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Natou Fall and Victor Jones on What ‘Unapologetically Black’ Means for Architecture

Earlier this month, SCI-Arc STUN hosted its first event of Black History Month, a public conversation entitled “Unapologetically Black,” featuring architect Victor Jones and SCI-Arc faculty Natou Fall (M.Arch 1 ’19). Organized by STUN under its “Fridays @ 5” series and moderated by undergraduate student Babatunde-Majadi Adejare (B.Arch ’23), the discussion was a continuation of an inaugural talk of the same title, which took place last year as part of SCI-Arc’s first annual Black Lives Matter Week of Action.

With the aim of introducing or reintroducing Black identities, perspectives, histories, and cultures into the pedagogy and practice of architecture, the discussion offered the opportunity for Jones, Fall, and Adejare to delve into their own corresponding and divergent takes on what “Unapologetically Black” entails today.

Kicking off the talk, Jones lamented the disturbing omission of James Garrott’s work from the canon of Southern California architects, how this “began to make me think deeply about what’s lying ahead for Black people and people of color who have not traditionally been at the center of the conversation in architecture… I would like to use this conversation tonight to think more deeply about how we get past this moment, how we construct our identity, how we begin to do this is a way that is not contingent upon others.”

Fall and Jones proceeded to dissect what institutionally have been and continue to be obstacles in this process of racial equity within the field, with Jones recalling, “As a young architecture student, something that was always very unappealing about being a person of color was that my only vocation in life was to write about or think about or explain my presence in the discipline of architecture as a Black person.”

“Now I understand that of course I should be writing these stories,” he continued. “Part of that is learning that our voices have been suppressed or literally omitted from histories… For me now, it’s not about the anger, but how to muster up the energy to produce some substantive work that is going to make it easier for those that follow.”

Adejare proposed a question about how to obtain this balance between “emotional charge and doing the work.” Fall responded that “this need or ability or survival mechanism of holding all of those emotions in and still being able to produce and operate like any other member of society, is one of the consequences of being born with this skin… it doesn’t lend itself to an easy life, but it comes with a lot of responsibility and also guilt, sometimes.”

When asked by Jones, “Why guilt?” Fall went on: “Especially in our field, being in a space that is very white, you have this pressure to be the best and to perform and prove that you belong in that space… and then you find yourself surrounded by your white colleagues and professors, wondering where are all the Black people in your life? Well, I’m in this space, and there aren’t any people who look like me, and the option is to be alone or to make these connections, and there’s something really sad about that experience.”

After outlining the era for Black individuals migrating to California in the 1900s, in terms of pushing back against discriminatory practices, Jones came to the realization that “the fights for us today are exactly what we’re doing right now: being unapologetically Black, in all of our different shades and all of our complexity and all of our different genders—that we are rich and robust and part of this experience.”

To watch the entire talk, please visit the SCI-Arc Live YouTube archive link here.