Current and ongoing research projects

Oakland Echoes: Reimagining and Reclaiming the Black City (under contract with the University of California Press)

In Oakland, California, Black resistance has laid the foundation for movements and formations that reclaim space through public cultures, electoral and grassroots politics, and in the aesthetics of everyday life. Oakland Echoes: Reimagining and Reclaiming the Black City, explores and highlights the roots and routes of this resistance and reclamation, not only as a response to urban gentrification and related economic policies, but also as a quest to think about the past, present, and future of a Black city. Ultimately, the book argues that Black Oaklanders use a myriad of symbolic and material means – activism, consumption, recovery, escape, and adaptation – to reimagine and reclaim the Black city.  

Oakland, like many other cities with large, but dwindling Black populations, has experienced a continuing legacy of destructive urban policies leveraged by federal, state, and local governments that forcefully evict economically disadvantaged communities, treating them as disposable, impoverished urban dwellers. The mobility of Black residents in Oakland, either by choice or force, resembles distinct patterns of re-segregation. Policy is what has driven the cyclical destruction of Black spaces, relying on the state to solve the problems they created. I’m ultimately asking, what does it mean for Black people to have the same experience over and over again? In other words, 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? How can we recast what’s already been done in a new light? This project is asking us to view from a different perspective, a different lens, in order to consider what work is already being accomplished by the people who have been most affected. Oakland Echoes details the critical histories, conflicts, and struggles over how to use the city, who belongs to the city, and most importantly, who makes the city.

This book does not offer a seamless or neat history of Black Oakland. It resists the idea of presenting a positive/negative story about Black life here. Instead, I highlight the complex politics, identities, struggles, joys that have made it such a difficult place to write about. How does one hold together all of the contradictions and complexities that make this medium-sized, extraordinarily ordinary city survive?

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