My Mother's Body, or Mapping the Biological Life of Jim Crow
This talk examines the relationship between race, epigenetics, and toxic exposure in the U.S. Gulf South. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, defines racism as "the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group- differentiated vulnerability to premature death." Gilmore's incisive definition provides a useful conceptual framework for mapping the biological life of Jim Crow in Mossville, Louisiana. Mossville is an unincorporated historic freedmen's community located just north of the Port of Lake Charles, one of the largest industrial ports in the United States. In the 1930s, multiple petrochemical companies began constructing plants in the area whose operations have irreversibly contaminated the area's air, water, soil, and the bodies of local residents. Mossville is also Morris's mother's hometown. In this talk, Morris center her mother's body and her experience with cancer to examine how the formation of the petrochemical industry in southwest Louisiana - as a project of racialized primitive accumulation and U.S. imperial nation-building -- manifests in the bodies of black people who were excluded from these political projects. Morris argues that we need a critical theory of biologized racism that examines how these forms of fatal racial difference are produced through the unequal distribution of toxic exposure and the impact that these differences have on the very material of human bodies.