Echoes of a Chocolate City: Race, Aesthetics and Black Urbanism
Reading America’s present through its past brings up a sense of déjà-vu, especially if we pause and reflect on the events of the past couple of years. Urban problems are at the heart of what we are seeing in the world today. Especially since 2020, when an interracial coalition of people organized demonstrations in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans by police officers, it has been difficult to ignore how the events of the present-day echo a time in the 1960s, when a wave of urban race rebellions, led by Black Americans, gripped the United States. Feelings of cyclical loss and anxiety about unrelenting state violence, uneven development, and physical and cultural displacement are currently exacerbated by processes of gentrification. So, what does it mean for Black people to have the same experience over and over again? What does it mean for Black people to live through constant cycles of movement, containment, dispossession, and erasure? How can we imagine various forms of displacement and emplacement alongside the mechanisms (policies) that attempt to keep Black people in place?
Brandi T. Summers, Ph.D. is associate professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City (UNC Press, 2019). Her research examines the relationship between and function of race, space, urban infrastructure, and architecture. Her current research includes a book project that examines representations and experiences of space, place, and landscape in her hometown, Oakland, CA; and “The Archive of Urban Futures,” a multi-platform archival project, funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, that focuses on questions of history, value, the right to place, memory, and erasure in Black Oakland. Dr. Summers has published several articles and essays about race, aesthetics, and urbanization that appear in both scholarly and popular publications, including New York Times, The Boston Globe, Urban Geography, and Places Journal.