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RUIN’S PROGENY: Race, Environment, and Appalachia’s Coal Camp Blacks

  • Karida L. Brown (a1), Michael W. Murphy (a2) and Apollonya M. Porcelli (a3)
Abstract

Extractive industries have long been a topic of study in environmental social science. These studies have focused on how extractive industries, as linked to global capitalism, degrade local communities and their environments, but have failed to consider their racialized effects. At the same time, when scholars have examined the intersection of race and the environment, their analyses tend towards the quantification and mapping of the disproportionate environmental burdens that weigh upon communities of color. Both literatures neglect to examine the intersection of race and the environment from a phenomenological perspective. Our research intervenes in the literature by asking: (1) How is the environment implicated in conditioning racialized subjectivities? And (2) How do landscapes and environment impact the formation of collective identity and sense of belonging for African Americans? In this article, we focus on the lived experience of a generation of Black coal miners and their families, who migrated throughout the central Appalachian region during the twentieth century Great Migration. This study offers an empirical investigation into the “landscapes of meaning” that can emerge from the experience of racialized displacement from land and environment. Further, in documenting the lived experience of this group of African Americans, this study also counters the otherwise dominant narrative that portrays Appalachian people as hopeless, helpless, and homeless; and White. Data for this study are drawn from the EKAAMP collection, a community-driven participatory archive aimed at documenting the lives of African American coal miners and their families. This work offers three contributions: It (1) reinserts agency into the analysis of communities affected by extractive economies; (2) invigorates the productive tensions that underlie considerations of the inextricable linkages between environment and the phenomenological experience of racialization; and (3) reconsiders the long-standing historical intersections between environment, community, and race.

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Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Karida L. Brown, Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles; 264 Haines Hall, 375 Portola Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1511, USA. E-Mail: kbrown@soc.ucla.edu
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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
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