My Mother’s Body, or Mapping the Biological Life of Jim Crow

Lecture | November 26 | 12-1:30 p.m. | 602 Barrows Hall

 Courtney Desiree Morris, Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, The Pennsylvania State University

 Department of Gender and Women's Studies


Mossville is an unincorporated historic freedmen’s community in Louisiana located north of the industrial Port of Lake Charles. In the 1940s, several petrochemical corporations began building plants around Mossville that contaminated the town’s air, water, soil, and the bodies of local residents. I explore my mother’s cancer journey to argue for a theory of biologized racism that illustrates how fatal forms of 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. I suggest that the shift in scientific research on epigenetics and toxicity reveals how Jim Crow racism operates across time, space, and bodies and the need to reframe the normative political claims of environmental justice movements.

Courtney Desiree Morris is an assistant professor of African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Morris is a visual artist and social anthropologist whose research focuses on black women’s social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean and race, energy and environmental politics in the African Diaspora. Her book, "To Defend this Sunrise: Black Women’s Activism and the Geography of Race in Nicaragua" (forthcoming from Rutgers University Press), examines how black women activists have resisted historical and contemporary patterns of racialized state violence, economic exclusion, territorial dispossession, and political repression from the 19th century to the present. Her work has been published in 'American Anthropologist', the 'Bulletin of Latin American Research', the 'Journal of Women, Gender, and Families of Color, make/shift: feminisms in motion', and Asterix.