brandi t. summers, ph.d.  

professor ∙ researcher ∙ writer  
race, urban cultural landscapes, aesthetics  


Reviews of Black in Place

S. Heard. 2021. “Reviewed Work: Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City by Brandi Thompson Summers.Washington History

J.S. Lewis, J. Robinson, A. Reese, M. Ramírez, B. Summers. 2021. “Book Review Symposium - ‘Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City.’” Antipode

O. Clerge. 2021. “Review of Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City.” Social Forces 

B. Hinger & E. Quinn. 2020. “Black aesthetic emplacement: Thinking beyond neoliberal capitalist explanations of gentrification.” City

V. Brown. 2020. “Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of a Post-Chocolate City.” Carolina Planning Journal

J. Perez Caro & B. Cheng. 2020. “Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of a Post-Chocolate City.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 

T. Kumfer. 2021. “Making and Unmaking a Chocolate City: Three Recent Works on Washington, D.C.Journal of Urban History

Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City (University of North Carolina Press)

While Washington, D.C. is still often referred to as “Chocolate City,” it has undergone significant demographic, political, and economic change in the last decade. In D.C., no place represents this shift better than H Street. Black in Place documents D.C.’s shift to a “post-chocolate” cosmopolitan metropolis by charting H Street’s economic and racial developments. The book focuses on the continuing significance of blackness in a place like D.C., how blackness contributes to our understanding of contemporary urbanization, and how it laid an important foundation for how Black people have been thought to exist in cities. Black in Place also analyzes how blackness—as a representation of diversity—is marketed to sell a progressive, “cool,” and authentic experience of being in and moving through an urban center.

Black in Place offers a theoretical framework for understanding how blackness is aestheticized and deployed to organize landscapes and raise capital. Using a mix of participant observation, visual and media analysis, interviews, and archival research, it shows how blackness has become a prized and lucrative aesthetic that often leaves out D.C.’s Black residents.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Black in Place is a beautiful, critical, and searing narrative of displacement on H Street, the most heartbreaking and telling of all of the gentrification processes in the Chocolate City. Brandi Thompson Summers has written the book you need to read to understand how racism, capitalism, and power, material and symbolic, collide in the modern American city with constraining and calamitous outcomes for working class Black residents.”—Zandria F. Robinson, author of This Ain’t Chicago

“Sitting at the intersection of human geography, cultural studies, and Black studies, Black in Place brings new cutting edge perspectives to each of these fields. A both timely and important book.”—Rashad Shabazz, author of Spatializing Blackness


Academic articles, essays, and book chapters

Reclaiming the Chocolate City: Soundscapes of Gentrification and Resistance in Washington, D.C.Environment and Planning D: Society & Space 39:1 (February 2021)

In this article, I analyze the #DontMuteDC movement and show how Black people challenge the processes of gentrification by reclaiming space and resisting capitalist dispossession through cultural production. I analyze the movement’s emphasis on go-go music as part of a process to (re)claim their place in the city, which I argue disrupts structures governing and managing normative space. I propose reclamation aesthetics as an analytic through which we can understand Black cultural production and Black place- and space-making practices as responses to socio-spatial inequities.

Race, Authenticity, and the Gentrified Aesthetics of Belonging in Washington, DCAesthetics of Gentrification: Seductive Spaces and Exclusive Communities in the Neoliberal City (Amesterdam University Press, 2021)

In this chapter, I examine representations of blackness and diversity and analyze how they are deployed in the pursuit of authenticity in the gentrified city. A vital component of understanding how blackness figures into the “revitalization” of the H Street corridor, in NE Washington, DC, is how culture and authenticity work as instruments of urban development. Given the prominence of culture as a key resource for post-industrial cities to attract tourists and residents, several have implemented strategies to promote urban branding. Racialized expressions are more marketable in the emerging “creative city” that emphasizes cultural consumption and creative, aesthetic practices. Creating authenticity is an integral process to the socio-spatial organization of gentrifying cities. I track the contemporary convergence of hipster aesthetics with a Black cultural space that results in the aesthetic re-coding of the neighbourhood as a diverse commercial corridor.

“The Chocolate State”
Washington History 32:1/2 (Fall 2020)

Essay appears in a special issue titled, “Meeting the Moment: Commentary on 2020.” In it, I consider the stakes of DC statehood in the context of a social, economic, and political crisis, as the US grapples with the question of how Black Lives Matter. More specifically, I address the possibilities of the “Chocolate City” becoming the “Chocolate State.”  

“Fear and Loathing (of Others): Race, Class, and Contestation of Space in Washington, D.C.”
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 43:6 (November 2019)

This article, written with Kathryn Howell, explores the cultural politics of public space and the placemaking politics of urban redevelopment in the Atlas District of Washington, DC, a popular commercial district undergoing rapid gentrification. The article focuses on uses of public space and describes how various forms of power are linked to the control of space in the context of gentrification. Our analysis focuses on designated public space in the Atlas District––the Starburst Plaza. By analyzing everyday practices around community control at the Starburst Plaza, this case study focuses on the discrete methods by which the symbolic and material inequities promulgated by the neoliberal state are reconfigured through struggles to define and manage contested public spaces.

“Post-Apocalyptic Shine in the Afro-Future.”
ASAP/Journal 4:2 (May 2019)

This solicited essay appears in a special issue dedicated to automation. It draws on conceptions of blackness, visuality, and resistance aesthetics in relation to a post-apocalyptic editorial spread of Rihanna in W magazine. I theorize excess shine as an adaptation for the Afro-future.

“Haute (Ghetto) Mess”: Post-Racial Aesthetics and the Seduction of Blackness in High Fashion.” In Racism Post-Race: Culture, Critique, and the Color Line, edited by Herman Gray, Sarah Banet-Weiser, and Roopali Mukherjee (Duke University Press, 2019)

This chapter analyzes the “Haute Mess” editorial in the March 2012 issue of Vogue Italia to demonstrate that “hyperblackness” does not only require the presentation of blackness in bodily form, but it can also reference symbolic renderings of blackness – without being named as such. Through my textual/image analysis, the piece foregrounds the value of diversity in the fashion industry and the structuring logic of race-neutrality in its presentation of blackness as style. I argue that race is both made and un-made in fashion on the one hand through the production/performance of difference, and on the other hand through the flattening of difference where difference generates cultural and economic value via consumption and celebration. Finally, I consider blackness as an aesthetic that can be attached to black bodies, but is also present in objects, performances, language, etc. I investigate the deployment of blackness as the result of a historically situated aesthetic formation.

“Race as Aesthetic: The Politics of Vision, Visibility, and Visuality in Vogue Italia’s ‘A Black Issue.’” QED: A Journal of GLBTQ Worldmaking 4:3 (Fall 2017)

This article highlights the construction of black bodies as valuable in the fashion system as a mark of difference and evidence of diversity. Here, I also render the high fashion industry as a site of conflicting elements concerning the deployment and meaning of the black female body. To do so, I use a combined analysis of activism in the fashion industry, which calls for the representation of black models through the visible inclusion of more black bodies on the runway and in magazines, and a textual/image analysis of the July 2008 issue of Vogue Italia, “A Black Issue.” I argue that representations of the black models in the Vogue Italia Black Issue present the “glamorous” black model’s body as unthreatening, alluring, and integrated into dominant discourses of feminine attractiveness. I draw from the presentation of images in the high fashion industry to highlight instances when blackness is asked to prove a post-race and post-racist reality. I argue that the presentation of black bodies becomes less about their blackness, and more about their ability to sell a marketable black aesthetic.

“H Street, Main Street and the Neoliberal Aesthetics of Cool.” In Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, DC, edited by Derek Hyra and Sabiyha Prince (Routledge, 2015)

This chapter argues that the category of diversity has performed subtle, yet significant discursive work in the development of a popular, gentrifying commercial district in Washington, D.C. I highlight the relationship between race, diversity, belonging and urban development in the historical devaluation of the H Street commercial corridor, as a Black space, and its revaluation as an emerging multicultural neighborhood. I also explore how discourses of diversity and neoliberalism shape what hand who are deemed un/desirable and I identify how these discourses legitimate practices of racial inequality without naming race. By using diversity to map the space, I argue that the development of H Street places emphasis on a specific ideology of difference as multiculturalism and diversity in the spread of neoliberalism.

⎯⎯Public Writing⎯⎯

Public scholarship and academic essays written for a general audience

“Untimely Futures”
Places Journal (November 9, 2021)

This essay explores the history of unhoused populations in Oakland, the cyclical displacements of Black locals, and the appearance and reappearance of parking lots in these stories of disruption. She draws on the speculative to highlight a long history of restrictive and devastating policy passed and promoted by local governments and developers.

“Aesthetic Activism and the Quest for Authenticity in a Time of Crisis”
Mediapolis (June 12, 2021)

This solicited essay contributes to a roundtable on the topic of “lockdown aesthetics and gentrification.” My essay focuses on how the aesthetics of blackness have been co-opted in the gentrifying city during a period of crisis.
“We Need Action to Accompany Art” The Boston Globe (June 11, 2020)

This solicited op-ed offers a critical lens to view state-sanctioned public art as “black aesthetic emplacement.”

“Race and the Quarantined City/What Black America Knows About Quarantine” The New York Times (May 15, 2020)

This solicited op-ed discusses the long history of Black spatial containment and marginalization in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Crafting Selves: Elia Alba’s Supper Club and the Politics of Home(place)” In The Supper Club: by Elia Alba, edited by Sara Reisman, George Bolster, and Anjuli Nanda (Hirmer Publishers, 2019)

This chapter explore the role of blackness, aesthetics, and black representation in Elia Alba’s art practice. The essay draws on bell hooks’ essay “Homeplace: A Site of Resistance,” to imagine Alba’s Supper Club as a radically subversive environment.

“‘Housing is a Natural Right, Not a Privilege’: Anti-Gentrification Activism in a Chocolate” City
The Funambulist, Issue 22 (March 2019)

This solicited essay discusses the Black struggle against gentrification in Washington, D.C., and various organizations, initiatives, policy, and ongoing cultural activities that address the socio-spatial shift in D.C.’s landscape, primarily due to gentrification-induced displacement and dispossession.

Black Aesthetic/Aesthetic Black: Race, Space, and the Possibilities of Becoming
Public Seminar (May 2018)

This solicited piece discusses the productivity of blackness, and the mutual constitution of “black aesthetics” and “blackness as an aesthetic.”

“Black Lives Under Surveillance”
Public Books (December 2016)

A review essay on Simone Browne’s Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness and Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation that draws connections between race, surveillance, and capitalism.



After joining the faculty at UC Berkeley in 2019, I began collaborating with my colleagues, Jovan Scott Lewis and Sharad Chari, to further develop the Berkeley Black Geographies Project. Since the first symposium in 2017, Black Geographies has grown in intellectual salience, institutional purchase, and trans-disciplinary influence. Rooted in decades of critical and radical Black thought and political engagement, the rate and breadth of growth in Black Geographies has advanced and inspired multiple themes and concepts. These interventions that concern the spatial relations of Blackness, span the range from the poetics to the politics of Blackness.

In addition to celebrating these developments, we organized a symposium that was held March 12-13, 2020, where we sought to deepen and define the conceptual frameworks and scholarly implications of the Black geographic framework that stand at the core of these advancements. In doing so, the symposium engaged scholarship that reflect Black Geographies’ commitments to the material, political-economic, poetic, feminist, queer, and global arrangements of the Black experience.



The Apocryphal Gospel of Oakland (AGO) is a multimedia project developed in collaboration with Nigerian-born, Brooklyn-based visual artist, Olalekan Jeyifous. AGO lampoons policy and power in confronting the housing crisis in Oakland. We envision an absurdist and alternate future that derives from the racist, spurious narratives deployed historically, as justification for “Negro removal” and more recently to explicate “housing scarcity” in the age of the Tech sector boom.

"Apocrypha" are written works of unknown authorship and dubious authenticity that are nonetheless widely circulated as being “true” (The Gospel).

On the topic of California’s ongoing homeless and housing crisis, the prevailing “Apocrypha” of Oakland is “housing scarcity,” despite findings by the American Community Survey that show there are four vacant units for every unhoused person. Municipal powers frame, react, and derive policy based on this notion of scarcity to address rampant homelessness, and to promote the idea that developing more "affordable” housing is the only solution to a crisis that derived from ongoing economic, racial, and political inequities. As a result, often untenable, even preposterous interim and emergency “transitional housing” strategies are presented as viable solutions. An emphasis and aggrandizement of these “strategies” as speculative urban interventions form the basis of our project.

“The Apocryphal Gospel of Oakland” is a multimedia installation comprised of hyper-real, Dystopian images, infographics, and animations re-imagined at the intersection of artistic abstraction and the exploratory potential for statistical analysis as a form of accountability and cutting social critique. The primary focus of this project will be photo-montages and experimental video depicting exaggerated “future” encampments from an alternate reality. Archival photographs, abstracted maps, and inventive animations will tell the origin story of these speculative encampments, reflecting on the socio-spatial organizational policies, cultural phenomena, contexts, and events that defined their establishment, tracing back to the racialized history of segregation and dispossession that justified the destruction of Black neighborhoods under the pretense of “urban renewal.”


Designed Erasure is a mapping and oral history project developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley undergraduate student, Maya Sapienza. The focus of this research project is to explore how race and racialization contribute to the various cycles of development, destruction, and redevelopment in West Oakland. The questions that animate this research are: what does it mean for Black people in Oakland to live through constant cycles of movement, containment, dispossession, and erasure? How can we imagine various forms of displacement and emplacement alongside the mechanisms that attempt to keep Black people in place?

For this project, we will use layered historical maps to document Oakland's planning history, and current policy on homelessness that has been generated by the city of Oakland. In particular, we examine containment, urban renewal infrastructure, architecture, austerity, and homelessness as racialized phenomena. While the project examines connections between urban renewal (as "Negro removal") and contemporary policy that constrains the mobility of the unsheltered and unhoused, we complement this analysis with oral history interviews with current and former Black West Oakland residents, archival photographs, and tax and homeownership records to reimagine a politics of Black placemaking (staying in place) as a way to designate a legible Black future in Oakland.  Reclaiming Black West Oakland through a politics of staying in place does not involve simply taking up space, but specifically doing so in response to the systemic silencing and removal of Black people from the Black city and Black spaces. To reclaim space allows us to ask questions and offer narratives of what it means to stay in place, making legitimate claims to space and the meaning of space. Resisting displacement and dispossession is only one part of the story; “staying” opens up the possibility to imagine geographies that were never thought to be seen.

We aim for the project to facilitate engaged scholarship on how narratives about West Oakland emerge and circulate, competing visions for the city’s future and how these evolve over time, and the urban imaginaries that have been forgotten or sidelined in favor of more entrenched interests. The contents of this research (maps, images, accompanying text) will be presented in digital form on an interactive and accessible website. We hope that the visual representation of the various processes of urbanization in Oakland will enable us to make visible the mechanisms undergirding urban inequities.

Funding support for Designed Erasure has been generously provided by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI)

⎯⎯Upcoming Events⎯⎯

January 24
University of Southern California, School of Architecture

Spring Lecture Series (online)
February 17
University of Michigan, Taubman College

Under Consideration: Session IX w/ Sumayya Vally (online)
February 22
New York University, Center for Black Visual Culture
Panel: “Home, What Does it Look Like Now?” (online)
February 24-25
Princeton University, School of Architecture

Womxn in Design and Architecture (WDA) conference 
Princeton, NJ

Past Events

UCLA - Geography Department
Geography Colloquium
“Spatial Temporalities: The Future-Pasts of Black Dispossession (online)
Columbia University - Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP)
Lectures in Planning Series (LiPS)
“Spatial Temporalities: The Future-Pasts of Black Dispossession (online)
UC Berkeley - African American Studies
Critical Conversations Speakers Series - “Skyrise: June Jordan’s Architectural Imaginary” w/ Olalekan Jeyifous and Mabel O. Wilson (online)
Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE)
Structural Racism, Health, and COVID-19 panel  (online)
Urban Frontiers: A Conference on Gentrification Studies
“Black Joy as Recovery and the Fight Against Place Annihilation” for “Debates on Gentrification” panel (online)
CUNY Grad Center - The Center for Place, Culture, and Politics
From “Upscaling” to Uhauling: Perspectives on Black/Queer Gentrification in Conversation w/ J. Jack Gieseking and Desirée Fields (online)
UC Berkeley - African American Studies
Critical Conversations Speakers Series - “Black Feminist Geographies of Emancipation” w/ Savannah Shange (online)

UC Berkeley - Architecture & Global Metropolitan Studies
Olalekan Jeyifous + Brandi T. Summers: “(Im)permanence, Improvisation, and our Absurdist Future” (online)
University of Oxford Rothermere American Institute RAI Goes to the Movies - Sorry to Bother You + Blindspotting Panel (online)

SF Urban Film Fest
Where the Pavement Ends Live Panel
University of Maryland - Urban Planning Seminar Group
Reframing Social + Spatial Justice in 2020-2021
University of Cambridge - Conservation Research Institute
CUGS: The Geographies of Racial Capitalism panel
Rice University
Racism and Racial Experiences (RARE) Workgroup (online)
University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI)
Living Through Upheaval: Under Fire (online)
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Authors Meet Critics (online)

University of Leicester
Geography Research Seminar (online)
D.C. History Conference
Letitia Woods Brown lecture (online)
UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Lecture - “A Tale of Two Cities: Black Insurgent Aesthetics & the Public Imaginary” (online)
Design Museum of Chicago + blkHaUS studios
Raising Products Series (online)
University of Kentucky
Department of Geography Colloquium Series 
UC Berkeley - Network for a New Political Economy
Race and the Political Economy panel (online)
UC Berkeley - Social Science Matrix
Author Meets Critic: Black in Place
Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
A Right to the City - A Conversation with Brandi Summers 
University of ChicagoRace & Capitalism Project
COVID-19 and Racial Inequities: Unpacking the Anti-Black Response (online)
Mills CollegeKnowledge for Freedom: “Black Study” and the Present Struggle, A Conversation with Nikhil Pal Singh, Savannah Shange, and Brandi Thompson Summers (online)
Next City Webinar
Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City (online)
University of California, Berkeley
Global Metropolitan Studies Lecture Series (online)
University of California, Berkeley
SCiPP’s 10th Annual Race & Policy Symposium (online)
UC Berkeley - Department of Geography
Berkeley Black Geographies Symposium

Mills College
Black to the Future: Blackness, Space, & Power in Changing Times--A Conversation between Alicia Garza and Brandi Thompson Summers

Princeton University School of Architecture
Princeton-Mellon Forum on the Urban Environment
Politics & Prose (Washington, DC)
Book talks: Democracy’s Capital and Black in Place

Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
“The Corner: Spatial Aesthetics and Black Bodies in Place”
Université Paris-Dauphine (Paris, France)
Race in the Marketplace Symposium
“A Haute [Ghetto] Mess: Black Authenticity and Visual Artifice in Vogue Italia” 

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
“Unmaking a Chocolate City: Spatial Aesthetics of Race and the Gentrifying Urban Landscape”

Hollins University
“Unmaking a Chocolate City: Spatial Aesthetics of Race and the Gentrifying Urban Landscape”
American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting (Washington, DC)
“Chocolate Lives in a Post-Chocolate City”

“Consuming Black Space and Culture: Race, Authenticity, and Quality-of-Life Aesthetics in Washington, D.C.”

“Washington’s ‘Atlas District’ and the New Regime of Diversity”
SXSW EDU Conference & Festival “Imagination & Ingenuity: Prison as Learning Space” (panel discussion)

University of Oregon
SLOW LAB at the College of Design
“The Corner: Spatial Aesthetics and Black Bodies in Place”
Rush University Hospital (Chicago, IL)“The Life, Limits, and Longevity of (Institutional) Bias in the Workplace”
Afrikana Film Festival (Richmond, VA)
Post-screening interview with Boots Riley, director of “Sorry to Bother You”

American Studies Association Annual Meeting (Atlanta, GA)
“Racial Architectures of Urban Space”

(anti)Blackness in the American Metropolis Workshop (Baltimore, MD) “Spatial Aesthetics and Black Bodies in Place”

Howard University
Broken Landscapes: Local Perspectives on Black Architects and Planners Since 1968“Geographies of Blackness in a Post-Chocolate City”

Progressive Connexions (Palermo, Italy)
Fashion and Photography: An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Project
“A Haute [Ghetto] Mess: Black Authenticity and Visual Artifice in Vogue Italia”
American University
Sharing Space: Examining African American and Latino Intercultural Exchanges in Dynamic Neighborhoods Symposium
“Revitalized Displacement: The Mark of Diversity in a Gentrifying Commercial Corridor”

University of Richmond
Arc of Racial Justice Institute
“The Art of Inclusion and Community Engaged Research”

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA)
“The Art of Inclusion and Community Engaged Research”

University of Pennsylvania
“Black Aesthetics/Aesthetic Blackness”
American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting (New Orleans, LA)
“Black Geographies and the Spatial Containment of Race”
Modern Languages Association Annual Meeting (New York, NY)
“The Corner: Black Bodies, Spatial Aesthetics, and DC’s Go-Go Economy”
American University 
Metropolitan Policy Center
“Shifting Cultural Landscapes in Chocolate City

University of California, Berkeley
Black Geographies Symposium
“Neoliberalism and Black Containment”
Afrikana Film Festival (Richmond, VA)
Post-screening interview with Amanda Seales
American Sociological Association Annual Meeting (Montréal, Quebec)
“Fear and Loathing (of Others) in Washington, D.C.”

Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities (Hempstead, NY)
“Queer Imaginations of Black Beauty”
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Meeting (Chicago, IL)
“Haute [Ghetto] Mess: Post-Racial Aesthetics and the Seduction of Blackness in High Fashion”

American Studies Association Annual Meeting (Denver, CO)
“The Changing Face of a Black Place: Spatializing Nostalgia and Cultural Tourism“

National Women’s Studies Association Annual Meeting (Montréal, Quebec)
“Street Life: Black Bodies and Spatial Aesthetics in a Post-Chocolate City”

Georgetown University
“The Politics of Soul Style: Fashion, Race and African American History”
Association for the Study of African American Life and History Annual Meeting (Richmond, VA)
“Diversity as Tableau: Race, Space, and Redevelopment in Washington, D.C.”
Center for Worker Education
City College of New York
“Black Bodies, Spatial Aesthetics, and DC’s Go-Go Economy”
Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum (Washington, DC)
Book Forum: Capital Dilemma
“Race and Change in the Atlas District”
National Council for Black Studies Annual Meeting (Charlotte, NC)
“The Corner: Black Bodies, Spatial Aesthetics, and DC’s Go-Go Economy”
American University
Urban Studies Humanities Lab
“Race and Urban Aesthetics in Washington, D.C.”
New York University
Institute for Public Knowledge
“Un/Making Blackness: On the Aesthetic Discourses of Post-Race and Urban Space”
Association for the Study of African American Life and History Annual Meeting (Atlanta, GA)
“Selling Haute Pu$$y: Defining an Aesthetic Market for Blackness in High Fashion”
Association of Black Sociologists Annual Meeting (Chicago, IL)
“Black Bodies, Diverse Spaces: Neoliberal Aesthetics of Cool in a Post-Chocolate City”
American University
“Hot Food/Haute Cuisine: Aesthetics, Race, and Authenticity in the Atlas District”

Brandi T. Summers, Ph.D.
cover images by Bethanie Hines
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