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 the H Street corridor. In Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City (UNC Press, 2019), Brandi Thompson Summers documents D.C.’s shift to a “post-chocolate” cosmopolitan metropolis by charting H Street’s economic and racial developments. In doing so, she offers a theoretical framework for understanding how blackness is aestheticized and deployed to organize landscapes and raise capital. Summers focuses on the continuing significance of blackness in a place like the nation’s capital, 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. Summers 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.
Using a mix of participant observation, visual and media analysis, interviews, and archival research, Summers shows how blackness has become a prized and lucrative aesthetic that often excludes D.C.’s Black residents.
This conversation covers gentrification, aesthetics of Blackness, containment, and mobility across urban space. Dr. Summers’ New York Times op-ed on mobility, race, and the COVID-19 pandemic mentioned in the episode, can be accessed here.
This interview is part of an NBN special series on “Mobilities and Methods.”
Brandi Thompson Summers is Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work focuses on race, urban cultural landscapes, and aesthetics.
Alize Arıcan is a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration in Istanbul, Turkey. Her work has been featured on City & Society, entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography, and Anthropology News.