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The Roots of Racial and Spatial Inequality

*This post is part of our roundtable on Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s ‘Race for Profit’

The cover of Businessweek’s February 13, 2013 issue was a visual shortcut of the narrative that quickly emerged around the 2008 subprime mortgage disaster: the debacle that triggered the Great Recession was largely the fault of irresponsible, ignorant and profligate buyers of color: “the busty, sassy Latina, the barefooted black man waving cash out his window, that woman in the upstairs left-hand corner who looks about as dim-witted as her dog.” Conservative economic commentators linked 2008’s origins and outcomes to the Section 235 program (a HUD mortgage subsidy program enacted in 1968) as a prescient example of liberalism and Black irresponsibility run amok. 1 Conveniently left out of both stories was the convergence of America’s racialized metropolitan areas that white supremacy helped to build; the structurally racist real estate industry which facilitated the spatialization of race; and the federal government’s emerging commitment to the socialization of private market failures in the service of an embryonic neoliberal order. Both in the early 1970s and in the first decade of the 21st century, Black and Brown communities were systematically targeted by predatory lenders and speculators, whose machination led to these Black communities being “destroyed for cash,” crippling both present and future.

One way to understand the racialized effects of both disasters is to take Taylor’s approach and focus on the racialization of space endemic to the political economy of the U.S.’s metropolitan areas. This centering of race and space leads us to Taylor’s singular formulation of “predatory inclusion.” Predatory inclusion describes the processes by which “African American homebuyers were granted access to conventional real estate practices and mortgage financing, but on more expensive and comparatively unequal terms” (4). As Nathan Connolly and others have noted, the inverse of predatory inclusion was predatory exclusion; the process of private market exploitation and extraction of Black spaces, sanctioned, and at times facilitated, by public authority. Central  to these processes, whether they took place in the urban core or the suburban periphery, was a key article of faith created and elaborated on by white society and its institutional structures, “White [space] is worth more, precisely because it is not Black [space].” Indeed as Taylor argues, embedded in the “popular consciousness” was “[t]he idea that Black owners and renters were destructive and careless” (191). As a result of these spatial imaginaries, Taylor argues that the movement of urban Black bodies, especially poor Black women, into formerly white spaces was “conditional, contingent, and tiered” (17). The pivotal figure in this policy narrative and necessary towards understanding the broader implications of predatory inclusion was the allegedly irresponsible and “unsophisticated” poor Black woman buyer. Indeed Taylor draws from Rhonda Williams’s work, which notes that “Low-income black women[‘s]… citizenship struggles draw attention to the issues shaping postwar urban residency as well as the character of the liberal state and U.S. democracy” (4).

Taylor’s analysis helps to elucidate the political challenges that beset postwar racial liberalism and the American state: the faltering of the urban Keynesian order; the “racial fingerprints” of both Nixon’s Philadelphia Plan and the Party’s “southern strategy” (93); and the seeds of an an emergent neoliberal order that fused the mainstream Republican beliefs in the “genius of free enterprise” while following the advice of neoliberal architects like Milton Freidman to take advantage of the crises like the racial politics that Section 235 235 set ablaze as crises allow for the “politically impossible [to become] politically inevitable” (234). 

Read entire article at Black Perspectives