Dysfunction #6: White Reign
This issue of DYSFUNCTION centers the career of James Albert “Billboard” Jackson as a catalyst for contemplating the conditions and experiences of Black travel in White supremacist America. Jackson, who pioneered Black entertainment reporting for Billboard Magazine in 1920, founded the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Division of Negro Affairs in 1927, and worked for over 20 years as a “special representative” to the Black community for Esso Standard Oil, has yet to be recognized for his pivotal behind-the-scenes role in creating and supporting the Negro Motorist Green Book. Published for a thirty-year period from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, the “Green Book” directed Black motorists to accommodating hotels/boarding houses, restaurants, and service stations during the height of Jim Crow segregation. Accordingly, it influenced African Americans’ commercial participation outside of local, known surroundings.
A short introductory essay (p. 2-3), exploring Jackson’s unacknowledged connection to the Green Book, is partnered with a sketched landscape of roadside billboards spotlighting the three most celebrated trajectories of his varied career (cover). Each billboard features a portrait of Jackson by artist Kevin Earley. These historical foundations set the stage for various commentaries on contemporary conditions of Black travel through racialized geographies. Autoethnographic writings by Anthony Kwame Harrison (p. 4-11) and Corey J. Miles (p. 12) convey different 21st Century experiences of driving while black through spaces of White domination and dominion. The artistic centerpieces for the issue include a musical/lyrical essay, “White Reign,” composed by Harrison and longtime music collaborator, BlakeNine, as well as three evocative images by Virginia artist, Asa Jackson (p. 4, 8 & 11). Harrison’s autoethnographic travels take him through the all-White town of New Castle, Virginia. A return trip to New Castle, with colleague and cinematographer Karl Precoda, resulted in the short film, Sundown (p. 9). Lastly, the unsettling experience of visiting New Castle prompted Harrison to choreograph a photoshoot with photographer Richard Randolph (p. 3 & 12).
In line with DYSFUNCTION’s mission of raising critical questions about the role of art-based research dissemination in academic spaces, this collaborative project—primarily orchestrated by Harrison around his physical and intellectual journeys to learn more about “Billboard” Jackson and the racist forces he dedicated his career to working against—challenges readers/viewers/listeners to grapple with the complexities of American racism as experienced, symbolized, and imagined by two centuries of Black travelers. These works are meant to evoke critical reflections on experiences of Black (auto)mobility that are at times jarring, at others mundane, and sometimes both simultaneously. Weaving together intricate threads of experience and (re)presentation, the showcased pieces portray a world in motion, characterized by complex transactions involving racialized histories, perceptions of place, agency, citizenship, and enduring White supremacy. The messages filtering through these mediated mindscapes are cohesive yet non-comprehensive. Their intentional incompleteness invites those who witness them to dwell in the ambiguity and to ultimately make their own personal, emotional, and intellectual connections. As an addendum to the 2019 Race in the Marketplace (RIM) Research Forum, this issue of DYSFUNCTION opens up space for dialogue by foregrounding complex processes of meaning-making surrounding the relationship between racial identities, structures of power and oppression, and markets.