I write about racism, capitalism, politics, cities and migration in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My work pays special attention to people’s notions of family, property and citizenship in the United States and the wider Americas.
I'm advancing, at present, two new book-length projects. The first is Four Daughters: An America Story [sic]. This collective biography covers four generations of a single family, following the lives of four women of color whose forbearers migrated from the Caribbean to the United States by way of Britain between the early 1900s and 1990s. A genuinely Atlantic history, Four Daughters explores how Caribbean immigrants of color and their children defined success in America through years of British colonization, second-wave feminism, the civil rights movement, "right to work" politics, and the War on Drugs. My other book project expands on the intimate scale of Four Daughters to assess and synthesize broader trends, patterns, and processes. Black Capitalism: The "Negro Problem" and the American Economy offers the first sweeping account of how black economic success shaped the way Americans and immigrants understood the possibilities offered by capitalism in the United States.
My first book was A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (University of Chicago Press, 2014). It received, among other awards, the 2014 Kenneth T. Jackson Book Award from the Urban History Association, the 2015 Liberty Legacy Foundation Book Award from the Organization of American Historians, and the 2016 Bennett H. Wall Book Award from the Southern Historical Association. The book resuscitates older discussions of racism's profitability by treating Jim Crow segregation in Greater Miami as a variation on the colonial and postcolonial practices afflicting tropical populations around the world. A World More Concrete also highlights never-before-seen conflicts between tenants, urban landlords, homeowners, politicians, and property managers over how best to profit from Native Americans, Caribbean migrants, working-class whites, and the black poor.
Apart from publishing in scholarly venues, I contribute frequently to public debates, including as a co-host on the weekly podcast BackStory and as Director of the Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship Program here at Johns Hopkins University.
“The Strange Career of American Liberalism,” in Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the 20th Century, Lily Geismer, Brent Cebul, and Mason Williams (University of Chicago Press, 2019), 62-95.
“Public Thinker: Keisha N. Blain on Black Women’s Intellectual History” (an interview with Prof. Blain), Public Books, May 14, 2018
“How ‘Black Panther’ Taps into 500 Years of History,” The Hollywood Reporter, Feb. 18, 2018
“A White Story,” Dissent, Forum on Neoliberalism, Jan. 22, 2018.
“Mapping Inequality: ‘Big Data’ Meets Social History in the Story of Redlining,” with LaDale Winling, Robert K. Nelson, and Richard Marciano, The Routledge Handbook of Spatial History, Ian Gregory, Don, Lafreniere, Don Debats, eds. (Routledge UK, 2018), 502-524.
Opening Remarks, Life Sentences: A Conference on Incarceration and the Humanities, PublicSeminar.org, Nov. 30, 2017.
“Charlottesville Showed that Liberalism Can’t Defeat White Supremacy. Only Direct Action Can,” The Washington Post, Aug. 15, 2017.
“Eminent Domain” in The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion, Tobias Amborst, Daniel D’Oca, Georgeen Theodore, eds. (Actar, 2017), 128-131.
“Urban Renewal” in The Arsenal…, Amborst et al. 370-372.
“Black and Woke in Capitalist America: Revisiting Robert Allen’s Black Awakening…for New Times’ Sake,” Items, March 7, 2017.
“Black History Month: A Political Season,” BackStory blog, March 7, 2017.
“This, Our Second Nadir,” Boston Review, Forum on Race, Capitalism and Justice (Jan. 2017): 95-104.
“Trump Syllabus 2.0,” with Keisha Blain, Public Books, June 28, 2016.
“A Black Power Method,” Public Books, June 15, 2016.
“What Obama Can’t Say: A Review of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America, by Michael Eric Dyson,”New York Times Sunday Book Review, Feb. 7, 2016, BR20.
“Franklin Roosevelt: A Candidate of Questionable Constitution,” Talking Points Memo, “Primary Source,” October 14, 2015.
“How Did African Americans Discover They Were Being ‘Redlined’?” Talking Points Memo, “Primary Source,” August 9, 2015.
“Skin Trouble,” Talking Points Memo, “Primary Source,” July 6, 2015.
“Notes on a Desegregated Method: Learning from Michael Katz and Others,” Journal of Urban History 41, no. 4 (July 2015): 584-591.
“Black Appointees, Political Legitimacy, and the American Presidency,” in Recapturing the Oval Office, Brian Balogh and Bruce Schulman, eds. (Cornell University Press, 2015), 123-142.
“Games of Chance: Jim Crow’s Entrepreneurs Bet on ‘Negro’ Law-and-Order,” in What’s Good for Business: Business and Politics Since World War II, Julian E. Zelizer and Kimberly Phillips-Fein, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2012), 140-156.
“Sunbelt Civil Rights: Urban Renewal and the Follies of Desegregation in Greater Miami,” in Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Space, Place and Region in the American South and Southwest, Darren Dochuk and Michelle Nickerson, eds. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 164-187.
“Timely Innovations: Planes, Trains, and the ‘Whites Only’ Economy of a Pan American City,” Urban History 36, no. 2, Special Issue on Transnational Urbanism in the Americas (August 2009): 243-261.
“Colored, Caribbean, and Condemned: Miami’s Overtown District and the Cultural Expense of Progress, 1940-1970,” Caribbean Studies 34, no. 1 (January-June 2006): 3-60.