Among Antipode’s top cited articles in 2019 is Ashanté M. Reese’s “We will not perish; we’re going to keep flourishing”: Race, Food Access, and Geographies of Self‐Reliance. Using a community garden as a case study, the paper draws from 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Washington, DC, to outline geographies of self‐reliance – a theoretical framework for understanding Black food geographies that are embedded in histories of self‐reliance as a response to structural and spatial inequalities.
Ahead of International Women’s Day 2020, which is on March 8th, we caught up with Ashanté to find out more about her work. You can read the interview below, and find other interviews and top cited articles on Wiley’s website “celebrating the resounding impact women in research have had on the advancement of their disciplines”: https://www.wiley-iwd2020.com
Ashanté M. Reese is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland. After earning a bachelors in History with a minor in African American Studies from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, she taught middle school at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Atlanta, Georgia for two years. Ashanté went on to earn a masters degree in Public Anthropology in 2013 and a PhD in Anthropology (specializing in race, gender, and social justice) in 2015, both at American University in Washington, DC.
Ashanté’s research and teaching focus on Black geographies – the ways Black people produce and navigate spaces and places in the context of anti-Blackness. While she is interested in and committed to documenting the ways anti-Blackness constrains Black life, her work is constantly brought back to the question, what and who survives? This question, for Ashanté, is animated by a recurring interest in community and vulnerability in both her research and teaching and personal life and the human experience more broadly. This question and these themes show up over and over again in her work: “I marvel at the ways we make lives, even when constantly surveilled and threatened by state and corporate violence and neglect.”
What inspired you to research this subject and what makes you passionate about this area of study?
I wrote about this in the Introduction to Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, DC (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), but my research on food access was inspired by the 11-12 year old students I taught in Atlanta prior to going to graduate school. They had questions about why my neighborhood had the “nice” grocery stores and theirs didn’t. Of course, I knew about racism, etc. But I wanted to understand the mechanisms that produce unequal food access, and I wanted to also spend time thinking about how Black people navigate these inequities. I am always interested in not only structural constraints but how people make lives. I’m sure that this is also greatly influenced by my own upbringing in predominantly Black spaces where people were creative community builders. I think I’m passionate about it because something that seems so simple – acquiring food – is not simple at all. There’s something about the fact that food is a basic need but is not treated as such that keeps me focused on learning how people navigate inequities and how some build alternatives.
Who inspired you and why?
I would change this to who “inspires” present tense…and I am afraid to start listing people, because I will certainly forget some, but here’s a short list: the students I taught at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy; my former student from Spelman College, Nikki Thornton; my grandmother; Katherine McKittrick; Christina Sharpe; Saidiya Hartman; Zora Neale Hurston; a group of Black feminist anthropologists who I get to think and spend time with (Bianca Williams, Erica Williams, Aimee Meredith Cox, Donna Auston, Savannah Shange, and others!); my best friend from childhood, Elizabeth Kennedy (who is a geographer studying violence and migration in Central America); Black women food scholars and activists who have paved the way for me and others (including Psyche Williams-Forson, Monica White, Dara Cooper, Karen Washington…I could go on and on). Currently, my two research assistants, Emily Chetelat and Betsy Raimo, keep me on my toes with their enthusiasm and questions. They do more than just help me with research. There’s something beautiful about how new everything feels to them that keeps me curious. I’m also inspired by books and characters in books that I go back to and think about. I’m inspired by thinkers/doers/writers/creatives who somehow make it feel more possible to live within and beyond the world we currently have.
What advice would you give to early career researchers or the next generation of women in research?
We’re told to look for mentors, and I think that’s important. I also think it important to have a good network of peers. Some of my best support comes from other women who are on this tenure track journey alongside me. Another thing I would emphasize is if you don’t make time for the things you care about outside of work, it is likely that you will never make time for those things in the future. It is so easy to get sucked into research and institutional work…and even if you love it, there have to be other things you love, too. Make room for those things.
As a woman in research, what has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your career?
It really is true that organizations, departments, etc. depend quite a bit on (racialized) gendered labor. The other day I was doing some work for a professional organization that I am part of (and that is lead almost entirely by women) and it dawned on me: oh, yeah. This is partly why there are disparities in the amount of women who get full professorship compared to men. The amount of service and emotional labor women do – some of it invisible – is astounding. I learn so much from colleagues and mentors, trying to figure out ways to maneuver what I think of as a structural problem.
What are you currently working on and do you have a long-term research goal?
I’m working on a long-term project on carcerality and food, looking at how prisons and food production are intertwined (both historically and in the contemporary moment). Beyond that, I am not sure what is next.
Over the course of your career, what accomplishment are you proudest of?
This is a big question that is really hard to answer. I think I am proudest of being able to maintain some sense of self that is not completely wrapped up in my work. I know that doesn’t sound like an “accomplishment” but academia is brutal and can really wear people down. I think maintaining some sense of groundedness is a daily practice. Aside from that, I’m proud of writing and publishing my first book!
Many thanks to Ashanté from everyone at Antipode. You can read more about her book, Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, DC, at https://uncpress.org/book/9781469651507/black-food-geographies/ and follow her on Twitter at @AMReese07