Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Detroit Brand Blackness: Race, Gender, Class, and Performances of Black Identities in Post Recession Detroit

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kenneth Thompson (Other)

Third Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Marcus Sherrell (Committee Member)


In the years following the Great Recession (2007-2009), Detroit has seen an increase in financial investments of which have varied effects for residents across the city; so much so, that many Detroiters are claiming there are two Detroits: “Detroit” and “New Detroit.” “New Detroit” is an small area that has experienced a huge influx of residential and commercial investment. They feature new and/or remodeled housing and commercial services like grocery stores, coffee shops, and new restaurants. These areas are populated with mostly white residents. In “Detroit,” there is a large concentration of divested areas in the city. There is very little remodeled or new housing. There are little to no services like grocery stores or shopping areas. These areas are populated by an overwhelming majority of Black residents.

It would appear on the surface that many Black Detroiters who reside in “Detroit” would feel outraged. Yet, in my findings, the Black Detroiters that I spoke with understood that in order to have any chance of basic necessities like safe neighborhoods and financial investment in local infrastructure and public schools, Detroit needs white people. They see more than anyone the complicated entanglements of Black Detroit performativity within racial social spaces that tie them to divested physical places in the city.

The field of performance studies offers researchers a myriad of ways to elucidate how Black identity is co-constituted in racial social and physical spaces with varied effects on how Black Detroiters see themselves. In the field of human and social geography, and environmental psychology, the connection among place attachment and racial social spaces offer additional opportunities to see the symbolic and material ways that racism is embedded in the spatiality of social life. In this study, I found that racial social space as materiality can help researchers epistemologically understand how racism permeates and affects the ways in which Black Detroiters co-constitute performances of self. In this dissertation, I took an ethnographic look at how Black Detroit residents are performatively co-constituting their identities within racial social and physical spaces that call attention to the race and economic socio-geographical shifts that displace them.