Dissertation: Racialized Disaster in American Political Development


My dissertation, "Racialized Disasters in American Political Development," challenges the prevailing view in political science that national, federated organizations are the primary agents in mass politics by establishing subnational grassroots organizations’ pivotal role in political transformation. I begin by drawing from archival materials, including one hundred firsthand accounts of Black Hurricane Katrina survivors to theorize the process by which natural disasters become what I term racialized disasters. From here, I use archival and ethnographic evidence to illustrate how the federalist system’s failed response to the Katrina helped to ignite the current incarnation of Black-led political mobilization in the Deep South, setting off the creation of massive grassroots infrastructures, including the Southern Movement Assembly, the Gulf Coast Law and Policy Center, and Black Voters Matter.

I argue in my dissertation that social policy catastrophes can often give rise to local grassroots political projects designed to meet the immediate needs of citizens in the short term and result in the creation of durable regional networks, fundraising strategies, and organizing methodologies in the long term. This finding matters because we in the field tend to downplay these developments, an oversight which leads us to underestimate the constructive ways that subjugated citizens respond to state failure. To describe these processes, I introduce two interrelated concepts. The first is state repudiation, in which following encounters with a hostile or unresponsive state, activists begin to reject the state as a venue for achieving immediate political goals. What follows from this period of repudiation is the second concept, state reconstitution, in which grassroots activists seek to create political transformation by incorporating grassroots political projects into state infrastructure through traditional political acts such as officeholding and voter mobilization. Crucially, my project situates these concepts within the Black radical tradition; I show how state repudiation and reconstitution are recursive themes within Black political discourse, acts of quotidian resistance, and organized social movements across U.S. history.

My research has been supported by the Institution for Social Policy Studies at Yale University, P.E.O. International, the John F. Enders Travel Fund, and the Center for Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM) at Yale University.

The Portals Policing Project

I am the co-PI (with Vesla Weaver and Tracey Meares) for the Portals Policing Project, which examines how police-citizen interactions shape political knowledge and political discourse in majority-Black communities in the United States. We used an innovative, participatory technology called Portals to collect the largest-known archive of first-hand accounts of policing.


In our book manuscript, The State From Below: Racial Authoritarianism in U.S. Democracy, Vesla Weaver and I link historic efforts to document the experience of racially authoritarian policing with contemporary expressions to their historical antecedents. Here, we illustrate policing's enduring relationship to democracy, including how policing both necessitates the creation and threatens the endurance of Black counterpublic space; how state authorities facilitate the misrecognition of Black autonomy; how democratic responsiveness to race-class subjugated communities is distorted by surveillance and punishment; and crucially, how the highly policed produce theories and actions that counterpose the racially authoritarian conditions that characterize their citizenship.

For more about the project, visit our website and view the video below:





"Measuring Racism"

The Effect of Context on Priming Stereotypes in Audit Experiments (with Jennifer D. Wu)

This study attempts to investigate how or if names take on particular racialized meanings depending on the context in which they appear. This study is in conversation with the hundreds of audit experiments that use allegedly racialized names to test discrimination across multiple venues (e.g. job and housing applications, political responsiveness). We test whether or not the treatment, a racialized name, complies with the exclusion restriction, that the context in which the treatment is administered does not spuriously affect the outcome. To do so, we implement a series of survey experiments where respondents are presented with emails – modeled after those used in published audit studies – in which we vary the name of the sender. We hypothesize that the perceived race of a name will indeed change depending on: 1) the content of the email, and 2) the formality of the language used. The results of this study have implications for the techniques employed in the growing body of audit experiments used in testing racial discrimination.

Why Seeing the Big Picture in the Study of Public Safety is Necessary for Combating Racism Within It (with Phillip Atiba Goff)


Quantitative social science has primarily studied policing in general and racial disparities in policing specifically by focusing on micro-and meso-level phenomena rather than engaging macro-level phenomena. Policy recommendations informed by quantitative social science therefore end up focused on reforming what are framed as patterns of errors rather than on the broader systems that produce the conditions for these interactions. The current approach places quantitative social science out of step with contemporary debates about public safety, including when and whether to deploy police at all. This chapter examines why quantitative social science has thus far missed the big picture, the consequences, and what integrating macro-level approaches in our research might look like.

Qualitative Methods
Reading the Room When You’re Not in the Room: The challenges of virtual fieldwork (with Morgan Galloway)


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many political scientists, and social scientists more generally, have written about the role of the internet, especially the role of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) in continuing field research that is impossible or unethical for public health reasons. In this paper, we draw from our own experiences as ethnographic researchers during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic to evaluate the tradeoff and constraints of virtual fieldwork, participant observation in particular. We describe the distinct obstacles to overcoming the constraints of fieldwork in a virtual setting while noting the unique ways that sporadic, in-person engagements and encounters created new levels of intimacy and deepened observations.