Excerpt from Houston and the Permanence of Segregation

Excerpt from Houston and the Permanence of Segregation by David Ponton III

To kick off Black History Month, we’re sharing an excerpt from David Ponton III’s much-anticipated book Houston and the Permanence of Segregation: An Afropessimist Approach to Urban History, a history of racism and segregation in twentieth-century Houston and beyond. Unlike most histories of the modern civil rights era, Houston and the Permanence of Segregation approaches the archive while discarding the idea that black actors have “agency.” Dr. Ponton III argues that when historians impose the rhetorical and narrative device on black people, they eclipse the severe political and psychological constraint often shorthanded as “race,” thereby redeeming the story of American democracy at the expense of those who have always been excluded from full participation within it.

Through the 1950s and beyond, the Supreme Court issued decisions that appeared to provide immediate civil rights protections to racial minorities as it relegated Jim Crow to the past. For black Houstonians who had been hoping and actively fighting for what they called a “raceless democracy,” these postwar decades were often seen as decades of promise. In Houston and the Permanence of Segregation, David Ponton argues that these were instead “decades of capture”: times in which people were captured and constrained by gender and race, by faith in the law, by antiblack violence, and even by the narrative structures of conventional histories. Bringing the insights of Black studies and Afropessimism to the field of urban history, Ponton explores how gender roles constrained thought in black freedom movements, how the “rule of law” compelled black Houstonians to view injustice as a sign of progress, and how antiblack terror undermined Houston’s narrative of itself as a “heavenly” place.

Today, Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities in the United States, and at the same time it remains one of the most starkly segregated. Ponton’s study demonstrates how and why segregation has become a permanent feature in our cities and offers powerful tools for imagining the world otherwise. Read an abbreviated excerpt from the introduction of the book below, and get your copy of Houston and the Permanence of Segregation; it officially publishes February 6. Watch Dr. Ponton III unbox his book for the first time on our Instagram feed here, and help us celebrate his new book!

Praise for Houston and the Permanence of Segregation

Houston and the Permanence of Segregation is an exciting challenge to our assumptions about the history of America’s long struggle for racial and social justice. The evidence is meticulously gathered, the interpretation searching, and the conclusions unyielding. The ‘decades of promise’ of the 1940s to 1960s in Houston were, David Ponton III argues, really ‘decades of capture’ in which racism persisted behind the illusion of progress, and oppressive power remained intact. His provocative remedy: to undertake a radical rethinking of society’s priorities, to put people and the planet first—to dare to imagine a better world. So, while this is one of the boldest and most sobering accounts of postwar American history you are likely to read, it is at the end also one of the most hopeful.

Malcolm McLaughlin, University of East Anglia, author of The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America

Houston and the Permanence of Segregation powerfully reorients how historians and theorists conceptualize Black resistance and revolt in the American South. Rather than reiterating the nihilism of the Afropessimist paradigm, David Ponton provides a rich historiography showing how Black negation animates the conditions upon which racial epochs occur. The persistence of segregationism, the irrefutable structural facticity of anti-Blackness that denies ontological value to Black life, is given content through the historical murders and contemporary modes of death Black Southern people continue to endure in Houston, Texas. Dr. Ponton powerfully illustrates how intellectually engaging racism’s permanence in the United States creates a richer historiography and advances how one understands Black inhumanity.

Tommy J. Curry, University of Edinburgh, author of The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood


Decades of Capture

Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary “peaks of progress,” short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance.

Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

Houston and the Permanence of Segregation is a historical study of race and racism in the city of Houston, where residential segregation made and makes concrete the structural relationship between whiteness and blackness. In some ways, this means the contours of the story may be familiar when juxtaposed to mid-twentieth-century Philadelphia, Chicago, or Los Angeles, even if the local players were different. Of course, material differences exist between these metropolitan areas, and historians have rightfully called our attention to them. Local differences elucidate the significance of the racialization of space to the maintenance of the social, political, economic, and psychological relations that structure American life and hold together the nation’s democracy as it is. Notably, historians suggest diverse but overlapping processes for maintaining racialized space across geographies: white flight in Atlanta, the suburbanization of work in Pittsburgh, and the collapsed tax structure in Detroit in the mid-twentieth century have been represented elsewhere by scholars as local processes that redrew and deepened lines of segregation in the postwar period. These local differences notwithstanding, the structural outcome was the same.1

Plainly, historians have proffered various explanations for the persistence of residential segregation, including those that are sometimes labeled racereductionist (i.e., all roads lead to racism).2 Others start from the premise that individuals are rational beings seeking to maximize their economic potential— that seemingly racist decisions were really economic ones with inadvertent racial consequences.3 Still others offer a hybrid of racial and economic explanations for the persistence of residential segregation in the twentieth century.4 The content of these debates appears inconsequential vis-à-vis the thesis of this book. Suffice it to say that race and economy are inseparable in US history: “Historically, white Americans have accumulated advantages in housing, education, and security based solely on the color of their skin. Being white, as a consequence, literally has value.”5 As the “old history of capitalism” makes clear, there has never been a capitalism without racism.6

Houston can be instructive because it is both unique and typical, at times parallel and at other times perpendicular to the economic, demographic, and administrative processes taking place contemporaneously in comparable cities in the postwar era. However, Houston is conspicuously absent in urban history. For instance, Kenneth L. Kusmer and Joe W. Trotter’s African American Urban History since World War II aims to be the “first source consulted by the next generation of scholars and students on this subject.” Despite gathering the work of some of the most prominent scholars in the field as well as several brilliant junior scholars, none of the chapters address Houston directly.7 This omission reflects a pattern. Matthew Lassiter’s history of the postwar Sunbelt only cursorily mentions Houston, and prominent studies of black suburbanization do the same, if they provide any treatment of Houston at all.8

After much neglect, Houston’s past is generating excitement among historians.9 Historians like Tom Sugrue and Kevin Kruse have warned that their studies of Detroit and Atlanta, respectively, are not generalizable ones and that local histories still need to be told—that attention to the differences between cities can illuminate the ways race and place were made in the twentieth century. Their scholarship, alongside other work such as Robert Self ’s on the California Bay Area, demonstrates how those metropolitan areas evince that the federal subsidization of suburbia, the phenomenon of white flight, the divestment of industry from central cities, black migration, and conservative politics precipitated the racialized distinction of the chocolate city and the vanilla suburb, the former as ghetto and the latter as a safe haven from black encroachment. This generated a racial stigmatization of the inner city, and through heavy federal investment, local and national leaders built these cities into “architectures of confinement” and “defensible space.”10

While these local variants of anti-black racism were mechanisms for maintaining segregation in the aforementioned cities, the end result of a racially bifurcated city-suburb was not necessary for maintaining or hardening the lines of segregation. And the history of Houston’s black suburbs demonstrates the fallacy of any history of segregation that relies fully or predominantly on arguments about the “primarily economic” considerations of white Americans. Indeed, postwar urban historians have debated the causes of segregation’s shifting but deepening lines in the middle of the twentieth century. Houston’s distinctive development as a major city challenges the argument that postwar urban-suburban geographical bifurcation as well as the “suburban exodus” provide the most compelling explanations for the consolidation of black ghettos in the latter half of the twentieth century, even if they are mechanisms by which such spaces were consolidated.11

We can more clearly see the intransigence of anti-black segregation in hindsight. However, during the mid-twentieth century, editors at the blackowned Houston Informer lauded US Supreme Court decisions that they believed would precipitate a break in the ideological war for democracy, writing, “When the full history of this peculiar struggle is finally written, the school segregation opinion may easily go down as a turning point in the struggle.”12 To wit, in 1948 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that racial restrictions in property deeds were no longer enforceable by law. White Houstonians thereby lost their primary remaining legal means for maintaining racial ownership of their neighborhoods. In 1950 the same court unanimously ruled in favor of Heman Sweatt, a black Houstonian seeking admission to the all-white University of Texas Law School, in Sweatt v. Painter and desegregated trains involved in interstate travel in Henderson v. United States; in 1954 it affirmed that the Fourteenth Amendment proscribed ethnic discrimination by the state in Hernandez v. United States and also decided Brown v. Board of Education, which defined racial segregation in public schools as inimical to the principle of equality. The following year in its Brown II decision, the court ordered the nation’s public schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” Through the rest of the decade and following, the court continued to issue decisions that appeared to provide immediate civil rights protections to racially subordinated groups as it pushed Jim Crow into its shallow grave. For black Houstonians who had been hoping and actively fighting for what they called a “raceless democracy,” the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s were decades of promise. I contend otherwise; like the centuries before them and the years after them, these were decades of capture.

“Capture” functions in three related ways throughout this book. It refers to the various ways historical subjects, their actions, and their thoughts were always constrained by the worlds in which they lived: constricted by ideologies like gender and race, by faith in the law, and by hegemonic narratives. I refer to this in shorthand as subjective or narrative capture. In lieu of applying a rubric of “agency” to these subjects, I emphasize constraint, which refocuses analysis toward the structural rather than phenomena like identity and individual experience.13

A second use of capture, racial capture, implicates anti-blackness as a violence that is constitutive of the modern world. This world has relied on antiblack violence since its inauguration, and thus it appears impossible for this world to survive without such violence. Anti-blackness traps people who are marked as black into a stubborn antagonism with the world: one in which insecurity and death always loom over them.14

Racial capture is the product of violence, and such violence inevitably produces archival sources that can only fail to fully reveal the subjects they claim to represent or give voice to.15 Subjective and racial capture also constrain the historian. Therefore, subsidiary to these is the challenge of disciplinary capture—the methodological dictates, unquestioned theoretical assumptions, and conventions of writing and presentation that delimit what and how scholars can acceptably argue within our fields. While calling attention to my own subjective, racial, and disciplinary capture, I make a case for privileging perspective over method—a perspective that, in turn, values the structural over the empirical. I do this not assuming I can escape capture entirely, but to provide a convincing justification for the need to experiment with thought and method in anti-disciplinary and anti-ethical ways, experiments I attempt herein and that I appreciate as part of the legacy of the ancestors of black freedom struggles, passed on and alive.

Thus, in large part, this book concerns the ways historians think about and do history. For instance, urban historiography has sometimes pivoted on disagreements about the roles racial prejudice versus economic rationalizations have played in the continuation of segregation in the twentieth century. I am not convinced these debates are ethical toward black people, laden as they are with social constructions like “agency” and “contingency” which eschew the problem that capture presents for such notions and for the grammars with which historians narrate the pasts we invent. I draw on the rich philosophies of black thinkers, answering the Afropessimist critique of history, in an effort to expose rather than rearticulate this world’s hold on the discipline of history and on black political thought.


Economists Trevon D. Logan and John M. Parman have upended scholarly assumptions concerning residential segregation in the United States from 1880 to 1940, using newly released census manuscript files to develop a segregation index based on individual households rather than census tracts. Contrary to previous studies, Logan and Parman found that southern cities, not northern ones, “were the most segregated in the country and remained so over time.” In the South, black and white Americans “were the least likely to be neighbors,” even if they lived in “the same wards and districts.” Additionally, and in contradistinction to much of the urban historiography, they conclude that “increasing segregation . . . was not driven by black migratory patterns, nor was urbanization the sole force behind increasing segregation.” Moreover, white flight and mass suburbanization, phenomena that picked up rapidly in the post-World War II period, cannot possibly explain the dramatic increases in racial residential segregation that Logan and Parman found in urban areas and offer no explanatory power for the increases in segregation they documented in rural areas.16 With these compelling findings in mind, Houston’s story, which has been left out of general studies of the Sunbelt and black suburbanization “because of its peculiar demographic distribution,” offers an opportunity to rethink the assumptions underlying this historiography.17

Leaving aside the suburbs for a moment, differences within Houston’s racialized inner-core neighborhoods show that if white neighborhoods were considered the American norm, black neighborhoods were decidedly aberrant. Census tracts in the city where white people were likely to live shared a number of favored qualities—and many of these qualities were covariates (i.e., greater education, higher median incomes, white-collar professions, low unemployment, and low poverty, for example, were likely to be related in the whole population). In these predominantly white or all-white tracts, residents above the age of twenty-five tended to have at least a high school diploma. The people who lived in these tracts often had careers in management, sales, office work, and crafts, while they were highly unlikely to do domestic work for pay. Male and female unemployment were negatively correlated with these highly segregated white tracts, as was the overall poverty rate of the community within the tract. The whiteness of a census tract correlated with a relatively higher proportion of homes in “sound condition,” as opposed to those that were “deteriorating” or “dilapidated.” Residents living in these tracts were likely to own a car and unlikely to have neighbors who lived in cramped accommodations.18

In the 1960 census, the evidence suggests black Houstonians at all income levels simply lacked the residential choices that their white counterparts had. As the proportion of black residents in a census tract grew, each of the aforementioned variables often exhibited reverse directionality in its correlations. Nationally, unemployment and poverty rates rose as levels of education and housing quality fell. However, apart from demonstrating that white Houstonians tended to have—on average—higher levels of completed formal education and its concomitant benefits in jobs and housing, these correlations reveal little about the socioeconomic diversities within these broad racial groups and whether that diversity mattered when it came to housing. For example, they do not reveal that as the rate of high school completion among white Houstonians rose, unemployment rates fell, while as the rate of high school completion among black Houstonians rose, unemployment rates remained unaffected. They do not show the stronger positive correlation between the proportion of white residents with college degrees and the proportion of white people with professional careers relative to nonwhite college degree earners with professional careers (0.896 versus 0.603). That is, highly educated black people were less likely to find jobs and live around neighbors with careers that were commensurate with their years of completed schooling. And these correlations do not make clear that lower-middle-class black families were more likely to live in census tracts with higher proportions of poverty than were lower-middle-class white families and white families who were impoverished themselves. These were differences within the city itself.19

The proportion of white residents per census tract in Harris County, Wayne County, and Fulton County with central business districts indicated.

The distinctions between Houston and the cities on which much of urban history has focused are immediately apparent in demography. In 1950, both Detroit and Atlanta each had one large pocket of majority black areas near their central business districts. Over the course of the next two decades, there was an unmistakable exodus of white folks from the inner core of both cities as the suburbs filled in. In Houston, this pattern did not hold. In 1950, the central business district was abutted on all sides by segregated black and white communities, with most of the black communities to the east and northeast of downtown, but with four suburban enclaves, including Independence Heights and Acres Homes northwest of the city, the Clinton Park tri-community out toward the east, and Sunnyside directly south. Over the next two decades, Houston’s black inner-core neighborhoods expanded as some white Houstonians fled east for the suburbs. However, the inner core never emptied of white people, and white urbanites living west of downtown never abandoned their neighborhoods. Thus, the white-suburb versus black-city bifurcation that developed elsewhere did not occur in Houston, and suburbanization therefore does little to explain white racial attitudes or postwar segregation there. Atlanta and Detroit became black cities, and everyone knew it. Houston never carried such a reputation.20

Population decline or very slow growth also characterized many cities of the Rust Belt and the West, where the movement of industry out of central cities encouraged further flight from these hubs of increasing unemployment. Comparing the number of vacant residences while controlling for differences in the number of residential units between 1950 and 1960, I found dramatic increases in vacant homes in central Detroit and Oakland, while Houston’s central city remained almost void of vacancies. Indeed, eighteen of the twenty-five largest cities in the nation lost population numbers in the postwar period, while suburbs multiplied with new residents. Of the fifteen largest cities, only Houston had a majority—55 percent—still living in the boundaries of the city proper, albeit boundaries that were expanding through annexation.21 Houston did lose some density from its core between 1950 and 1970, specifically in tracts where new highway construction decimated black neighborhoods, but when juxtaposed with the loss faced in Detroit, especially between 1960 and 1970, Houston mostly shifted populations within its core as opposed to witnessing an evacuation of its core.

Look inside Houston and the Permanence of Segregation
The proportion of vacancies normalized by the number of housing units in and around the central business districts of Houston, Detroit, and Oakland.

Finally, one pattern holds true for Houston, Detroit, and Atlanta: the census tracts where black people clustered were also the tracts that registered the highest proportion of families living below the median income for the area. However, in 1950, the families in areas outside of the core of the cities were not noticeably better off than those who lived closer in. By 1960, Detroit and Atlanta suburbs were remarkably better off than they had been in the previous decade, and by 1970 both places evinced a clear distinction between the poorer inner city and the affluent suburbs. Thus, Sugrue and Kruse’s contention about economic divestment from the cities concurrent with white flight holds true. However, while Houston’s suburbs attracted more middle-income and wealthy families, its socioeconomic map did not demonstrate the same stark delineation as its counterparts. Indeed, while the greatest cluster of lowerincome families lived in the more densely populated census tracts of the city’s inner core, sparsely populated suburban enclaves to the north and south and especially the east of downtown also housed lower-income families. Moreover, many of its wealthiest neighborhoods remained in the center city.

By 1970 Atlanta was more than 50 percent black and Detroit was well on its way to becoming a majority black city, rising from 43 to 63 percent black between 1970 and 1980. Houston actually witnessed a stability of the black proportion of the total city population, despite its ballooning population and continued in-migration of large numbers of black people. Black Houstonians were 21 percent of the population of the city in 1950, 20 percent in 1960, and 19 percent in 1970, notwithstanding consistent growth in the absolute number of black residents.22

The changes in population density in the central business
districts of Houston and Detroit.

That is to say: although there was white flight in parts of Houston, the city’s development did not mirror Detroit’s, Oakland’s, or Atlanta’s. Although black unemployment was about double white unemployment in each city, Houston and Atlanta did not see unemployment rates skyrocket as they did in Oakland and Detroit. And, although white folks certainly dominated Houston’s suburbs, a stark distinction between the chocolate city and the vanilla suburbs never emerged, as many white people remained in the city center and many black Houstonians made their homes in all-black suburbs.

These realizations compel reconsideration of the assumptions of what might be considered the urban history canon. While city politics, conflicts over infrastructure, and demographic shifts remain important in the histories of Houston and its counterpart cities, a shift in perspective might yield histories that more fully account for race, not as a matter of demography, but as the consequence of racial terror. Racism always precedes race. Therefore, blackness is always precipitated by racial violence. Regardless of their particular local situation, people marked as black would always be captured within a racial construct that they did not make for themselves—a construct that justified black people’s poverty, dispossession, unemployment, over-policing, and general dishonor and legitimated the racist mechanisms deployed to keep black people in their proscribed economic, political, and geographic place.

This book focuses on anti-blackness in lieu of the more generic term racism, since the conceit of white racial purity was based specifically on the “biological” and social exceptionality of blackness, and the sociopolitical superiority of other so-called “people of color” required their participation in the abasement of blackness.23 Indeed, still in the third decade of the twentyfirst century, black people remain outliers on all segregation metrics. Not only do white Americans avoid living in neighborhoods with them, but so do Asian and Latinx Americans insofar as they have the choice, a pattern observable in Houston itself.24 (Thus, while Mexican-descended Houstonians did live in Houston during the mid-twentieth century and experienced forms of racial subjugation, their experiences were distinct from those of black Houstonians.25 Their stories are beyond the scope of this project for a number of additional reasons. For most of the time period covered in this book, people of Mexican descent remained a relatively small and, in terms of the US Census, poorly accounted for population group in Houston. Moreover, they often identified as white and strategically identified otherwise in moments where it was politically expedient to do so, such as during the 1960s and 1970s school desegregation movements.26 This is not to say that Latinx people in Houston were not racialized, did not face discrimination, did not live in segregated communities, or were simply not present; it is to say, however, that until the late 1960s, Houstonians by and large understood their city as a bi-racial one, where the problem of the color line was one of a bifurcation of black versus white. As Tyina Steptoe demonstrates, despite their ethnic identities as Mexican, Mexican-descended Houstonians “consistently asserted that they were racially white.”27 And somewhat ironically, while the experience of Latinx Houstonians demonstrates that race is socially constructed and that the meanings of racial categories can change over time, this “change” also demonstrates the static nature of anti-blackness. Even as Mexican Houstonians became white, or brown, or indeterminate, black Houstonians remained relegated to the bottom of the social structure, exposed to violence that other groups could negotiate reprieve from through the strategic manipulation of “race.”)

The proportion of families living below the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area’s median income.

Inspired by Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection, with the stories I tell in these chapters, I intend “to bring into view the ordinary terror and habitual violence that structured everyday life and inhabited the most mundane and quotidian practices,” exposing how violence, on registers including and beyond the spectacular, characterized Houston’s desegregation era.28 Nevertheless, framed as nonevents, these stories do not inaugurate novelty into history or measure “change,” but rather indicate the stubborn structural relationship that divides the world into humans and less-than-humans. What we learn about “the past” is incidental to what we learn about history (the discipline). Importantly, this demands a departure from the kind of writing typical of urban historiography. Sylvia Wynter identifies conventional history as “ethnoculturally coded narrated history” whereby the world of Man is sustained. Therefore, “if we are to be able to reimagine the human in terms of a new history whose narrative will enable us to co-identify ourselves with each other . . . we would have to begin by taking our present history, as narrated by historians, as empirical data for the study” of how the ways we construct/invent the past perpetuate “our present Western world system.”29 In other words, if we do not account for how we account the past, then history (including urban history) is mere “endless self-creation” that “can only be extended as a servile representation . . . always already trapped inside a predefined meaning of what counts as history.”30 To oppose “history for Man,” this text experiments with trying to make urban history a history of Man.31

As Michel-Rolph Trouillot explains, “History is the fruit of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superfluous.”32 Throughout the book, I reckon with how anti-blackness, as a form of power, works through the historical discipline, for while urban historians are deeply concerned with social, political, and economic power in “the city,” we have made scant contributions to understanding how urban historiography rests on and traffics in the same ideologies that we lament in our work. In Houston and the Permanence of Segregation, I note how Houston’s lines of segregation hardened after World War II alongside other recent works concerning the city.33 Domestic racial terrorism, the racialized criminalization of space, processes of annexation and underbounding, and so on helped concretize Houston’s racial geography even in Jim Crow’s demise. White flight, suburbanization, deindustrialization, highway construction, and urban renewal were neither linear processes nor essential to segregation, even if they were common tools for building and maintaining it. And liberal projects, including efforts at interracial gender solidarity, could only fail to account for the power of gender and sexuality as central discourses in the subordination of black people.

However, my call is not simply that we make Houston part of the urban history canon, though its near absence from this canon is quite remarkable. Historians must also consider how urban history reproduces existing power relations and imagine how it might be deployed to invert them. For instance, concerning Nashville’s public school system, Ansley Erickson explains how state actors, compelled by individually and collectively held racist ideas, sidestepped integration. Following a 1971 school order, Nashville adopted a busing program that would yield “statistical desegregation,” which actually “remade . . . educational inequality.” When Erickson concludes that “inequality shifted form,” she gestures toward a key contention in Houston and the Permanence of Segregation, namely that anti-blackness disrupts the narrative device of change over time. Still, Erickson also concludes that the nation must now “ask how a robust democracy might define and realize the schooling it needs.”34 After nearly 250 years of American democracy, it would seem more prudent to ask whether democracy is inherently as virtuous, progressive, and inclusive in fact as it is articulated in theory. Philosopher Lewis Gordon suggests that there will be no answer to the problem of anti-blackness, no arrival at a racial or raceless democracy “without a dialectic in which humanity experiences the blackened world.”35 Existence as experienced by black people under slavery and its afterlives—the blackened world—reveals democracy as a project of racial subordination and exclusion. Erickson’s work is symptomatic of what I call subjective/narrative capture.

Each of the chapters in Houston and the Permanence of Segregation is an experiment against the powerful appeal of prevailing narratives. How can we write a story that honors the struggles, failures, and successes of those we find in the archive without relying on a grammar of “agency” that functions, in the end, to reinforce the idea of the (anti-black) liberal individual (chapter 1)? How might we write about American democracy as a vehicle for rather than an impediment to racism and racist futures (chapter 2)? How might we question the hegemony of the narrative of progress to reshape how we think about change, contingency, power, and resistance (chapter 3)? How can we expose gender, not as a category of being or identity nor as a mere analytic, but as a technology of race that constrains rather than enhances what we can understand about black political activity (chapter 4)? What practices of invention can we draw on to do history differently (chapter 5)?

Urban history currently functions under an education paradigm—the more we learn about the past, the more contempt we will have for historical discrimination and the more we can understand about how to redress it. Urban history that shifts perspective might function under a consciousness-raising paradigm—the more we understand about who we are through our narrative construction of the past as its contemporaries, the more inventive we can be with our methodologies.


The underlying reason these debates matter to historians at all is less academic than it is moral and affective. At the core is the matter of contingency, which is central to the ways historians tell stories. Often, to maintain narrative coherence, historians resort to practices of identifying causal relationships and deconstructing taken-for-granted categories ad infinitum, emphasizing the experiential at the expense of the structural. However, throughout urban historiography, despite the many local differences historians focus on to make their contributions to the field, the structural antagonism between whiteness and blackness is a constant across geographies and time. Empirical, positivist explanations for local histories of segregation focus attention on specific mechanisms that produced and maintained segregation rather than the underlying structure that guaranteed anti-black outcomes.36 Contingency, then, is implied throughout historiography. It is a concept that traverses all time and space: historians accept it as a universal truth—as a condition of being. This concept, while tacit in most historical writing, does not compel scholars to “engage” or “reflect” on black suffering, but rather allows us to “parade . . . black suffering,” providing ourselves relief from the terror by way of a superficial but satisfying “voyeuristic gaze.”37

In her groundbreaking work, religious studies scholar Liane Carlson traced the historical lineage of the idea of contingency and its import, saying that academics employ it for two types of opposed reasons. They either attempt to “domesticate contingency in teleological narratives of progress” or, by suggesting alternative pasts, weaponize contingency to use “its disruptive power as an opportunity for social critique.” I would add that although apparently incongruous, both these approaches to contingency encourage impenetrable optimism. Carlson then deftly demonstrates the origins of the idea of contingency in theology—particularly Christian theodicy—and the purpose this idea serves philosophically, even today, for historians: “A successful theodicy is one that allows the reader to trust that one day she will understand every miserable stroke of bad luck she ever experienced as contingent, as, in fact, necessary, orderly, and congruent with a higher good when viewed from the proper perspective. Contingency would become an illusion of perspective.”38 I write, therefore, suspicious of the very idea of contingency, aware that historical knowledge production is an act of power that can work to disrupt or affirm the status quo. The status quo is one in which the history of black Americans—the suffering of black Americans—is consistently written as the unfinished but ongoing project toward fully realized democracy in an age to come. This is one component of what I call disciplinary capture, which Houston and the Permanence of Segregation attempts to consciously confront.

Like all historical studies, this study of Houston is necessarily concerned with context. Context and contingency are not synonymous. Context is not merely what we can know and how we can represent the past, but also consists of our relative awareness of and confrontations with our own as historians—as researchers whose approaches to the archives are shaped by the epistemologies of our day.39 Contingency has no place here. When I ask the questions that guide this project—namely, why/how did segregation persist in Houston through and beyond the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, decades of apparent promise, and what were its consequences on the lives of black Houstonians—I am neither searching to give meaning to black suffering or endurance, nor am I wondering how the nation could have done things differently, which is, to be honest, an anxiety rooted in present concerns about how we (historians, this writer, the readers) and our world might be redeemable even as we bear witness to the continued and unique segregation experienced by black Americans today. Instead, I ask these questions much more pessimistically and maintain, implicitly, that there are no alternative pasts to comfort us.40

By meditating on the meaning of history detached from the idea of contingency, historians can see how the stories of Houston, Detroit, Miami, and so on are not particularistic, but rather congeal into collective narratives about who we are (and not merely who we have been). Specifically, when the depravity and intransigence of American racism are fully accounted for, the bread and butter of history—“change over time”—collapses. What emerges in its place is critical race theorist Derrick Bell’s thesis that racism is a permanent feature in this world.41

Within Black Studies, this world is the world of modern Man. The concept of “humanity” has changed over time. This world is one in which humanity is generally understood, not in purely theological terms, but as a matter of biological evolution. Within this episteme, we humans are a distinct species. This understanding of human as biological makes it categorical—essential, both prior to and beyond social construction. It is upon this belief that humans have erected monuments to abstract equality: “We are all born equal.” Yet as philosopher Sylvia Wynter has argued and helped situate at the core of Black Studies, “the human” is an object of knowledge, not a foreclosed biological unit. She writes, “[T]he human species . . . realizes itself as human only by coming to regulate its behaviors, no longer primarily, by the genetic programs specific to its genome, but by means of its narratively instituted conceptions of itself; and therefore, by the culture-specific discursive programs to which these conceptions give rise.”42 This world, which is “nothing less than the past millennium-plus in which one particular cultural conception of humanity has forcibly, steadily, and increasingly occupied global space as if it were the only way of understanding human beings and life,” is thus a violent epistemological imposition that prohibits imagining alternative worlds by way of a positivist definition of “humanity” in biological terms.43

However, in a society where race has historically delimited who counted as persons and who counted as property, the idea of the unitary biological human actually obscures what it means to be human. Therefore, “the human” is not an issue of genetic code but one of political ontology; that is, society is structured such that to be/come human requires the negation of blackness. The biological notion “we are all human” obscures this structural antagonism.

Throughout this book, blackness should not be understood as being black, nor as a matter of identity, culture, or ethnicity.44 “[B]lackness is not identity,” Calvin Warren writes, and to treat it as such “is the error of identity politics.” Thus, when I refer to race, I do not mean racial categories or phenotype. Instead, blackness (as understood and assigned in this world) is a sign, representing “ugliness, sin, darkness, immorality,” and all that is evil “in the collective unconscious,” according to Frantz Fanon. But this sign has no material referent. It does not refer to the people we call black. Indeed, this sign participates in the very making of people as black. Rather, it refers to nothing. Following Warren, I mean this literally.45

Nothing—the absence of substance, meaning, and presence—terrifies Western epistemology because nothing exposes the limits of metaphysics and reveals “value” as a social construction rather than something that inheres in matter. If value obtains meaning on nothing but social relations—not on biology, superior culture, or how hard a person or group works, but rather on the meanings ascribed to categories of race, gender, and class via the violence that sedimented the historical relations between the categories therein—then the Western episteme, which presupposes value as a fact, loses coherence. What if there is no agency, no merit, no guaranteed right to life or liberty, no justification for suffering? This threatens the denizens of the Western world with an existential crisis. For Warren, this crisis is what is avoided by the invention of blackness, the attempted corporealization of nothingness. And blackness is invented by way of anti-black violence, which, as Saidiya Hartman notes, defines “the very foundation of the settler state.” Thus, what is at stake—the reason for blackness’s creation and anti-blackness’s intractability—is the modern world’s justifications for and meanings ascribed to its laws, its imperialism, its markets, its being, and its facilitation of black suffering.46

Hearkening back to Derrick Bell, racism is not permanent because it is ahistorical, but racism is permanent in this world because it is constitutive of it: insofar as this world remains committed to its metaphysical project of dominating everything and nothing. The discipline of history demands change over time, but this demand is not an end to itself. Rather, it serves a fundamental paradigm of thought in this world—the implicit doctrine of the Enlightenment and the disciplines that emerged from it, including history, which maintains that “the suffering of a people, [and] in fact, their possible extermination, was part and parcel of the forward march of human history.”47 However, as philosopher Frank Wilderson III argues, “The narrative arc of the slave who is Black . . . is not an arc at all, but a flat line, what Hortense Spillers calls ‘historical stillness’: a flat line that moves from disequilibrium, to faux-equilibrium, to disequilibrium restored and/or rearticulated.”48

Many historians of slavery have been much more adept than urban historians at accounting for such philosophical interventions out of Black Studies. They consider the material depravity of racial slavery as it pushed blackened bodies to the survivable limits of labor exploitation and sexual subjugation. In doing so, they have written groundbreaking works concerning the displacement of Afro-descendant peoples that have further supported the political claims of critical theorists. Walter Johnson found that he could not write a book “organized around change over time” as he counted, soul by soul, the material consequences of capitalism’s consumption of blackened people. Indeed, a world constituted by the violent processes of making people into property renders “complete confusion” to temporality and thereby disrupts narratives of “transformation.”49 Likewise, as Stephanie Smallwood demonstrated, “The individual stories of saltwater slavery form the antithesis of historical narrative, for they feature not the evolving plot of change over time but rather a tale of endless repetition that allows no temporal progression.”50 Yes, political economies have changed from chattel slavery, to Jim Crow, to the postracial, Anthropocenic era. However, the structural antagonism between whiteness and blackness remained constant across these systems, and as Houston’s history attests, residential segregation has been at the center for over a century.


Thus far, I have made the case that we historians must chronically reckon with the ways we are captured by the rules of our academic discipline—rules that lend themselves to linear narrativity despite that the structure of this world defies such a temporality while it also relies on the illusion of progress to sustain the theodicy of black suffering and anti-black violence.51 Moving forward, I suggest that Afropessimism offers a clear justification for resisting disciplinary capture. Acknowledging the inescapability of this capture by any tools created or strategies articulated from within it, Afropessimism eschews the epistemological hubris of disciplinary methodology and encourages wayward practices of invention.

Afropessimism offers a countervailing force that I grip onto to attempt to circumnavigate disciplinarity’s gravitational pull, even if I cannot obtain full escape. By exposing ontology as political rather than the mere fact of Being, Afropessimism displays the vacuity of the academic disciplines’ epistemological commitments, opening space for methodological experimentation, reorientations of perspective, and polemics that may be read as anti-ethical. It is only by admitting my own disciplinary capture that I have been able to resolutely defy the urge to affirm the fictional agency of black people and to rest easier with the idea that decades had passed while time had remained still.52 With disciplinary mandates thusly unsettled, Afropessimism justifies practices of invention that attend to the abyss of meaninglessness avoided by anti-black ontologies. This book is such an experiment.

While it is often mistaken as a theory, Afropessimism is a meta-theory— an attempt to make sense of how thought is constructed in the modern world and the consequences of that construction on people who are marked as black within this world. Afropessimism commits to the historical fact that blackness is a consequence of racial slavery and that as long as blackness exists as a collective formation, and in whatever form it has or will come to take, it does so from the position of being first posited as synonymous with the slave.53 This is not an ontological claim that black people are inherently slaves. Rather, it is a claim about ontology: that ontology itself is political and that in the grammar of this world, a world in which the modern human historically emerged as a political distinction opposed to the enslaved/enslavable Black, it remains “impermissible” to develop an epistemology (that is, we are unallowed to think) of blackness apart from its emergence as the subordinate collective under the regime of slavery.54

As such, blackness throws ontology itself into relief, revealing that ontology is not an account of being, but rather that it, like all other -ologies, is knowledge constructed in time and space. In other words, no matter how well ontology appears to be an objective account of being, it is a science.55 This science provides the originary codes for all knowledge production—codes like humanity, agency, race, gender, and liberty. These codes, in turn, provide us, among other things, with the language of “blackness,” telling us, indeed, that “blackness,” if only because it can be uttered, is something that be.56 Calvin Warren reminds us that blackness refers to nothing, and thus writes in terms of black being, a typographical emphasis I adopt in this text at times. Indeed, within this grammar, blackness must always be defined in relation to its historical emergence with slavery. (It might be worth the reader pausing here to try to define blackness apart from slavery. It is, in the end, a tautological effort.) Therefore, Afropessimism comments, ontology is ill-equipped to sever blackness from slavery because whenever blackness is considered, slavery is always there.57

History, which is colloquially understood as the study of or telling of the past, is also an -ology, a method of metaphysics. “‘Modern’ Western historiography” emerged as a “set of practices adopted and modified in the historical discipline as it has evolved since its emergence after the French Revolution.”58 While often considered a harbinger of slave revolutions, the French Revolution’s “idea of freedom was frequently cast in racialized terms” and participated in the philosophical construction of freedom as being a property of whiteness and whiteness as the defining limit of humanity.59 Thus, the discipline of history emerged as a liberal humanist project. It is no surprise, then, that it disciplines scholars into a limited way of thinking, writing, and asking questions that appears to be universal and testable, even as it traffics in its own ahistoricism.

Sylvia Wynter and others have already made this case. If modern historiography developed in the wake of the French Revolution, its dedication to the “agency” of white revolutionaries and its complete disavowal of the same to black revolutionaries and maroon communities indicates that “agency,” and the “human” itself, were defined against the irrational, nonhuman black object.60 This problem is fundamental to the discipline, since history’s subject matter is “the human,” not “the past,” and the historical production of “the human” was bought with a price: the production and negation of black people who became objects of gratuitous violence.61 Historians, in turn, occlude this violence and negation, offering tales of human agency in order to redeem “the human” from its repulsive origins: “the human emerges as an object of knowledge, as a by-product, so to speak, in the quest to ascertain black people’s humanity because western humanity necessitates recalibration once black folks . . . become part of its conceptual protectorate.”62

The framework of change over time allows historians to redeem humanity— to make its past appear as mistakes that can be understood and prevented from reoccurring. Without this practice of human redemption, history might very well lose its coherence, though it is precisely this investment in “the human” and its codes by which the discipline constructs “new” knowledge—much of which is now avowedly “anti-racist”—and thereby obscures its investment in the selfsame social and political categories that rendered black people nonbeings.63

The unrelenting investment in redeeming “the human,” by narrating black people as humans despite their historical and juridical treatment as nonhumans, betrays not only ongoing intellectual violence against black people, but also exposes the discipline of history to damning critique. Scholar and literary critic David Marriott notes:

Now, insofar as what cannot be historicized are the codes or genres that make History itself “historical,” history is in some senses the least historical of discourses. It also seems reasonable to suppose that these codes, which are “historical” while being themselves never simply historical, are in some sense more originary than the narratives of history which they ground, and are thus the origin and possibility of History itself.64

Proudly, historians identify the significance of the discipline as “the study of man and his environment, of the effects of man on his environment and of his environment on man” toward the end of improving “human awareness . . . by the contemplation of vanished eras.”65 What then does history do with the “no humans”—not just the enslaved chattel but also the contemporaneously free black folks denied entry into the juridical category “human” by way of the denial of their rights to vote, to own property, and to do so of their own accord, free of intimidation and terror? History compulsively rewrites them into the category “human,” and in doing so disappears these “no humans” from archives, archives where they were already dismembered, and replaces their corpses with lifelike effigies of—even monuments to—the universal, liberal human subject.66 In effect, as Saidiya Hartman puts it, “[T]he kind of social revisionist history undertaken by many leftists in the 1970s, who were trying to locate the agency of dominated groups, resulted in celebratory narratives of the oppressed. Ultimately, it bled into this celebration, as if there was a space you could carve out of the terrorizing state apparatus in order to exist outside its clutches and form some autonomy.”67

This is the guaranteed outcome of fashioning nonhuman corpses into humans, postmortem: the valorization of “the human,” which, despite its evident depravity, has learned how to make its moral universe more perfect with lessons learned from those black objects forced, in “vanished eras,” to live/die at its margins. Even as historians deny the tradition of Whiggish narration and protest against teleology, the underlying and comforting lesson is that history will inexorably inform “the human” of its promise. History itself comes to take on a life of its own, or in the words of Michael Hawkins: “By letting history speak for itself rather than coercing insights from it that must speak on behalf of a particularly urgent present, scholars can gain more accurate and revealing insights, messages, and representations of the human condition as it unfolded in its own discursive temporality.” Accordingly, the lesson Hawkins learns from this theoretical exercise is that history so conceived “reveals human agency in its purest form.”68 Even in his denials of inevitable progress, Hawkins implies that history, when done right, is necessarily revelatory concerning the fact of being human, and in doing so, can make humans better.

This kind of disciplinary self-deception is patently ahistorical: history cannot speak for itself. There are many interrelated and obvious reasons why this is so. One, the historian creates history. History is nothing if not a form of knowledge production.69 Two, knowledge production happens within culture and, therefore, history speaks only the words, thoughts, and narrative structures permissible within a given culture.70 Third, what is permissible today is rooted in what has already been sanctified as the biological universality of “the human.” This biological “human” is also understood in terms beyond the physiological and through codes such as sovereignty and agency. Thus, before the project of historical investigation even begins, its epistemological limits have already been set. Hawkins argues that allowing history to unfold without the prying hands of presentism means there is “no telling what one might turn up,” an unconvincing take since he is sure that “human agency in its purest form” is what history ultimately uncovers.71

The consequences are more dire than theoretical disagreement. The approach to history described above does nothing less than “serve the police power against blackness by delimiting the permissible questions, debates, perspectives, and paradigms as the price of the ticket for participating in the conversation itself.”72 It reinscribes black people as fungible material, capable of being dismembered (and disremembered) such that their muted screams against the tyranny of “the human” become reconfigured as evidence of the righteousness of anti-racist projects that seek black “inclusion into liberal humanist conceptions of ‘the human’” as, within this historical discourse, “the black body is an essential index for the calculation of degree of humanity and the measure of human progress.”73 The lesson of this subtending historiographical narrative is that the black suffers, but at least out of that suffering humanity may be made whole.

David Ponton III is an assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies at the University of South Florida.


Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 12.

  1. Kevin M. Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013); Joe W. Trotter and Jared N. Day, Race and Renaissance: African Americans in Pittsburgh since World War II (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010); Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).
  2. Kruse, White Flight.
  3. Matthew D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).
  4. Andrew Wiese, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Emily E. Straus, Death of a Suburban Dream: Race and Schools in Compton, California (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); N. D. B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).
  5. Michael K. Brown et al., Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 30–31.
  6. Destin Jenkins and Justin Leroy, “The Old History of Capitalism,” in Histories of Racial Capitalism, ed. Destin Jenkins and Justin Leroy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021), 10–12.
  7. Kenneth L. Kusmer and Joe W. Trotter, African American Urban History since World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 4, 15.
  8. Lassiter, The Silent Majority; Wiese, Places of Their Own; Harold X. Connolly, “Black Movement into the Suburbs: Suburbs Doubling Their Black Populations during the 1960s,” Urban Affairs Quarterly 9, no. 1 (September 1973): 91–111.
  9. Tyina Steptoe, Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015); Brian D. Behnken, Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011); Wesley G. Phelps, A People’s War on Poverty: Urban Politics and Grassroots Activists in Houston (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014); Howard Beeth and Cary D. Wintz, Black Dixie: Afro-Texan History and Culture in Houston (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000); Kyle Shelton, Power Moves: Transportation, Politics, and Development in Houston (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018).
  10. Oscar Newman, “Creating Defensible Space” (Washington, DC: US Department of Housing and Urban Development—Office of Policy Development and Research, April 1996); Rashad Shabazz, Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015); Elizabeth Hinton, “‘A War within Our Own Boundaries’: Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Rise of the Carceral State,” Journal of American History 102, no. 1 (June 1, 2015): 100–112, https://doi.org/10 .1093/jahist/jav328.
  11. Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 27.
  12. “Setback for Communist Propaganda,” Houston Informer, May 22, 1954, 12.
  13. Jared Sexton, “Ante-Anti-Blackness: Afterthoughts,” Lateral, no. 1 (2012), https:// csalateral.org/issue/1/ante-anti-blackness-afterthoughts-sexton/.
  14. “World” does not refer to the planet, but rather to historically specific existence. This world began with the advent of the transatlantic slave trade and the establishment of racialized chattel slavery. This world is defined by its epistemology, “where anti-blackness is . . . a foundational structure.” Anti-blackness functions to preserve liberal humanism’s conceit that we are all “human” because of evolutionary biology despite that law and politics organize us into categories of “human” and “less-than-human.” Anti-blackness allows the world’s many dilemmas (e.g., inequalities within democratic societies that make equal political participation impossible) to appear as aberrations or otherwise as results of the moral failings of subordinated populations. This world is not the only world that has existed in history, nor does it foreclose the possibility of other worlds, or even the simultaneous existence of alternative worlds, albeit those worlds are constrained by the violence and reach of the predominating one. Rinaldo Walcott, “Fanon’s Heirs,” Amerikastudien / American Studies 59, no. 3 (2014): 436; David Livingstone Smith, Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, 1st ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012); Derrick Bell, “The Permanence of Racism,” Southwestern University Law Review 22 (1993): 1103–1113.
  15. David Marriott, Whither Fanon? Studies in the Blackness of Being, Cultural Memory in the Present Series (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018), 278–281.
  16. Trevon D. Logan and John M. Parman, “The National Rise in Residential Segregation,” Journal of Economic History 77, no. 1 (March 2017): 129–130, https://doi.org/10 .1017/S0022050717000079.
  17. Connolly, “Black Movement Into the Suburbs”; John F. Kain, “Housing Segregation, Negro Employment, and Metropolitan Decentralization,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 82, no. 2 (May 1968): 175, https://doi.org/10.2307/1885893; Joe Darden, Ron Malega, and Rebecca Stallings, “Social and Economic Consequences of Black Residential Segregation by Neighbourhood Socioeconomic Characteristics: The Case of Metropolitan Detroit,” Urban Studies (Sage Publications, Ltd.) 56, no. 1 (January 2019): 115; Joe T. Darden, “Black Residential Segregation since the 1948 Shelley v. Kraemer Decision,” Journal of Black Studies 25, no. 6 (July 1995): 680–692; Lassiter, The Silent Majority. Others warned against overextending conclusions from these kinds of cities to the rest of the nation: Thomas L. Van Valey, Wade Clark Roof, and Jerome E. Wilcox, “Trends in Residential Segregation: 1960–1970,” American Journal of Sociology 82, no. 4 (1977): 826–844.
  18. I came to these conclusions through a geostatistical analysis of US Census data for the year 1960 using SAS and ArcGIS. US Bureau of the Census, 1960 Censuses of Population and Housing: Procedural History (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1966), http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1960/proceduralHistory /1960proceduralhistory.zip.
  19. US Bureau of the Census.
  20. Joe T. Darden and Sameh M. Kamel, “Black Residential Segregation in the City and Suburbs of Detroit: Does Socioeconomic Status Matter?” Journal of Urban Affairs 22, no. 1 (March 1, 2000): 1–13, https://doi.org/10.1111/0735-2166.00036; Ronald H. Bayor, Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
  21. Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 283.
  22. See the Census of Population and Housing reports of the US Census Bureau for 1950, 1960, and 1970. Also helpful are the SMSA Selected Population and Housing Characteristic reports at http://www.census.gov and http://www.archive.org.
  23. Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83, no. 1 (1996): 44–69, https://doi .org/10.2307/2945474; Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  24. Valerie A. Lewis, Michael O. Emerson, and Stephen L. Klineberg, “Who We’ll Live With: Neighborhood Racial Composition Preferences of Whites, Blacks and Latinos,” Social Forces 89, no. 4 (June 1, 2011): 1385–1407; Nora E. Taplin-Kaguru, Grasping for the American Dream: Racial Segregation, Social Mobility, and Homeownership (New York: Routledge, 2021), 8; Elizabeth Korver-Glenn, Race Brokers: Housing Markets and Racial Segregation in 21st Century Urban America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021); Michael O. Emerson et al., “Houston Region Grows More Racially/Ethnically Diverse, with Small Declines in Segregation: A Joint Report Analyzing Census Data from 1990, 2000, and 2010” (Houston: Kinder Institute for Urban Research & the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, 2012), http://kinder.rice.edu.
  25. Nathan Glazer and Davis McEntire, “Minority Group Housing in Two Texas Cities,” in Studies in Housing & Minority Groups, ed. Jack E. Dodson and Davis McEntire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960), 84–109.
  26. Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., Brown, Not White: School Integration and the Chicano Movement in Houston (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001); G. Reginald Daniel, “From Multiracial to Monoracial: The Formation of Mexican American Identities in the U.S. Southwest,” Genealogy 6, no. 2 (June 2022): 28, https://doi.org/10.3390 /genealogy6020028.
  27. Steptoe, Houston Bound, 143.
  28. Saidiya Hartman, “The Hold of Slavery,” New York Review of Books, October 24, 2022, https://www.nybooks.com/online/2022/10/24/the-hold-of-slavery-hartman.
  29. Sylvia Wynter, “The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter,” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 4, no. 2 (September 2000): 197.
  30. Marriott, Whither Fanon? 280.
  31. Wynter, “The Re-Enchantment of Humanism,” 198.
  32. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015), xxiii, 27.
  33. Steptoe, Houston Bound; Shelton, Power Moves; Behnken, Fighting Their Own Battles; Phelps, A People’s War on Poverty; William Henry Kellar, Make Haste Slowly: Moderates, Conservatives, and School Desegregation in Houston (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999).
  34. Ansley T. Erickson, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits, Historical Studies of Urban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 151–152, 304, 316.
  35. Lewis Ricardo Gordon, Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), 67.
  36. Lani Guinier, “From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy: Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Divergence Dilemma,” Journal of American History 91, no. 1 (June 1, 2004): 92–118, https://doi.org/10.2307/3659616; Justin Hollander, A Research Agenda for Shrinking Cities (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018).
  37. Allan Megill, “History’s Unresolving Tensions: Reality and Implications,” Rethinking History 23, no. 3 (September 2019): 279–303, https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529 .2019.1625544; Alun Munslow, “History, Skepticism and the Past,” Rethinking History 21, no. 4 (October 2, 2017): 474–488, https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529.2017.1333287; Frank B. Wilderson III, “The Vengeance of Vertigo: Aphasia and Abjection in the Political Trials of Black Insurgents,” InTensions, no. 5 (Fall/Winter 2011), http://www.yorku.ca /intent/issue5/articles/frankbwildersoniii.php.
  38. Liane Carlson, Contingency and the Limits of History: How Touch Shapes Experience and Meaning (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), e-book, emphasis added.
  39. Alun Munslow, “Genre and History/Historying,” Rethinking History 19, no. 2 (April 3, 2015): 158–176, https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529.2014.973711.
  40. Capture indicates the limitation of mobility outside of a system, even if there is movement inside of it. I contend that in this world anti/blackness, as a form of capture, traverses time and defies change over time. This means that at times throughout the book I dispense with linear chronology altogether, evident even in the ways past and present tenses collide in this introduction. The temporal collisions in my syntax are in part a consequence of my commitment to thinking of history as the present as well as my attempts to confront the gravitational pull of the discipline to write in terms of contingency and agency.
  41. Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well.
  42. Sylvia Wynter, “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues,” Knowledge on Trial 1, no. 1 (1994): 49–50; Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).
  43. Tryon P. Woods, Blackhood against the Police Power: Punishment and Disavowal in the “Post-Racial” Era (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2019), 56.
  44. Jared Sexton, “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism,” InTensions, no. 5 (Fall/Winter 2011): 1–47.
  45. Calvin L. Warren, Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 39, 182n27; Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 2008), 149.
  46. Warren, Ontological Terror, 182n27; Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 149; Saidiya Hartman, “The Dead Book Revisited,” History of the Present 6, no. 2 (2016): 210.
  47. Martin Woessner, “Reconsidering the Slaughter Bench of History: Genocide, Theodicy, and the Philosophy of History,” Journal of Genocide Research 13, no. 1–2 (June 1, 2011): 91.
  48. Frank Wilderson III, Afropessimism (New York: Liveright, 2020), 102.
  49. Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 15; Walter Johnson, “Inconsistency, Contradiction, and Complete Confusion: The Everyday Life of the Law of Slavery,” Law and Social Inquiry 22, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 430.
  50. Stephanie E. Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 201–202.
  51. Frank B. Wilderson III, “Social Death and Narrative Aporia in 12 Years a Slave,” Black Camera 7, no. 1 (2015): 135, https://doi.org/10.2979/blackcamera.7.1.134.
  52. Corey J. Miles, “Sociology of Vibe: Blackness, Felt Criminality, and Emotional Epistemology,” Humanity & Society, December 16, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1177 /01605976221146733.
  53. David Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Herman L. Bennett, Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011); Frank T. Proctor, Damned Notions of Liberty: Slavery, Culture, and Power in Colonial Mexico, 1640–1769 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010).
  54. P. Khalil Saucier and Tryon P. Woods, “Racial Optimism and the Drag of Thymotics,” in Conceptual Aphasia in Black: Displacing Racial Formation, ed. P. Khalil Saucier and Tryon P. Woods (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016), 15.
  55. Wilderson, “The Vengeance of Vertigo,” 19.
  56. Marriott, Whither Fanon? 278–310.
  57. Frank B. Wilderson III, “Blacks and the Master/Slave Relation 2015,” in Afro-Pessimism: An Introduction, 2017, 15–30, https://libcom.org/files/Afro-Pessimism2.pdf; Warren, Ontological Terror.
  58. Megill, “History’s Unresolving Tensions,” 299n13.
  59. Tyler Stovall, White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021), 102; Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), 94.
  60. Louise Seamster and Victor Ray argue “that agency itself is deeply racialized, as social structures essentially foreclose certain paths to future action”: “Against Teleology in the Study of Race,” 332; Walter Johnson, “On Agency,” Journal of Social History 37, no. 1 (2003): 114, 117–118.
  61. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Co., 1907); Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks; Wynter, “No Humans Involved.”
  62. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus, 20–21.
  63. Woods, Blackhood against the Police Power; Woessner, “Reconsidering the Slaughter Bench of History.”
  64. Marriott, Whither Fanon? 279.
  65. Edward Hallett Carr, What Is History? (New York: Knopf, 1961), 86; Tosh, Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods, and New Directions in the Study of History, 2nd ed. (New York: Longman, 1991), 66.
  66. Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12, no. 2 (July 17, 2008): 1–14.
  67. Saidiya V. Hartman and Frank B. Wilderson, “‘The Position of the Unthought’: An Interview with Saidiya V. Hartman,” Qui Parle 13, no. 2 (2003): 185–186.
  68. Michael Hawkins, “Our Present Concern: Historicism, Teleology, and Contingent Histories of a More Democratic Global Past,” Rethinking History 15, no. 3 (September 2011): 375–376.
  69. Hannu Salmi, “Cultural History, the Possible, and the Principle of Plenitude,” History and Theory 50, no. 2 (2011): 173.
  70. Frank B. Wilderson III, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).
  71. Hawkins, “Our Present Concern,” 389.
  72. Woods, Blackhood against the Police Power, 83.
  73. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (New York: NYU Press, 2020), 1, 46.