Homeownership and the “Racist Theory of Value” under Racial Capitalism

Authors: Scott Markley*, University of Georgia
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: racial capitalism, homeownership, racial wealth gap
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Majestic Ballroom, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Majestic Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Great Recession marked the largest confiscation of Black wealth in generations. In the decade since, an assortment of policy-minded scholars and think tanks has advocated expanding Black homeownership as the preferred mechanism for rebuilding Black wealth and narrowing the Black-white wealth gap. Fundamental to these proposals are two key assumptions. The first holds renting and homeownership to be binary opposites, with the latter representing the preferable option. The second optimistically believes that Obama-era housing finance reforms have undone the socially produced, systematic devaluation of Black-marked spaces. An historical and geographical reckoning with racial capitalism—as theorized by Cedric Robinson (1983[2000])—casts significant doubt on these assessments. Reading the institutional implementation of what Charles Abrams (1955: 158) called the “racist theory of value” during the twentieth century through Robinson’s framework—drawing substantially from Cheryl Harris’s (1993) notion of “whiteness as property,” Brenna Bhandar’s (2018) “racial regimes of ownership,” and Anne Bonds’s (2019) critical engagement with residential property—I argue that the ongoing material devaluation of Black-marked spaces is a constitutive feature of housing markets under racial capitalism. Thus, despite claims that expanding Black homeownership can help close the racial wealth gap, I maintain that the co-constituted geographies of race and value foreclose this possibility and suggest that relying on home price appreciation—a mechanism that depends on the differential valuation of residential space—to abate racial inequality is liable to further entrench it.

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