in public institutions, might not attract workers of a certain religion, or how some might feel under-represented in these institutions. Those who will feel left out might form congregations as a compensation, leading to clearer differenciation, and further discrimination. I can’t help but be worried that we might be witnessing the beginning of what will become discriminatory spatialization through religious segregation. Seeing the historical and political inertia of discriminatory spatialization in the US, I think it is of crucial importance to reflect and realize what the Charter can represent for the future, and to prevent its potential “segregationary” power before its consequences and its divisive power become seemingly irreversible.

  3. Racialization of space, spatialization of race

    Race is considered to have no importance today. Every men, no matter where they come from, are supposed to have equal rights. Reality, unfortunately, is far beyond these principles. If we don’t speak about race today it is because the topic has become taboo, not because racism doesn’t exist anymore. People find other ways to deny their rights to minorities. It is particularly true when it comes to spatial issues, especially housing. Housing determines someone’s life : depending on where you live, you have certain opportunities (good schools, access to public transports, safety, health care, etc.) Minorities, due to racism, have harder access to these facilities. Facing the rejection of the majority, being relegated to the edges of the city creates a certain type of solidarity among people, and we could say that segregation leads to congregation. Standing together to defend one’s rights gives more visibility and power.
    This issue leads to another one, the “spatial imaginary” evoked by Lipsitz : depending on your background, on your traditions, you have a certain understanding of space, how it should be used and what gives its value. For example, the African Americans base their comprehension of space through the interactions and relationships they can have there, what is valuable is its power to be a social place. The white majority, a contrario, judges space on its economic value, on the facilities you have when you pay for. It obviously creates inequalities : if a space is valuable, it is compared to another one, which has to be inferior.
    If being free to access one space, to live in a certain place is a major issue, the conception of space is another one. Spaces are designed to fit the needs of the majority. Lipsitz defines it very clearly : the universality of space is a normalization, an erasing of the minorities’ spatial imaginary to fit the majority’s conception of space. In the US, the white, occidental way of thinking tends to search for purity and homogeneity. Minorities have always been ignored and kept away from the white, colonial society. Despite the improvements, this overwhelming legacy is still in the collective unconscious and has to be overcome.


    In “The Racialization of Space and the Spatialization of Race”, George Lipsitz dissects the concept of two spatial imaginary present within society, which seeks a freedom characterized by “pure space” that thrives on the exclusion of “impure” populations on different levels. The presence of a constant dichotomy occurs, and because of that, there will always be two sides; and it is in the public space of the society that these two sides inevitably clash together. America, conceived as “an island of virtue,” seeks to achieve homogeneous space through the social and spatial segregation of minorities. Consequently, space becomes a boundary defined by race.

    The importance of perspective within the text gives race a spatial dimension within our society. Lipsitz explains that Donna Haraway, who builds on Althusser’s emphasis on both metaphor and description, argues for the inevitable partiality of all perspectives in order to make choices based on knowledge from the broadest points of views. The construction of “a network of connections, including the ability partially to translate knowledge among very different – and power differentiated – communities” will allow for the promotion of better understanding by promoting conversation. Otherwise, few encounters across the racial barrier only allow for the proliferation of unfounded racial stereotypes and injustices such as the story recounted at the beginning of the text of the judicial treatment of the Mardi Gras Indians. Spatially, as Lipsitz points out, this division is exemplified in the “tastefulness” of the suburbs, protected by municipal boundaries and zoning requirements, and the worsening condition of the poor and working class imprisonned in the decaying city centres due to the segregation along economic, social, functional, geographic, cultural and racial lines.

    The disassembly of the “fatal links that connect race, place, and power” within the built environment is delegated mainly to landscape architects, planners, other land-use professional and concerned citizens, according to Lipsitz. However, maybe it is not solely through the representation of minorities and fair housing laws that this can be attained. Perhaps this issue demands a different type of architecture; an architecture that deliberately sets up social encounters within the public realm in order to disintegrate the socio-spatial barrier between both sides of the spatial imaginary. It is through spatial connections that the in-between space becomes inhabited, and it is the occurrence of such that allows for a heterogeneous society that functions merely on the well-being of all to exist. Otherwise, the search for democracy within our present society will constantly be a battle of attempting to make someone live on someone else’s side.

  5. Andrew Brown:

    There is a lag between changes in societal behaviour and changes in the spatial structure of society. Blatant acts of racism and gender discrimination in everyday interactions are less common today than they were fifty years ago. Although there are certainly exceptions, overtly racist behaviour is generally not tolerated today, in our society. But both of these pieces insist that the language and politics of space are much slower to change. They are less visible forms of discrimination, but they are equally influential in affecting lives. Tax law, lending practices and language conventions do not make for the iconic and polarizing imagery that segregated drinking fountains do. They are less visible, more entrenched and slower to change.

    Momentum is an important part of both of these pieces, and is most obvious in Lipstiz’ statistics on inheritance. Space is a commodity in our capitalist system, and it is a rare commodity that gains value with age and generates income over its life. It is therefore a powerful commodity. It is difficult to argue with the statistics that white people largely control this commodity. But a compelling case is made that even if the laws and attitudes which discourage black and latino people from owning property were to disappear tomorrow, the momentum of generations of discriminatory practices would continue to privilege the white portion of the population for years to come.

    In Weisman’s feminist piece, language is a similar hangover from the stereotypes of the past. More than thirty years have passed since she wrote her piece, but the terms she refers to remain deeply entrenched in our vocabulary and use of domestic space. However, the quote by Louis Sullivan is only effective because it reflects an antiquated concept of male superiority. Attitudes have changed drastically in the last century. The bottom line then is that architecture does not change with public opinion. It is slow to respond. Architecture is powerful in part because it has longevity, it outlasts its maker, but that also means the ideals and prejudices of a given time endure in built form.

    The ordinary and the invisible are under attack in these pieces. There is a serious risk that the problems revealed by Lipsitz and Weisman continue unnoticed. They are not obvious unless you are looking for them. These are problems embedded in our language, in our laws, in our past and in our spaces. We have built a physical infrastructure to reinforce these problems. Lipsitz ends his piece hoping that we can train ourselves to recognize the spatial imaginary of the oppressed. By implication, it takes effort to notice what is going on. Once revealed, the work of deconstructing these discriminatory structures can begin.

  6. The spatialization of race and the racialization of space pose a very complex and diverse problem for all those affected. These issues were created in the colonial and industrial times, yet despite the civil rights movements and fight for equality in the post-war era, these issues have been perpetuated and continue to persist today.

    I believe these problems persist partly because of an innate fear of the ‘other’. The article written by George Lipsitz touches upon the idea of homogeneity, and the quest of wealthy white people, developers, and governments to establish neighbourhoods and suburbs of like-minded and similar people. This can be expanded to apply at the national level, with governments creating exclusionary policies for home-owners, immigrants, and all forms of benefits and welfare. In the digital age and contemporary society, there seems to be a tendency toward a renewed sense of nationalism that discourages or disadvantages those who are considered to be the ‘others’. This is apparent in the recent Charter of Quebec Values released by the Parti Québécois; in the government shutdown in the United States over the proposed healthcare reform (which would provide greater access to marginalized racial minorities living in poverty, and to birth control for women); and in strict and harsh laws based on religion in many Arab and Muslim countries. In a globalized world, the constant presence of the ‘other’ has brought about the need for many to establish themselves as a distinct group of people with common interests and beliefs – a universal charter of values for the Québécois, a set of American values, and set of Islamic values. By definition, these exclude those who do not adhere to them, and create a divide that trickles down into all levels of society. In an ideal world, the terms African-American, Mexican-American, Italian-American, etc, should not exist – they should all just be considered ‘Americans’ – yet the inequalities of society force them to exist. This idea of the ‘other’ also manifests itself spatially: just like white Americans, the minorities also join together in homogeneous societies, creating distinct neighbourhoods in most major cities – Chinatown, Little Italy, the Gay Village, and so on. This is the sense of community that Lipsitz talks about in his article – the coming together of marginalized communities to support each other when support from their government fails.

    There is no quick solution to these problems, but the answers lie at the governmental level. Policies and laws should accommodate differences, rather than establish them. Initiatives from policy-makers that include and maybe even preference those who are under-priveleged, and which advocate racial integration rather than separation, could help to alleviate the current problems of segregation, and pave the way to a future of equality and acceptance. We can no longer think in terms of homogeneous societies, cities, or neighbourhoods; the future is one of heterogeneity, diversity, and complexity.

  7. The text: The Racialization of Space and the Specialization of Race: Theorizing the Hidden Architecture of Landscape takes an atypical stance (In the Canadian context) on the relationship between space and ethnicity. The author, George Lipsitz, is a professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Throughout the writing, the author depicts the USA as an extremely polarized society, not only between rich and poor, with a disappearing middle class, but also between ‘white’ and ‘black’ which he associates with spatial access and exclusion in a number of ways: the ability to own property that accumulates value over time, as opposed to rental housing that does not, the availability of economic opportunities through social networks mostly in terms of unadvertised work or business opportunities, treatment by the justice system (including police), the quality of education, zoning regulations and the design of public transit systems. The author considers space an amalgamation of these social constructs that result in a certain type of community. He describes a ‘White’ community that has a high ‘exchange value’ mostly pertaining to the accumulation of value in privately owned housing but that also creates an exclusive community where services are privatized as a result of the desire for individuality, resulting in the push for a lower rate of taxation by these communities. Simultaneously he describes a ‘black’ community that is high in use value, due to a highly developed social community within the specific neighborhood. He describes this group as being “resource poor but network rich”. The goal of the writing is primarily to expose the reader to a specific understanding of space, allowing them to enter into a ‘spatial imaginary’ that they likely would not have otherwise experienced because of their own ethnicity, background or personal experiences. However, the ‘spatial imaginary’ that the reader is exposed to is geographically very specific as concrete examples are only noted in various areas of the USA. Therefore what the reader is exposed to seems to be a regional interpretation of space that does not pertain to areas outside of the noted boundaries.

    The text, although very poignant, fails to create a transferable interpretation of space that can be compared to other spatial realities. The text reads as a qualitative understanding of specific situations, which the author seems to be emotionally connected to. What may have proven more useful is an empirical study of a number of comparable cases across the USA and other countries in the world. One could analyze the ‘spatial imaginaries’ of a number of specific groups using a constant set of parameters allowing each group to be compared. Even this comparison would be troublesome as one begins to realize that the issue of the relationship between racism and space is not that different ethnicities have different ‘spatial imaginations’ and interpret space differently, this is a given. The real issue of the relationship between racism and space is that of the mono-culture, where a certain neighborhood can be considered a ‘black neighborhood’ or a ‘white neighborhood’ or a ‘china town’ as noted by Lipsitz. A solution to the polarization of neighborhoods is diversity, where the need to instill the rhetoric of ethnicity is unnecessary.

  8. During the sixties and the seventies, North America has experienced a drastic shift in women and racial minorities’ rights. Questions of gender and races are closely related to us meaning that each individual has a social identity (color, ethnicity) and identify itself as a man or a woman. From the first European settlers that took over the “new world” to our actual social, political and economic organizations, genders and racial concepts have controlled our built environment and the way we experienced them.

    George Lipsitz in his article The Racialization of Space and the Spatialization of race, propose the idea that certain racial group belong to certain physical spaces and vice-versa. Among this concept, these spaces or built environments provide advantages and opportunities to certain inhabitant and deficiencies such as segregation, discriminations and exclusion to others. White communities have access to wealthier neighborhoods with proper services and facilities, to better schools and their network of resources are more proficient to “access insider information… giving them the 80 to 90 percent secured jobs in American society that are never openly advertised” as well as other advantages… “White spatial imaginary (is) based one exclusivity and augmented exchange value and functions as a central mechanism for skewing opportunities and life chances in the United States (and Canada) along with racial lines.” The actual gap between white and aggrieved communities is the result of cumulating effects across generations and through history that have maintain segregation as a way to generate profits. To maximize the exchange values of their properties, white communities must maintain and I would say deepen the gap between aggrieved communities and them, “avoiding the tax payment that contribute to the health, education, low-income housing and transportation needs” of the less powerful and poorer communities to “have more money spent on services and amenities for themselves”.

    On the other hand, Black communities organized themselves on a completely different model. Victims of segregation and discrimination, these populations are “unable to move away from their group “thus confined in certain areas of the city where they cannot control the ‘’exchange value of their properties”. They organized themselves in their neighborhoods and “rely on each other for services and goods”. By the end of the ‘50s, the population of Detroit, Michigan consists in a large majority of black communities. White populations moved in suburbs areas living the inner city abandoned to poor communities. With the decline of the city, shops and industries closed leaving mostly African-American communities without jobs or resources. Inhabitants start to convert vacant lots for farming where vegetables and fruits are sold to the local farmer markets and restaurants. These attempts to nurture these populations led to organization as the nonprofit Detroit Black Community Food Security Network who today runs D-town Farm a seven acres cultivable land in Rouge Park. Other residents created small local businesses to produce homemade food, also sold to farmers markets and local communities. From the moment where white communities left the city center for suburbs “middle-class neighborhoods”, they were not concerned anymore with the destiny of black communities. Therefore, a solidarity stream emerge from what we thought was a desperate situation and these communities reorganized themselves without help from affluent communities. Although the disappearance of America’s middle class will drag more communities into poverty, Lipsitz’s conclusion is admittedly realistic about our engagement as design professionals. Taking actions will “help to create spatial imaginaries” and will contribute to “build communities characterized by racial and class heterogeneity, inclusion and affordability.”

    Josiane Crampé

  9. “The Racialization of Space and the Spatialization of Race” seeks to unveil the underlying racial issues and values that governs our immediate environment and, in most cases, the courses of our life. For some, the idea that the neighbourhood where we were born and raised will have a direct proportional impact on our social and financial success can seem a new and very distant concept. Moreover, the fact that our direct environment could associate us to a particular racial imagery can firstly seems dated and completely anti-American. The American Dream supposes that everyone, no matter where they are from, can build a life of their own at he own image : if you work hard enough, you can get as far as you want.
    However, even before the conception of the “self-made man” could rises, we often forget that in order to create a”free space “, our ancestors had to create an homogeneous space. In other words, in order to build that dream, they had to start form a clean slate. To do so, they had to remove and assimilate all of those who they deemed different, deficient and non-normative (native communities). Considering this cultural baggage, one can assume that there was never really a place for heterogeneous space in North America.
    For those who have been excluded from the valorised and idealised homogenous space, racial demography and spatial racialization is an evidence.
    In the light of George Lipstiz article, we can find clear examples of spatial racialization and spatialization of race here in Canada, in the way we built our country and in the way autochthon population was spatially and socially excluded. It is a clear example of the injustices and inequalities of an exaggerated spatialization of race. Moreover, the way opportunities are spatialized and racialized affect the “natives” is eloquent of a undeniable spatial injustice.
    A common misconception is to think that autochthones living in reserves are privileged because they don’t have to pay taxes and that they benefit from special government measures for health, housing and education.
    Nevertheless, the realities of their spatial exclusion proves that they are in fact under-privileged and that it is considerably harder for them to penetrate higher ranks in society.
    It has been shown that, in autochthon’s reserve, real estate market is almost non existing. The Loi sur les indiens makes it very hard for them to become owner of the house they occupy. At the opposite of the “white neighbourhood” described in Lipsitz article, properties in reserve have almost no economical or consumption value. Employment inside the reserve is also very low and opportunities of employment outside of the reserve are not as good as one would think. Even though Canadian government rewards employers and companies who hires “natives”, it is still very difficult for autochthons to get there. For the autochthon’s youth, finding a job or having access to higher education implies moving far away from their family and support system. Furthermore, only half on the teenagers finishes high school in reserves. If they do get to college, young autochthons have a huge handicap : they have no professional and social network in the city. It makes is especially hard for them to establish professional connections and enter social circles.
    It is important to mention that the situation of the “black” community in the South of the United States and the one of the “native” community in Canada is different partly because the last is recognized (in terms of rights) as a minority. Nevertheless, they experience very similar handicaps due to racial concentration and spacialization. As time passes, as we can see with the autochthon community, it becomes harder and harder to escape the standards of race spacialization and spatial racialization.

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