Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros11-2Revue des livresComptes rendusKeeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for...

Revue des livres
Comptes rendus

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership

Augustus C. Wood
p. 427-431
Référence(s) :

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019, 376 pages, 978-146965366-2

Texte intégral

Afficher l’image
Crédits : The University of North Carolina Press

1Throughout the late 1960s, the African American working classes in cities across the United States erupted in mass rebellions as an escalation of their historically informed resistance to racial oppression. Although state sponsored surveillance and violence and economic exploitation were the prime catalysts for the mass unrest, de jure and de facto barriers to housing, particularly redlining, also proved instrumental in African American disillusionment with the American political system. Consequently, these Black urban rebellions, as a response to the Civil Rights Movement and a shift towards the Black Power Movement, pressured the federal government to gradually adopt more symbolically inclusive political, economic, and social policies towards the African American majority. In fact, this shift authored a public private partnership where the real estate capitalists and bankers took center stage in introducing new barriers to Black housing rights.

2Black Studies scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor examines this contradiction at the heart of the Black struggle for fair housing in Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Taylor crafts a mostly structural analysis of the political economy of the federal housing market beginning in the aftermath of the 1967 urban rebellions and ending in the mid-1970s. She is engrossed in how the complex relationship between the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and real estate interests constructed a new segregated housing market on the foundation of exploitative subprime loans targeted at the Black working classes. Funded through federal subsidies after President Lyndon Johnson faced mounting pressure from the urban rebellions, the first homeownership loan programs offered long amortization periods and mortgage insurance guarantees that appealed to both the African American working classes and the expanding real estate industry. However, deeply embedded discriminatory practices and racist ideology provided real estate the power to tie race to financial risk for lucrative profits. The rise and fall of property values became the measuring factor of exclusivity and hypersegregation for white homebuyers and affordability and access for Black homebuyers. In other words, this symbiotic relationship strengthened a revised, unequal housing market.

3Taylor’s structural critique methodology serves the narrative of the function of racial oppression in postwar U.S. housing policy well. Chapter one traces the transformation of the U.S. federal housing policy from an exclusionary protocol to an inclusionary, yet discriminatory period. Unlike some histories that isolate this process outside of other social processes, including Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 (1983) and Kevin Kruse’s White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (2005), Taylor centralizes Black working-class rebels as the prime agents for the U.S. housing policy transformation. Black rebels in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Newark, and Los Angeles, newly migrated from the South in the Second Great Migration (1940-1970), pressured the ruling class to begrudgingly dismantle racially discriminatory public policy through organized resistance. Chapter two examines the relationship between the Lyndon Johnson administration and the capitalist class. For Taylor, the business interests defined the Johnson housing legislation: housing the Black poor was defined as an investment, not as a cure for the social ill (something that Johnson’s Great Society anti-poverty program is often miscredited with). President Richard Nixon’s curbing of federal power at the expense of the Black poor takes centerstage in chapter three. In fact, the shift from Johnson to Nixon transformed the legislative discourse from racial and housing equality to a colorblind “economic integration.” As a result, Taylor contends, when real estate barred Blacks from buying or renting in the suburbs, the federal government refused to take racial discrimination seriously, meaning that housing apartheid could continue unchecked and lock Black people in underfunded and deindustrializing cities. Chapter four examines the role of the Federal Housing Authority in providing affordable housing to previous low-income renters. Unfortunately for the Black poor, the private institutions who carried out the federal government’s affordable housing rollout understood that racial discrimination is “good for business.” Chapter five complements the previous chapter with a focus on specific victims of these practices: Black working-class women. In Race for Profit’s strongest chapter, Taylor analyzes the contradictory relationship between the federal government and private capital that led to a climax where predominantly low-income Black women obtained a disproportionate role, or blame, for the mass of defaults and foreclosures in this new housing market. Real estate landlords coerced low-income Blacks to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt on deteriorating property on the promise of achieving the American dream. The discourse of “responsibility” transformed the question of housing discrimination into a pathological argument: both conservatives and liberals argued that poor Blacks were culturally incapable of being successful homeowners. Chapter six doubles down on this new racial formation. As Taylor states, “this was nothing less than the same urban crisis under a new name. The same old story of undeserving low-income people was now redeployed to blame the persistence of urban problems on the people who lived in urban environments” (214). As a result, Taylor concludes, the government and private landlords justified a return to redlining and the retreat of federal support for low-income housing.

4Race for Profit successfully lays the sociohistorical foundation for the neoliberalization of Black urban spaces and the gentrification and dispossession of Black people from cities. Taylor reveals how real estate utilized the accumulation potential in Black working class neighborhoods—cheap land, dilapidated property, and concentrated poverty—to manipulate the exchange value of land and built environment. She argues that “the race for profits in the 1970s transformed decaying urban space into a golden ghetto, where profit for banks and real estate brokers were never ending, while shattered credit and ruined neighborhoods were all that remained for African Americans who lived there” (4). In fact, predatory “reforms” under the guise of racial liberalism offered little financial security to Black homebuyers, resulting in deepening generational poverty that continues to exacerbate social crises in the African American experience today. Taylor also shows how bourgeois liberals, such as Nixon’s HUD secretary George Romney, were only willing to fight racial discrimination if it did not interfere with the capitalist benefits of the housing market. Romney’s program to expand affordable housing units by over two hundred thousand a year lost steam when Nixon, real estate companies, and the judiciary promoted racially segregated housing as a “free choice” for individuals. As a result, much of Romney’s tenure from 1969 to 1972 proved counterproductive to the needs of Black homebuyers.

5Taylor is most effective when showcasing the exploitation of African Americans in this new housing market through personal experiences. One striking story involved a mother of eight who purchased a hole-riddled, electricity-deficit home in Paterson, New Jersey for $17,500. Her meager income was not enough to pay the mortgage and repair the problems (including a broken stove), so she rented out the first floor to another poor family. African American Eddie Agnew faced similar exploitation in Chicago when his newly purchased home (which was gutted in a fire weeks before he bought it unbeknownst to him) lost heat in the freezing winter and lost his bathroom to charred, weak floors. Through Taylor’s conceptual framework of “predatory inclusion,” banks and real estate took advantage of the lax enforcement of the 1968 Fair Housing Act and granted African American homebuyers with financing that was much more expensive for dilapidated housing than what white homeowners paid for in the expanding suburbs. Low-income Black women particularly were manipulated into purchasing homes in need of unaffordable maintenance. Because of bad advice from lawyers and bankers, these Black homebuyers stopped payment on these homes, faced evictions, and thus fed the emerging Black “personal irresponsibility” argument that would gain foothold in the 1980s under the Ronald Reagan administration. Taylor’s method of centralizing Black agents in a structural analysis strengthens her overall thesis that Black resistance to racial oppression tore down the old guard restrictions in the housing market. Black working class people drive the political economy of the United States and Taylor’s narrative provides ample space for that framework.

6There are a few notable omissions in Race for Profit that deserve more attention. Although she does an exceptional job in explaining how the federal government, real estate, banks and other pro-growth institutions purposefully exploited low-income African Americans, she stops short of conceptualizing this process under the internal neo-colonial framework. More clearly, Taylor does not engage the role of the newly created Black petty bourgeoisie political leaders and businesspeople who served as integral power brokers of the public-private partnership that facilitated this new urban housing market. Although Taylor’s project is clearly focused on the federal level, some insight into Black Studies scholar Robert Allen’s internal neo-colonialism theory in his 1969 work, Black Awakening in Capitalist America, or how the swarm of Black mayors that took office at the end of the 1960s such as Coleman Young in Detroit, Michigan, Richard Hatcher in Gary, Indiana, or Carl Stokes in Cleveland, Ohio worked closely with the Federal Housing Authority, would have better fleshed out how HUD’s actions and the market operated at a more local level. In fact, the few areas in the latter chapters that Taylor dedicates to the new Black leadership class’s arrival in the late 1960s excludes intraracial class struggle central to housing problems faced by the African American working classes. She claims that her work intervenes in urban histories that have the “tendency to view the postriot city as trapped in a stasis of blight, flight, and the inevitability of decay over time” yet her 1970s city develops outside of the Black leadership class, the junior partners of capital responsible for the transformation of urban spaces. Future scholarship on the urban housing market in the final third of the twentieth century should look to engage the neocolonial role of the Black leadership class with the Black working classes. Urban scholar John Arena’s “Bringing in the Black Working Class: The Urban Regime Strategy” (2011) offers a complementary analysis to Robert Allen on this point.

7Secondly, Black Power is noticeably absent from the narrative. Taylor gives Black working class urban rebellions the credit for restructuring the housing market, but she does not give credit to the shift from Civil Rights to Black Power. As historian Ashley Howard documents in her analysis of the Midwest Black Freedom Movement in her dissertation, Prairie Fires: Urban Rebellions as Black Working Class Politics in Three Midwestern Cities (2012), the urban rebellions resulted from Black working-class urbanites’ move away from integrationist and legalist strategies and tactics and towards proto-nationalism, community control, and self-defense. By 1967, Black Power was the dominant form of ideology in working class Black America. Additionally, considering that Nixon was an advocate of one strand of Black Power (Black capitalism/conservative nationalism), a more detailed analysis of how Nixon’s push for Black Capitalism at the federal level coincided with the new housing market would strengthen an already excellent narrative.

8Despite these observations, Race for Profit provides the most in-depth study of the role of real estate in anti-Black racial oppression. It rightfully sits at the top of groundbreaking studies of Black political economy and will set the standard for structural analyses of racial oppression during the Black Freedom Movement.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Allen, Robert. 1969. Black Awakening in Capitalist America. New York: Doubleday.

Arena, John. 2011. Bringing in the Black Working Class: The Black Urban Regime Strategy. Science & Society, 75(2): 153-179.

Hirsch, Arnold. 2021. Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Howard, Ashley. 2012. Prairie Fires: Urban Rebellions as Black Working Class Politics in Three Midwestern Cities. PhD Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012.

Kruse, Kevin. 2007. White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Augustus C. Wood, « Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership »Œconomia, 11-2 | 2021, 427-431.

Référence électronique

Augustus C. Wood, « Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership »Œconomia [En ligne], 11-2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2021, consulté le 22 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/oeconomia/11198 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/oeconomia.11198

Haut de page

Auteur

Augustus C. Wood

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. woodiii2@illinois.edu

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus d’Œconomia sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Association Œconomia
  • DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Revue soutenue par l’Institut des sciences humaines et sociales du CNRS
    CNRS - Institut national des sciences humaines et sociales
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search