Reading List

List Author

Anna Livia Brand

UC Berkeley

Black Geographies

There is an unmistakable push to bring attention to the deepening racial divides in the United States. The emergence of the Movement for Black Lives is set within the context of the increased visibility of violence toward black bodies. But this context also includes the racialized recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the displacement of lower-income and people of color from urban neighborhoods across the country in the wake of gentrification and neoliberal redevelopment. For planners, this is a critical moment to reexamine how our work is complicit in racial processes, to evaluate the processes and frameworks that we have to address issues of racial inequality, and to reengage the possibilities of our work to directly ameliorate racialized inequalities.

There are a growing number of scholars in urban planning that are utilizing the scholarship outlined below, both in their pedagogical approaches and in their own scholarship and community activism. This reading list is one attempt to add to our understanding of the ways that race and place are inextricably linked and to call attention to the scholarship of black geographies that directly engages this way of seeing and understanding place. The works described below can contribute to the theoretical frameworks of planning by detailing the socio-spatial landscapes of resistance that critique the ongoing processes of racialization and elevate the possibilities of subaltern visions for anti-racist landscapes. These readings also raise empirical and methodological considerations for planners who hope to outline and pursue research questions and methods that can challenge the reification of race through landscape.

The following reading list includes such scholars as Clyde Woods, Katherine McKittrick, bell hooks, Rashad Shabazz, George Lipsitz, Richard Schein, Michael Omi and Howard Winant, and Joe Feagin. Much of the work presented below draws out the historical landscapes of race, the geographic impulses of racism and the persistent salience of racial inequality. The historical framing centralizes the persistent presence of white supremacist and privileged frameworks (Feagin 2013) and ongoing racial processes (Omi and Winnat 2015) as shaping space unequally (Woods 1998, McKittrick 2006, Shabazz 2015) over time. This scholarship raises questions about how planning and redevelopment policies contribute to and normalize these geographies. At the same time, it also highlights how planners can work with community partners to elevate the oppositional strategies and resistant geographies that are present in and counter to these ongoing processes of racially oppressive inequality.

[Image: “Picket fence shadows,” by Michael Jardeen.]

  • The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing


    Black geographies scholars’ work explicitly frames our attention on the ways that space is bound up in racial processes. This text, and the following three works, provide a framework for understanding the connections between racial processes and urban space and acknowledging the persistent centrality of race as a socio-political and spatial organizing structure. Race and racism, in this view, are central to the social, political and economic structures and everyday workings of the United States (and the West in general) and the spatial processes in which planners take part, rather than an aberration in the history of the United States. Feagin's work brings an explicit focus to white supremacy and the white racial frame as central to the continued workings of racialized capitalism, plantationism and colonization. Although less explicitly applied in urban planning, this framework is critical for understanding how racial processes and white supremacy have taken place over time.

  • Racial Formation in the United States


    Race, for Omi and Winant, is “a concept that signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies… Race is strategic; race does ideological and political work” (2015, 110-111). Racialization, “the extension of racial meanings” (111) throughout societal, cultural and political structures, takes place through macro- and micro-level interactions, policies, and meanings that shape day-to-day and ongoing racialized disparities that simultaneously support and expand white privilege (also see Feagin and Lipsitz on this). Here, we come to understand how racial frames develop and shift over time, from the post-1970s reactions to the Civil Rights Movement to the emergence of neoliberal colorblindness.

  • Racial Formation in the 21st Century

    University of California Press

    In this volume, scholars including Priya Kandaswamy, Andrea Smith, Tomas Almaguer, and Cheryl Harris take on the theoretical implications and limitations of Omi and Winant’s work above, including interrogations of the ways that racial formation intersects with issues of gender, white indigeneity and the growing Latino population. In doing so, the volume extends into more diverse racialized settings that move beyond the black/white binary.

  • How Racism Takes Place

    Temple University Press

    Lipsitz argues that “race is produced by space, that it takes places for racism to take place” (5). Racialized space produces and extends privilege at the same time that it exacerbates racialized inequality in all of its intersecting forms (economic, social, educational, environmental, etc.). For planners, this understanding allows us to centralize the workings and spatial contours of racism, to untangle how “seemingly race-neutral urban sites contain hidden racial assumptions and imperatives,” and to challenge the processes and productions of racialized landscapes that appear to be natural or inevitable (15). This framework raises critical pedagogical, methodological, empirical and theoretical challenges, but also possibilities.

  • Development Arrested: From the Plantation Era to the Katrina Crisis


    Woods focuses on the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission (LMDDC) and its extreme production of social, spatial, and economic inequality. His work is critical for planners for two reasons. First, he presents a historical critique of redevelopment that promises commitment to racial and economic equity while also deepening inequity. Second, his "blues epistemology" offers a rich analysis of the history of counter-mobilizations across the South that uncovers the possibilities of resistance to racial apartheid. Woods shows how awareness of different ways of seeing and being can challenge planners to create alternative policy frameworks that move beyond white racial frames and spatial imaginaries.

  • Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle

    University of Minnesota Press

    This work similarly situates a deep critique of the history of racialized oppression through the spatial constructs of Canada, the Caribbean and the United States. McKittrick develops complex gendered and diasporic connections across geographical sites and experiences that have been shaped by the transatlantic slave trade, weaving together past and present and elevating black womens' agency in their struggle against racialized and gendered oppression. Understanding agency is critical for planners in a theoretical sense, but also in an empirical sense because it disrupts the logic of domination and opens up more complex possibilities for imagining more just racial futures and geographies.

  • Black Geographies and the Politics of Place

    South End Press

    This indispensable book extends McKittrick's and Woods’ scholarly contributions to urban planning and policy making. Their introduction shows the slow response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as emblematic of ongoing environmental and developmental racism. Their arguments here are critical for scholars mapping the disastrous recovery and unearthing how the latent landscapes of inequality and segregation are still at work in society. Their call to move beyond positivist and reductionist scholarship helps planners pursue radical reconnections between spatial and racial justice. The following chapters explore the complexities of race and space whilst also bringing specific focus to issues of gender, queer space, diasporic citizenship, black radicalism and historic preservation.

  • Landscapes of Race


    Like McKittrick and Woods, Schein brings together a diverse set of essays that unpack the ways that race and cultural landscapes are inextricably linked. Covering both urban and suburban settings in New Orleans, Natchez, New York, San Francisco, South Carolina, and Chicago, this book helps us make sense of the complexities of development, tourism, heritage, and economic exchange within and across historical and contemporary landscapes. Its chapters move beyond the black/white binary and examine how racialized relationships construct social and physical experiences in white suburban and Latino landscapes, historic black neighborhoods and Chinatowns. Many raise critical questions on how history is cleansed of its brutal past in the name of development and tourism.

  • Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California

    University of California Press

    Gilmore traces the explosion of incarceration in California despite the steadily falling crime rate. Her focus on incarceration, utilized in McKittrick’s 2011 article “On Plantations, Prisons and a Black Sense of Place,” presents a specific challenge for planners to incorporate the re-emergence of the carceral state as shaping urban space and the lives of communities in which we work. Gilmore’s detailed account of political and economic forces that’s shape the incarceration explosion links concepts of capital and land surplus to a weakened labor force to the control of oppositional struggles. The prison system, as shown by Gilmore, tasks planners to critically engage in and challenge the production of a new territory of punitive injustice that limits political freedom.

  • Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago

    University of Illinois Press

    Like to Gilmore and McKittrick, Shadazz problematizes incarceration and the carceral state as shaping the lives of black men unequally. This book details the historical conditions within which the prison state emerges in Chicago, tracing the links between policing, planning, segregation and resistance across different racialized landscapes of interracial sex, kitchenettes, home and prison life. Shabazz’s work on black masculinity is critical for expanding our understanding of the experiences of incarceration and racialization since the Progressive era and, like Gilmore, examines how the modern day carceral state has emerged over time and how its impacts specific segments of our population.

  • Art on My Mind: Visual Politics

    New Press

    hooks’ work brings to planning a needed focus on how aesthetics, policy making, place making and art are bound together in the dual forces of oppression and resistance. This book provides a theoretical platform for examining the potential of radical and liberatory struggles to challenge the dominant ways of making and eradicating place to fit the claims of capital and white racial and economic privilege. In particular, her chapter on the black vernacular as a radical platform of resistance and the importance of place in black communities counters the stripping of place and agency that has come at the hands of urban spatial restructuring, including urban renewal, public housing construction and gentrification.

  • Online

    Policy Platform

    To end this list, I suggest that planners should become familiar with the policy platform by the Movement for Black Lives. Whilst the works listed above focus upon the potential for liberatory and anti-racist conceptions of space and critique the continued production of unequal space bound up in racial oppression, the platform provides detailed and scaled actions that can work to dismantle racial inequality. Its policy list includes specific areas of focus such as reparations, economic justice, political power and community control that are central to planners’ day-to-day work and decision-making about investments, development and participation.

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